Nina Simone on the Role of the Artist
Interviewer: You want your art to live on long after you
Nina: Oh yes.
I: And your music says this, and it speaks to Black people. I want you to tell me what your gut feeling is about.
NS: Well, look, off the top of my head, as far as I’m concerned, thousands and thousands of years ago, we were, for lack of a better expression, “on top”. If there were oppressors, they were me and you (laughs). We were not being oppressed, we had kings and queens. We had civilizations that we don’t know very much about. So as far as I’m concerned, my music is addressed to my people, especially to make them more curious about where they came from and their own identity and pride in that identity. That’s why in my songs I try to make them as powerful as possible, mostly just to make them curious about themselves. We don’t know anything about ourselves. We don’t even have the pride and dignity of the African people. We cant’ even talk about where we came from. We don’t know. It’s like a lost race. And my songs are deliberately to provoke this feeling of like “who am I and where did I come from? Do I really like me, and why do I like me? And, if I am Black and beautiful, I really am and I know it, and I don’t care who cares/says what”. That’s what my songs are about, and it is addressed to Black people. Though at times, the songs, I hope, that in their musical concept and in their musical form and power, that they will also live on after I die in as much that they are universal songs.
I: I don’t think that an artist should be involved in these kinds of things.
NS: An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.