When the chanteuse, Sy Smith, answered my call, I never expected her to describe her Underground sound as music for the war. But she took my hand and we began to dig a little through her lyrics. I suddenly saw chains on my feet that had enslaved and grounded me to the rhythms and confines of mainstream radio.
Our encounter was pseudo-spiritual and almost as mythical as the woman I was speaking to.
I am that mythical Black woman that
we’ve all come to know and love
But I ain’t this life
Sometimes I just wanna lean on crutches
And let my weakness take over me
-Let the Rain Fall Down (Fast and Curious)
Sy’s speech is as musical as her singing voice, textured with a taste of struggle and freedom that comes through her songs. I got so caught up in the experience that I temporarily lost my composure. Literally, I misplaced my questions. So I went of the cuff and asked, “What about this war and why would I want to be a part of it?” Sy expressed that the war is a fight just to “be”. And as a woman, a black woman in particular, it is a war to exist. This was a sobering start to our conversation. However, it wasn’t all deep. I asked who was invited to this war and Sy joked that she can look out into the audience of any particular show and see anything from the middle-aged white man to the 21 year-old sistah.
I can’t wait for folks
to catch up with me
Gotta run and get myself to freedom
–Runnin’ (Jahchild), The Syberspace
I realized that whether I knew it or not, I had already been inducted into the “war” even before Sy and I had talked. Sy acknowledged that my musical alias, Jahchild, which is my own recognition of where my gifts come from, is a part of her song Runnin’. Sy humored me and said that the song probably came from me because we are all connected in some way. At that moment, I saw the chains disappear and I felt that I was ready to receive a message.
Sy Smith is definitely on the move but not for the chase of the next hit. Sy boasts an emotional and artistic freedom in doing what she wants to do because she likes it. As you listen to her music, you might hear a bit of Nu Soul, Classical, Disco, or Electronic. There is not one sound that corners her. She embraces it all and tries to figure out from where it came. What is important to Sy is liberation and saying what needs to be said so that all can be free. Free to be. Free to exist. Free to love.
Her producer lineup might just be another factor that helps this Underground train stay on track. Ali Shaheed Muhammad from Tribe Called Quest has the ability to translate thought into concept without too much explanation. He gets her. On the other hand, I particularly like the disco feel of her work with Mark deCLive-Lowe on the album Fast and Curious. I also look forward to hearing more material from her long distance collaborations with producer Zo!. With whomever she works with, Sy’s voice speaks for itself. Whether it be flowing with a 3-piece band or building a wall of sound with an orchestra, Sy is at home on stage. Sy sends a special invitation to all to celebrate freedom. The war is far from over so get on board with Sy.
Visions of my life gone astray
Made me want to throw it all away
But I made a choice to take it back today
Runnin’ back to the place I’m from
Runnin’ back to the ones I love
Runnin’ back to the truth I know
Runnin’, cuz when you gotta go, you gotta go
–Runnin (Jahchild), The Syberspace
By Julio Hanson
Photography by Mike Quain of Quainphoto