Saturday, September 1, 2007 Issue 93, Page 6 & 18 Word count: 2025 Published in: Macau Daily Times
By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Being recognised as one the last remaining jazz divas of the 20th century, Dee Dee Bridgewater does not find herself lost in the materialistic world. Instead, the 57-year-old African American is sad about all the over-development that is happening around the globe.
Dee Dee Bridgewater, a multi-Grammy Awarded jazz singer, has made her first visit to Macau to perform a jazz concert tonight at Macao Cultural Centre.
Living next to Las Vegas in Nevada, Dee Dee said it was very strange for her to come this far around the world and see a country that was developing itself like another Las Vegas, adding that “I just can’t believe it.”
“It makes me wonder where we are going in this world. Because everything is about money and taking the money, it’s a false hope for many people who cannot nearly afford to gamble but they do because they are hoping they would win. And at the end they’re in deeper trouble and it’s when the problem started.”
Dee Dee said she had only heard the name of Macau, but didn’t know where it was.
“I looked at the map but couldn’t find it. So I googled it and found that it wasn’t far from Hong Kong. Because I live in Vegas, I knew that Steve Wynn has come here and built the casino, and the man that built the Venetian was coming here,” she said.
“I just heard that this place has this unusual conventional culture, Chinese and Portuguese are a part of the mix in a society of greed. And it seems like this is just catching on everywhere.
“I was in Dubai in March and it seems that they are trying to build a skyscraper to touch the sky, it’s just out of control. I feel it in a way that it’s unfortunate that around the world this gambling thing has taken on such an important position and the country feels that they can gain a lot of revenue from it when in fact the people in that country are going to suffer and to lose the money.”
Dee Dee said she decided not to read anything about Macau so that she could come to the former Portuguese colony totally open-minded without having with something and then formulated the ideal.
“It makes me sad. I’m a person who believes in keeping traditions, from architecture to a country’s custom, because it’s what makes the country individual,” she said.
“But as I travel around the world, everything is become globalised, it’s almost like you’re finding yourself in a similar place.”
The jazz diva said super wealthy people were coming in and building things. They had taken away the culture and it was certainly not good for children.
“Nothing is clean anymore”
“My son is 15 and I had to get him out of Las Vegas last year because everything suggests that sex is open, drugs are free, alcohol is everywhere, and throw your money away with gambling. We’ve lost the spiritual morality. And people are just getting lost. My teenage son is not affected by tragedy in a way that I was at his age.
“When you combine that with technology and the internet, people don’t speak to each other anymore. There’s no more conversation, young people don’t know how to socialise.
“They don’t know anymore about having to work hard to get something because the image they have is ‘you can have it now’. And it’s not true. Nothing is clean anymore.”
Being the Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation since October 1999, Dee Dee said one of her goals was to bring hope to the world.
“People have taken time out of their lives to organise themselves to come and spend an evening with me. They’ve done all kinds of things in order to free themselves up to come to a performance.
“And I feel that as an actress, it’s my responsibility to give a good performance on every level by having the best musician, and the imaginative arrangements to make the people laugh in between songs.”
“I have had people write me and tell me from listening to my album, I kept them from committing suicide”
She said she tried to create an intimate atmosphere in a large theatre by communicating with audience.
“I know how to look at people so that they can feel even if I might not be actually looking at them.”
By the end of every concert, Dee Dee said she wanted to see smiling faces going out of the place.
“My goal is to give people positive inspirations so that they can in turn deal with their lives and problems with some kind of feeling that they can achieve and survive in a bad situation,” she said.
“Many artists do not want to take that kind of responsibility. But I feel that it’s my obligation because my voice is a gift, I never studied to sing. So I feel that I must give this gift back and in so doing, I must make the people happy even just for two hours.
“I have had people write me and tell me from listening to my album, I kept them from committing suicide. And when you get a letter like that, it helps you to understand how important it is to choose your material wisely and to do things in a way that can be a good example for others.”
“It was time for me to accept and embrace the fact that I do have African heritage”
Winning a Tony Award of the Best Featured Actress with the 1975 Broadway musical “The Wiz”, Dee Dee said it was not much of a turning point in her career that she thought it would be.
“In being realistic, there is something that is often hard for people who aren’t colored to understand. That is, while I won the Tony Award, I was a black actress. And in the mid 70s when I won the award to go for a leading role, there were not many roles for a black American woman at that time.
“Then I signed another recording contract but nothing really happened for me as an actress. I was called into audition for roles that were originally for white actresses. And I was always told that I spoke too fast, my lips were not big enough, my nose wasn’t big and I didn’t have light eyebrows,” Dee Dee recalled.
Yet, the Tony Award winner still thought that the theatre experience was something she could not afford to miss in her life.
“Having done theatre has aided my stage performance. I learned the use of space and how to be in space. I also learned how to project my voice in a large hub without the use of a regular microphone. And having to develop character helped me to be able to interpret the songs in more deep than just sing the songs.
“I learned working in a group situation than a singer. Also I had gone to theatre from being a singer of a big band. So these two experiences kind of helped each other.”
Dee Dee said she would encourage her students, who are either young singers or musicians, to take up some acting classes as they would be able to “really get into and interpret the songs than just standing there”.
“And I tell musicians that they must learn the lyrics of the song as they perform so that they have a better understanding of what the song is about, and create the colours that would go with the story,” she added.
The jazz singer said her latest album – “Red Earth: a Malian journey” – was born out of her decision a few years ago which was a testimony to the recognition her origin.
“It was time for me to accept and embrace the fact that I do have African heritage.
“As I get older, my goal is to reach the highest spiritual level that I can, and I don’t think one can do that unless one knows where one comes from. And I’ve a lot of unanswered questions about I behave the way I do, why I’m attracted to certain things.”
Dee Dee’s former husband, Cecil Bridgewater, who was interested in doing genetic logical research, helped Dee Dee trace both sides of her parent back to about 150 years.
“I discovered both of my parents’ families are originated from Africa. After that, I decided I would listen to music from different West African countries because I knew that most of the slave trade came from western Africa.
“Every time when I listen to music from Mali, it’s with my spirit and my soul. Everything I like is from Mali. It’s just got to a point that I became frustrated and I said I had to go to this country.”
In 2004, Dee Dee headed to Mali and visited the old capital because of its history.
“I was fascinated by the fact that Mali was part of a kingdom. The people were smashed away from their homeland and taken to this new world of the United States. They were treated as animals and were given numbers. They were stripped off their history.
“Every time I met someone from any country in Africa, they have a pride about them because they know their history,” she said.
“One time when I was waiting for my bag at the airport, an elderly man came to me and he was convinced I was his niece who had gone all the way to study in Europe. He refused to believe I was an American and my name was Dee Dee Bridgewater.”
The 57-year-old jazz diva said she was told she had the traits of a northern Malian tribe called the Peul – a nomadic tribe.
“How interesting it was because in my life time I’m a kind of nomad. I live in airplanes and hotels, and I constantly travel around.”
“I feel there is enough depression in the world today without me adding to it”
Having been singing professionally since she was 20, Dee Dee confessed she had a time when she thought of quitting the stage.
“I did an album in 1980 and I didn’t record until 1987. I was doing more acting and I was married to a director who made a tonne of money. I was living in Hollywood and I was having a Hollywood life. I was dressing beautifully, having a house-keeper, driving BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and being invited out to parties.”
Dee Dee said she picked up singing again in 1987 because she was able to produce music that she truly liked.
“I believe in what I’m doing. And every album that I’ve recorded and produced, the music has been my choice. And I choose the songs because they speak to me in a particular way.
“I come to the public from a sincere and honest place, no one has told me what to do. So the way that the music is done to develop the songs has been created and refined in a way that I feel the most comfortable and it’s the story that I’m trying to tell.
“I’m very conscious about doing songs that are uplifting. I don’t like to do sad songs. I feel there is enough depression in the world today without me adding to it.”
Dee Dee said most journalists automatically assumed that she was a recording artist – she was signed to a label and that the label told her what to do. But the jazz singer emphasised that she produced her albums from start to finish.
“I hire the crew, and I have my own photographer – because working with a photographer is something very special.
“When you have a camera in front of your face, it’s almost like someone is looking inside of you and undressing you. So I’ve to find a photographer that I feel comfortable with,” she said.
“Be able to have control of what I do to own my product is a very wonderful thing. It’s something that I can leave for my children forever.”