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World Music Matters

Natalia M King - jazz, blues and Black Lives Matter

Audio 12:37

American singer-songwriter and guitarist Natalia M King has made France her home but her latest album BlueZzin' T'il Dawn sees her embracing the jazz and blues of her native Brooklyn. She talked to RFI about finding her voice in blues and why the "modern lynching" of the US's young black men has to stop.


King began her career her in France on the Paris métro. Her first two albums were heavy on electric guitar. The second, Sound & Fury more or less summed up her state of mind. That was in 2013.

A lot has changed. Seven years back in the States allowed her to "take a break from the music so [she] could be more engaged in life."

She returned to France in 2013 with a certain maturity and experience.

"That added to my music; I think my music got better," she says. There was something natural in gravitating towards blues and jazz "a more mature type of music".

King is of Caribbean descent but says she didn't deliberately set out to make black music. 

"I'm closer to myself now, to who I am and to my roots which are black and which sing the black heritage."

Her new sound befits a woman in her 40s blessed with a huge voice. She soars effortlessly alongside Xavier Sibre's saxophones and Ronald Baker's trumpet. But is equally at ease taking the tempo down on an exciting cover of Billie Holiday's Don't Explain.

Strong ties to France

King has settled in Arles, in the south of France, and has found a jazz-loving public. While it's no easy ride making a living, she feels at ease here.

"Back in the US I feel like a French person and here in France I'm definitely an American but it's true my ties are more bonded with France today," she says. "I love its culture, food, wine, people. It's really blessed to be in this country and the French should be reminded of that more."

Black Lives Matter

King may have a stronger sense of self these days. But she can still get angry. 

"Let's say it, black men are being shot down like deer in the forest," she comments on the police shootings that have sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. "They find themselves in ghettos and underprivileged situations but that doesn't mean you kill them for it. For me it's like a modern lynching."

Referring to Billie Holiday's 1954 song about lynching, Strange Fruit, King says "there's strange fruit still going on today but just with a different face".

While the majority of songs on the new album tallk more about emotions than politics, the shooting of African-American Philando Castile in July this year drove her to pen Black Man in America. The chorus goes "Every time he tried to find his way you're gonna shoot him down".

"Something has to change in the mentality of police and the mentality of America as a whole towards its black men," says King.

She's no less tender with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. "He's a sick, crazy man. He's pathetic, he's a fool. He will not win," she says determinedly. 

And if he does?

"I'm gonna change my passport. I'll become French."

Natalia M. KIng is in concert  - 14-15 October, Jazz Club Etoile, Hôtel Méridien Etoile in Paris as part of the Jazz sur Seine Festival. And 20 October at Le Triton.

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