“The worst thing about that kind of prejudice… is that while you feel hurt and angry and all the rest of it, it feeds you self-doubt. You start thinking, perhaps I am not good enough” -NINA SIMONE –
I never knew why I connected so much with this woman’s voice and songs so much, until now.
We seemingly have nothing in common- she was a trained classical pianist, jazz and soul singer, and a proud African American lady, actively a part of the American civil rights movement.
She hung out with Martin Luther King! She was born in the 1930’s.
I , on the other hand, was born and grew up in South Africa. I am white. I was born in the early 1980s when the apartheid regime was crumbling.
Recently, I watched a documentary about her life on Netflix and I identified with this wild spirit within her. A spirit demanding justice. She was a person who had a name but couldn’t truly own it.
There is a song she sings – AINT GOT NO -I GOT LIFE (she is simply mesmerising to watch)
The song ends with her singing
“I am my freedom. I got my freedom.”
That is my connection to her. For a long time I wasn’t accepted,I may well have been another skin colour.
In fact- in post-apartheid. -early 90’s -I spent most of my teens taking drugs with the colored or black and Indian community ( they identify themselves with these terms in South Africa btw ) and spending less time with white people.
At various points in Nina’s life she felt like she had lost her mind.
I nearly became mad.
In fact I am sure I did.
I nearly died -countless times too.
I was forced out of South Africa because my mother couldn’t stand by and watch me die.
It took 17 years to get to the person I am today.
I should be dead. I guess life has bigger plans for me. It is not for lack of me trying every possible way to kill myself by my hand or another’s..
I have always wanted my freedom to be me in my body and mind and be comfortable in it.
In my search for Freedom I even became like some feral creature to get it. I could say I only imitated what I saw other people do.
It’s strange how other people are quick to judge. They don’t seem to see that they do the same things to cope.
Oh,how they just took .
People just took from me what was useful to them and discarded me like a used condom. Making sure there was no evidence to be found that linked them with the theft of my own creativity and soul.
People took a lot from Nina – she left the U.S.A. for many years to find her mind and peace.
One of my favourite sayings I always tend to tell people is
“I’m a person with good intentions”
“My actions and heart come from a good place .”
I think I must have picked it up from the lyrics in the song ‘DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good – Oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood”
I’ve often felt misunderstood.
I have made one hell of a journey.
So these days if someone misunderstands what I say, I have to pretty much cut them off and be direct and tell them that they have misunderstood or not heard or misinterpreted what I am saying .
To have a soul, you have to be free.
Completely free of your mind and body -you mustn’t covert away any part of you , you must reveal your soul to the entire world.
People will either get you or they won’t but that becomes their problem not mine or yours.
There must be no shame in revealing your soul to the world.
Nina was diagnosed with Bipolar in the 80’s and I guess she felt displaced.
Now I know that world well.
I felt displaced in so many situations in my life. I did actually do something Nina did (at a point in her life)-
I turned inwards on myself.
I couldn’t win the political game of “normal” social life. I never fit in one social group or culture.
I stood out for all to see.
I didn’t fit. Yet, I felt comfortable in more than one place or with one type of people simultaneously.
I didn’t want to have to choose just one set of people to be around. I tried to conform but my soul rebelled
I struggled when I was growing up.
Not being able to fit into one box came with high levels of recklessness on my part. I was probably the first person in my social group who displayed crazy- off her head signs.
It was awful because I was only 13-17 years old.
You could be a certain type of crazy but not my kind of crazy.
People backed up the fuck away…
Never mind that later many of my peers would have had more life experience and with that , they had gained a few extra pounds of experiencing the not so great hand life deals us at times.
There would come a time when many I knew would have to deal with whatever it decides to throw at you. Whenever it chooses to do so.
Maybe a few of them went
“Oh,now I get it.”
I took on adult responsibilities from a young age.
I didn’t fucking want them.
So it then became a political inquest into my soul…
My soul fled from me – leaped out of my heart, got lost in my head , ran- in search of the nearest exit.
It found that exit in a secret tunnel at the furthest part of my unconscious. It did a backflip out and over the balcony of my mind, landed on its feet and made for the ocean.
It went into hiding , to the deepest part of the ocean. A place it knew it could surrender to without protest. It could go with the current and not be examined for doing something as natural as just being its nature and of nature.
I searched to reclaim mine back for years.
Soul can’t be questioned, it must be felt.
Nina felt stigma,
I felt stigma,
Many feel stigma.
She connected to so many because she wasn’t afraid to share her humanness and be her and speak up for ‘her kind’.
She inspires me to carry on speaking out for people who still suffer inequality with their mental health issues. I will never stop using my voice and writing to break down stigma and prejudice and ignorance.
There are four songs I want to share that she sang.
The only way she knew how to help change and shape the world she lived in -was to get political with her music. It killed her singing career and nearly killed her.
I can’t help but see Nina as such a positive role model for all genders, race, sexuality, age and faiths.