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"I Found God in Myself" from M. Nahadr
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M. Nahadr, “I Found God In Myself” in For Colored Girls Literary Free Jazz, Liberated Diva:  Ntozake Shange and Multi-Octave Singer M. Nahadr Find Creativity in the Moment Together in For Colored Girls Film and Several Shows at NYC’s Nuyorican in November

Improvised sound and free spirits.  New York-based performance artist, composer, and stunning vocalist M. Nahadr (also known as Mem Nahadr or just "M") and critically acclaimed poet/playwright Ntozake Shange channel both, with distinct, diverse voices that compound and confound notions of difference and identity.  From a silent meeting sprung a sonically rich friendship, now culminating in collaborative performances on the big screen and the intimate stage.

“Our friend Claude wanted to introduce us and asked me to pick Ntozake up at JFK,” M. recalls. “We completely, immediately resonated and it was wordless. Our meeting was completely wordless, and it was wonderful.”

Shange and M. have nurtured this silent tie and bring their unique understanding to multimedia fruition. Shange’s poem, "A Laying On Of Hands," inspired M.’s uplifting, swirling anthem, “I Found God In Myself (Ntozake's Song),” featured in Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of one of Shange’s most revered works, For Colored Girls (Lionsgate; November 5 release), featuring Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, and Macy Gray, among others.

M. and Shange will share the stage at the film premiere, and for a series of spoken word and improvised free music performances at the Nuyorican Poets Café (November 8-17, 2010 at 7 PM;

M.’s distinctive looks and multi-octave powerhouse of a voice set her apart, yet also led her to a revelation of our shared humanity, our common difference. “I was a little girl that looked like Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap, living in an all African-American neighborhood in America,” she recollects. “What I experience on Planet Earth as a person with albinism is the oneness of one story told. Everyone has the experience of being different. Period. That’s the lowest common denominator.”

This insight, this embrace beyond identity politics blossomed into innovative off-Broadway performance pieces—some with Shange’s participation—as well as striking albums (EclecticIsM, 2009) that rush gracefully between hard-grooving funk and freewheeling, tender ballads.

"When I first heard her sing, I thought that M. had fallen from the sky; her voice was tying the heavens to the ocean, because of the range of it and the holiness of it,” Shange explains. “I don't mean holiness in a religious sense, but the inescapable ‘sacredness’ of her voice, as if there were a holiness in her voice that could lift you off your feet."

At the heart of M.’s work lies something she found she shared with Shange: the spark kindled by free jazz and its invitation to open improvisation. They will explore this approach further at the Nuyorican, as part of Shange’s acclaimed stage work, Liliane: Resurection of The Daughter.

“I found it so interesting, our shared interest in free jazz,” reflects M. “Ntozake is so highly educated and her work is so respected, but her inspiration was free jazz, creating in the moment.”

This improvisational urge, while sparking a creative friendship with the poet, pushed M. into a heartfelt response to Shange’s words, to the closing poetry of her complex, polyphonic exploration of women’s lives and fates. Shange had invited M. to compose something for that critical moment, something Shange felt truly represented the essence of her poetry. The resulting song was eventually woven into Perry’s film version.

The task proved daunting at first. “I meditated on it for a few months. It felt agonizing,” M. smiles. “I did take my time, however; I didn’t want to create something that was contrived. I waited for the inspiration. One day, at the eleventh hour, I woke up at 8 am, wrote the song, and immediately felt relief. I was so happy: I knew it was honest.”

M.’s soulful reaction to Shange’s glorious declaration of acceptance and love falls squarely in the r ‘n’ b realm, while keeping M.’s signature edge. “I Found God In Myself (Ntozake's Song)” moves from Shange’s words to M.’s, in a gospel-inflected statement of discovered joy.

This song, dedicated to Shange, is available EXCLUSIVELY through M. Nahadr's own label, Madwoman Multimedia, and on iTunes beginning November 1.

Beyond her work with Shange, M.’s deep-digging voice and unique beauty will be featured in an upcoming independent French film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of the notorious Serge) and produced by Lars von Trier, scheduled for release in January 2011. Hot on the heels of her film appearance is a new album, Mem, due out in April. 

Until then, M. is savoring her work with Shange. “I get to sing to and with a healing poet,” she sighs. “It was an act of trust on Ntozake’s part, because of our shared resonance, and I love honoring that.”