Ledisi Comes Home: A Time for Omawale

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Tonight Houston welcomes home Ledisi, a dynamic singer and daughter of the bayou area.

But can you ever really go home again? A famous text says, "They asked us to sing songs, but how can we sing songs of Zion in a strange land." No doubt these questions are the meditation of the 300 Nigerian school girls who were recently kidnapped.

Although from Texas, I'm still searching after losing my mother here to tragedy. Looking back, almost ten years ago Hurricane Katrina created a diaspora of New Orleanians and bayou residents. Some went to my adopted Atlanta. With the Mormons, others found refuge in Utah akin to Operation Solomon in Ethiopia. People came to Houston mingling their survival instincts with entrepreneurial drive.

The tide receded to allow some a home until Hurricane Ike. Alas, New Orleans' historic violence is static for its youth. Thankfully, another constant is its ability to produce singers and musicians who became national figures but are beloved as "Omawale," a Yoruba word for "the child has come home."

The name Ledisi, also Yoruba, means "to come here." Born in New Orleans to (of course) musical parents, she's rooted in and propagates quadro-sonic foundations of American music: gospel, blues, rock and roll and jazz. At age eight, she had the chops to sing with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. This location gave rise to her sweet and raspy vocals -- Bessie Smith might call Ledisi's origins and sound "funky refinement." Think caviar over crawfish.

While no storm, in the '90s her family felt the pull of another coast and relocated to Oakland in California's Bay Area. Here, Ledisi gathered her musical education on campus, clubs and the Beach Blanket Babylon cabaret. She performed. She honed her sound, becoming one of the many points of light in a national movement that cats in Atlanta's underground scene were calling "Neo-Soul."

This movement, or "groovement," gave rise to The Mighty I AM (yours truly), India Arie and DJ Jamal Ahmad. In Philly, it was the Roots and Jill Scott. In Dallas, my birthplace, Erykah's Baduizm was taking hold. Oakland blew its horn in the form of the rap duo Zion I and fellow singer Goapele, and in 2000 Ledisi released a capstone for our movement: her debut album, Soulsinger.

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Ledisi has now released eight LPs, been produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, soundtracked for the Sci-Fi Channel, and made 44 and Michelle swoon at the White House. Now she sails on tour with her newest album, The TRUTH. Featuring her own songwriting, it provides bubbles of euphoria with playful uptempo joints. The video, "I Blame You," shows she's gone deep into physical and personal dynamics training.

She has also written a book: Ledisi Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power. The first part of the title rings back to her 2007 single. Both two years after Katrina and presently, "It's Alright" is a salve for war-weary folks enduring stormy lives. Peep the lyrics: "Life can bring us through many changes/ It's alright/ Just don't give up, know that it's gonna be alright."

I'm sure the kidnapped school girls across the pond could use a role model like Ledisi and this song. It can be lullaby toward aspirations that have become her new truth: peace, love, and power.

So this weekend, as we celebrate Ledisi's return, may we spread these three states like a centrifugal Dervish dancing a storm into symphony of freedom for ourselves and for the Nigerian 300. May they be Omawale: the child has come home.

Ledisi performs with the Robert Glasper Experiment and Shaliek tonight at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 8 p.m.


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