Freelon headlines Manoa Jazz and Heritage Fest
BY STEFANIE NAKASONE / email@example.com
The last time jazz singer Nnenna Freelon performed in Hawaii, among those in the audience was President Barack Obama.
MANOA JAZZ AND HERTIAGE FESTIVAL
Featuring Nnenna Freelon
» Where: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa
“It was pretty daunting,” said Freelon, who headlined a concert during the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation held in Honolulu. “It was an incredible, incredible honor.
“I got a chance to meet our president and the first lady. But then when you think, ‘OK, so there’s our president,’ then there’s all these other world leaders and you’re kind of representing a part of our culture. … I still get goose bumps when I think about it.”
This time around, Freelon’s stay here is much longer and should be less nerve-wracking. As part of a four-island tour, she headlines the Manoa Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday at the University of Hawaii’s Orvis Auditorium.
“This is going to give us the opportunity to soak in a little bit of the culture, the varied cultures, to actually come back saying, ‘Oh yes, I’ve been to Hawaii, and I’ve actually met some people and I actually saw something,’” Freelon said with a laugh. “I actually have a list.”
She also performs on Hawaii island today and Kauai on Sunday; her Maui concert was Thursday.
Freelon’s music has allowed her to travel all around the world, giving her the chance to experience the unique energy of each place and, more important, share her art and connect with the audience.
During a performance in Seoul, she recalled, she thought many in the audience could not understand her lyrics. But she firmly believes they understood their meaning.
“I feel like you can connect through music in a way that language lacks,” Freelon said, calling from Durham, N.C. “The ability to convey feelings like love and fear and anger and happiness and joy. Those are human emotions, and they are very well communicated through music.”
THE EXPRESSION of feeling, her ability to make a song her own, is what makes Freelon’s renditions of popular standards so special — her smooth, flawless voice notwithstanding.
While she enjoys singing all types of music, she really loves ballads.
“Just to get the chance to sit down inside of a song, in a very relaxed way with a lot of space, to take your time and enjoy that space — it’s almost like stretching out on a couch, just soaking everything in. I really like that mellow feel,” said Freelon.
Freelon considers singing her calling, but it wasn’t until after she had raised three children that she focused on her music. Her self-titled first album was released in 1992, and she hasn’t stopped since.
Eleven more albums, six Grammy nominations and a long list of shows worldwide later, the 59-year-old is happy with her decision.
“I don’t know too many women who have had a linear path to their passion,” said Freelon, who grew up in Massachusetts but now calls North Carolina home.
“My thing is that life is not a race. … Because of the choices I made some 30 years ago, in putting my family ahead of every concern about my career, I as a result now have three children who know me as ‘Mom,’ grandchildren, a husband that I’m still married to after 34 years who likes me — and I still like him — a dog, a cat.
“I have this wonderful life onstage where I can go and travel and do things. But when I come home, people know me and people like me, and I can just be ‘Mommy’ or ‘Grandmommy’ or wife.
“So I have two lives, in a way, that I both love and cherish.”
Freelon’s current venture blends those two lives. She is working on a theatrical production, “The Clothesline Muse,” in collaboration with her daughter, visual artist Maya Freelon Asante, and choreographer Kariamu Welsh.
Freelon’s contribution includes playing the part of the Muse, who tells stories that center on the clothesline back in the days when clothes were washed by hand, taking a look at the culture of the time and how it affects us today.
The group is still working on the script, but Freelon said the hope is to premiere the play in March in Philadelphia.
Freelon is also active in educating youth through the arts. She takes time out to conduct workshops and talk with children about how they can use and expand their creativity.
“The ability to design something, to create something, whether it be with words or paintbrushes or whatever, is critical. It’s what the world is looking for right now,” Freelon said. “Innovation, creation — that’s what this generation is gonna be all about.”