Reflections: On the Music of Tracy Chapman

For our first entry in “Reflections”, Joana Woods reminisces on a transcendent encounter with the voice of Tracy Chapman while travelling across Malawi. If you’d like to write something for this section, use the “Submit” tab above. Please read the instructions before hitting send.

One evening, along an non-discret dirt track in a southern region of warm Malawi, I drove to the soul that is Tracy Chapman. Naturally, the star song was “Fast Car” and with the lyrics “I had a feeling that I belonged, And I had a feeling I could be someone”- the resonance with my life at that time was huge. 

Like all of her music, the “Tracy Chapman” album in fact has a very unique sound, one which plays to the tune of the singer’s personal history. Born in Ohio, where she was raised by her mother, Tracy Chapman has made music that echoes hardship and the need for revolution by the impoverished masses. The content of most of her albums oscillates from deeply personal to the most collective of stories.

Of course her sound prides itself on being of Diasporic quality, but in doing so it is inherently related to the African continent. It was this characteristic that struck me most during my travels, her words seek to tell a tale of an Africa, of Africans; be it on the continent, or away from the motherland still in the transitory Diaspora.

The 2008 album, “Our Bright Future”, enters my ears at another time when it is needed. Even now, sitting in a student apartment in Copenhagen, stationary for once, the lyrics steer a journey of the senses once more. Tracy allows us to embark on a path of discovery with her future-building subject, her voice shrill on a majority of the tracks, and the guitar twanging in the background, there is an air of eeriness, nostalgia. It’s a bold activity but she succeeds in creating a consistent and independent sound every time, a sound which is subject to rebuilding and remembering a past in order to build that ‘bright future’. In addressing a community she once more speaks of a collective identity, a collective future in which we all move forward together:  “Our Bright Future”, it is not solely mine.

Its powerful stuff for a powerful voice – a female one I might add – a sound so packed with emotional heft and identity, lovingly interpreted.

“I used to sing for you” -Yes, you did Tracy!

Joanna Woods is currently studying for a masters in African studies at the University of Copenhagen, having graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She loves to write, travel ..and live!

One response to “Reflections: On the Music of Tracy Chapman

  1. So glad she means that much to you! Did you already see her in concert? Among the concerts of hers I attended there was that one in Copenhagen in 2008, it was great !

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