Guest Post: Ali Elabbady Shares Powerful Music and Images

Today’s post comes from Ali Elabbady, who … well, this talented local musician actually does a stellar job of explaining how this particular collaboration came about, so I’ll just hand over the post directly! Enjoy!

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Hey everyone, I’m Egypto Knuckles aka Ali Elabbady, producer and CEO for Background Noise Crew. Long story short (or vice versa), Sally and I met at Giant Steps 2012 at the Guthrie, and although we didn’t form an immediate connection, I reached out to her via Twitter after recollecting one of the instructions I received at Giant Steps, which was to work with people outside of my industry. That would also be my passion: Music. So you might ask, what the heck am I doing writing a post for Already Pretty?

Well, it all started when I started ruminating how to reach out to people outside of my industry, or try to draw myself closer to people outside of my industry through my existing passion. Then it hit me: “Album art.” I proceeded to tweet Sally with my idea, and we went with it. As you’ll notice, there’s a common theme here of women commanding power within an industry that tends to oversexualize and create distorted images of women. What I’m presenting here is not only album art that offers powerful images of strong women, but also reflects the adversity that these women may have faced while participating in the music industry and illustrates what they did to revolutionize it. So here they are: Seven albums, seven songs, which allow you, the reader, to delve a little bit and learn the story behind each person/band and their music.

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Queen Latifah
All Hail The Queen (1989)

When folks first saw Queen Latifah, MTV was in its 8th year and many of us were caught up in finding our favorite shows to watch like”Remote Control” or even “Headbanger’s Ball.”  But as a youth myself, I was caught up in the heyday of “YO! MTV Raps” with Fab 5 Freddy, and made a ritual of staying up past midnight every Friday to enjoy it. So imagine my surprise when I saw this video for the first time, especially seeing Queen Latifah and Monie Love wearing what was a hybrid of traditional African garments mixed with pantsuits. They were definitely ushering in something that hadn’t been found yet: A voice for women in Hip-Hop. In terms of the album cover for “All Hail The Queen,” the pose seems rather simple, but the album is a powerful force of nature within Hip-Hop and is still considered influential to this day.

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Martha Wash
Carry On
Martha Wash (1992)

If you’re not familiar with Martha Wash, I can’t necessarily blame you. But whether you knew it or not, you may have been an early supporter of her music. She was part of a duo known as Two Tons of Fun, which would later be changed to The Weather Girls, and they spawned the famous hit that’s been ingrained in our memory, “It’s Raining Men.” Afterwards she went on to supply vocals on notably huge club hits. She was responsible for delivering lead vocals on Black Box’s hits “Strike It Up” and “Everybody Everybody”, as well as four other cuts on Black Box’s album, “Dreamland.” She might be the most known unknown for providing lead vocals on C + C Music Factory’s chart-topping, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).”  However, she’s part of this list because she was dogged by the record industry because of her size, and she was so infuriated that she sought litigation and won to have her work credited. In the process, she took a recording contract with RCA to put out her own solo debut, which had this #1 hit, “Carry On.”

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Mahalia Jackson
I’m Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song
The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer (1954)

Mahalia Jackson is known throughout the world as one of its most revered Gospel singers, and with good reason. Her stirring voice moves people, and even with the first official record she did for Columbia Records, the folks she wowed couldn’t even absorb all the material she’d recorded. However, it was this song in particular that still stands as a mission statement of her life’s work, and a testament to the true talent she possessed. Mahalia was widely criticized by purists for “bringing jazz into the church” along with blues elements which occasionally included foot-stomping and hand-clapping. But there was no doubt or uncertainty about the talent she brought to the world.  This song proves what her life’s work was, to those who detracted early to her work and to all listeners.

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Aretha Franklin
A Rose Is Still A Rose
A Rose Is Still A Rose (1998)

While this album was Arista’s attempt at giving Aretha a fresh new take with younger folks, she didn’t really need it. After all, when you look at her catalog, this album was her 36th. Many folks how the album would fare when such names as Lauryn Hill, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jermaine Dupri, and assorted critics and fans alike began voicing concerns, especially when she’d attempted a similar project in 1986 to mixed results. Regardless though, Aretha began singing as if she had some newfound life in her and spawned a hit with the title track, which is about an older woman giving a younger woman advice on relationship and self-identity issues. While it was the lone music video from the album, it was still the most powerful.

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Adele
Rolling In The Deep
21 (2011)

Adele doesn’t tend to hide behind mystery, and if any song is a perfect example of her transparency, it is “Rolling In the Deep.” This is not only a powerful song but also a powerhouse of a hit, which put Adele at #1 for several weeks on Billboard, and as of last tally, helped her sell over 12 million copies of the album. She has broken many records when it comes to sales and awards, but it was the emotion of “21″ that spoke to a lot of people, and much of that was attributed to this single which seemed so inescapable, but also so right. Adele is a woman who’s still very much in control of her image, citing in several magazines how she likes to eat fine foods, and she still looks awesome, and is very much a woman in charge of her own destiny. While it remains unclear when we’ll get another album from her, the fact remains that she’s already accomplished what very few have.

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Janis Joplin
Me & Bobby McGee
Pearl (1970)

Recorded before her untimely death at the age of 27, Janis Joplin’s fourth and final album for Columbia was both haunting and harrowing. However, “Pearl” was a monumental feat in and of itself.  She recorded the album with The Full Tilt Boogie Band, and all of the songs written for “Pearl” were personally approved by Joplin. Aside from that, she had quite a few collaborators outside the band, but it was the song “Me & Bobby McGee” which remains her best vocal performance to date. The song was written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, which almost seems like a match made in heaven once people hear the tune and its intricate story.

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Carole King
It’s Too Late
Tapestry (1971)

Before Adele took the title, Carole King’s sophomore release, “Tapestry” was widely recognized for staying atop the Billboard charts for 15 consecutive weeks, and widely considered one of the best selling albums of all time with over 25 million copies sold. That’s no easy feat, especially for Carole King, who was both a singer and a songwriter. But regardless, she created a timeless masterpiece especially with the beloved song “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)” used in many a television ad and, of course, covered by Aretha Franklin prior to Carole King singing it herself. However it was her tune “It’s Too Late” that was the highlight of the album, its progressive chord structure adding more and more to an emotional and harrowing tune of love lost.

  • Stephanie D.

    I was talking about this last night!!! I’m 27, and I suppose that is still young, but I miss, HORRIBLY miss, music of days gone by. I am so tired of the over sexualization and the deterioration of music. The quality is terrible. The ‘shock value’ has turned into disgusting. I want music. Sweet music. I want men and women who sing/play from the soul and who aren’t there just trying to sell sex to the masses. I want my heart wrenched from my body, transformed, and then gently offered back to me. That really doesn’t happen any more. So I will stick to the music of my parents and my grandparents. So I can see the logic and the beauty in this collaboration Sal! Thank you Ali Elabbady for an amazing post : )

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thank you Stephanie! I’ve been a connoisseur of music and I’m always scouring the one place folks don’t seem to scour enough: the local record store. I enjoy sitting and conversing with the clerks at great length, letting them ask me about choices I’ve made music wise, and the endless exchange of them hipping me to something I haven’t heard, or vice versa.

  • Shaheen

    Great piece and good to see such innovative collaborations.

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thank you Shaheen! I was really inspired by Sally’s story and being a blogger myself, I shared an instant connection. I will admit at first we were both a little confused as to how we were going to collaborate, but once the idea hit me, it was off to the races! Glad you dig it!

  • Ericka

    What an awesome post; great to see some of my old faces featured, especially Ladies First and A Rose is Still a Rose.

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Great to hear Ericka! I always throw those in as recommendations especially to folks who are tired of hearing the same thing in Hip-Hop and R&B, so those were no brainer choices to me.

  • STL Mom

    Great picks! Thanks especially for reminding me about Carry On — I had forgotten about that song but it’s a great one.
    Another female artist with an image I like is Jill Scott. In a lot of her photos and videos she looks so pretty and confident, and also looks like she’s dressing to make herself happy, not necessarily to be super fashionable and sexy. And I have her CD with a photo of herself as a little girl on the cover, which is just adorable.

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      STL Mom – great to hear that you liked my Martha Wash choice! And I’m especially a huge fan of Jill Scott, I believe the album you are referring to with herself as a little girl on the cover was “Beautifully Human: Words & Sounds Vol. 2″ Still one of my faves from Jilly from Philly!

  • Kristina

    Oh, gosh, these women are great, some of my favorites! I don’t go to Mahalia Jackson as often as I should, but anyone who’s ever been in the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Fest knows the power of gospel! Thanks for reminding us.

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thanks Kristina! Had a blast doing it!

  • http://meganclementcouzner.wordpress.com Meg

    I just wanted to say how different and enjoyable this post was for me – thanks Ali, and Sal for posting it.

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Anytime Meg! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://myfrangipangi.com Jacque

    This was powerful – like Meg I really enjoyed reading. Thanks!

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Glad to hear it Jacque! Thanks for taking a read through!

  • http://www.iamweesha.com LuAnne

    This is such an awesome post, I have goosebumps! they don’t make music like they used to, do they? Thanks for the inspiration :)

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thanks LuAnne! You know, I want to think the same a lot of times, but always scouring my local record store for songs such as these and countless others is where the journey begins! There’s a lot of great music out there.

  • http://www.jauntydame.com Rebekah Jaunty

    Whoaaaaa, what a great post! Can we hope for sequels?

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thanks Rebekah! I’ll leave that up to Sally – but I’m always down for sequels! The album art strikes back? :)

  • Allison

    I don’t think it’s possible for me to love this post more! Such a wonderful selection of iconic women whose music spans generations. Sweet Sal, thanks for introducing Ali to us! Great post – truly!

    • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

      Thanks Allison! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • http://twitter.com/WA_side WA_side

    Thanks to you Ali for an enlightening post, with some (somewhat forgotten) favourites and some new artists to discover. Thanks to Sally for breaking the barriers of what a body positive style blog can be.

    I agree that we have some wonderfully strong female artists in our musical history, but there are also still plenty of emerging artists who are willing to break the “sex sells mold”. It takes a little more effort to unearth a talent who is not getting mainstream airplay, but it can be as simple as choosing a more alternate and varied radio station.

    There are plenty of music blogs that list new and emerging artists too, and while you probably won’t enjoy everything they suggest, you might just discover a new favourite genre or artist. I find music is served best with an open mind, as is style, though that doesn’t mean we let go of our true self, but allow a willingness to change and grow.

    • http://twitter.com/WA_side WA_side

      Some strong Aussie femme musos include Clare Bowditch, Sarah Blasko, Lisa Mitchell, Missy Higgins, Jen Cloher, Mia Dyson, Grace Woodroofe, Sia Furler, Maya Jupiter, just for a start.

      For unsigned Aussie artists and bands, you can check out http://www.triplejunearthed.com/

      Maybe other readers have similar suggestions for their region so that we all have the opportunity to hear new talented women in addition to our wealth of past greats?

      • http://www.backgroundnoisecrew.com/ Ali Elabbady

        WA_side – you absolutely hit it on the nose. PS: Sia is one of my favorites!

  • Chelsea

    This is a great post.

    I’m a music critic and I’ve been covering a Latin alternative beat lately. There are some really powerful women coming out of different Latin alternative bands. Some of my favorites are Martha Gonzales from Quetzal (who sings and plays drums), Ana Tijoux, and Rita Indiana.

  • Val C-MN

    Great column, Ali! Wonderful, strong women represented here. I am a fan of each of them. Thank you for the inspired reading.