by Roy Anthony Morrison
For the past 20 years Monique Bingham has brought her unique story telling ability to some of the most memorable songs in the genre of House Music. She gained the attention of House Music fans during her stint with the band, Abstract Truth. Memorable hits like “Flight”, and “We Had a Thing”, still move her fans today.
In November of 2010 she released “You Me World” As a singer songwriter her lyrics always seem to strike a chord that resonates with her fans life experiences. Her soulful, and nuanced lyrics often touch on issues of race, class, colorism , and complex relationship. She does this in a way that is immediately relatable because it’s totally genuine.
In 2015 Monique released her first full album; a double CD which includes some of her best known songs over the last 20 years. it also included collaborations such as Louie Vega’s; Elevator (Going Up), and Deep In The Bottom, a collaboration with Black Coffee. For her latest project she has once again joined with Dj/producer Ralf Gum on a project that pays tribute to one of the Civil Rights movements little known activists. “Claudette” tells a story of segregation, struggle, and the fearless courage of youth. It also sheds light on an important aspect of Civil Rights history that should be included in the overall history of the period.
With “Claudette” Monique Bingham shines a light on pivotal moment in civil rights history that deserves more recognition.. She has also given us one hell of a tune. That’s no surprise though, it’s what she does. We are proud to present the words of the great lady herself. In her own words; Ms. Monique Bingham.
RM: You’ve recently completed a new project with Ralph Gum about a black woman from the civil right era Titled: “Claudette”. Tell us about the project, and who she is.
MB: Claudette Colvin was a 15 yr. old Back American girl who refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus in segregated Montgomery Alabama in 1955. This predated the Rosa Parks’ action which was arguably the beginning of the end of segregation in the US.
RM: Was this your own concept, or did Ralf make any suggestions as to the songs content?
MB: Ralf always defers to me regarding subject matter for our songs; as I believe he does with all of the artists he collaborates with. This is for his fourth album; “Progressions..” We have worked together for 10 years now so there’s a level of trust there.
RM: Why Do most American’s know about Rosa Parks but not Claudette Colvin?
MB Apparently the NAACP’s thinking was Claudette was young, and later became pregnant, and was unmarried. They wanted to use someone they felt was more representative of the movement. Which in hindsight feels like a mistake , and disingenuous. One can see why at that time they might have believed that to be the best. So they chose Rosa Parks to start the formal movement. Someone had to. But Claudette’s action was spontaneous and inspired.
RM: What are your thoughts on Claudette being only 15 years old at the time.?
MB: There’s a wonderful fearless thing that young people have. I think it’s a shame we were cheated out of the full story all those years. The modern civil rights movement was started by a pissed off fearless teenage girl. That’s profound. Makes you a little more patient when you hear them chatting too loudly on the subway (laughs). That energy changed the world.
RM: How significant is the connection between the struggle for civil rights in the states and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and how are the two still connected in these times?
MB: The parallels between apartheid South Africa, and the Jim Crow South are sort of obvious. Segregation, degradation of colored peoples at the hands of a White oppressive force. They remain connected because after half a millennia of colonialism, imperialism and slavery, the social economic and psychological harm doesn’t just disappear. The more horrific blatant indignation’s are made unlawful but the fumes linger.
The cancer of racism metastasizes in different ways in different places but it’s still cancer. In the US the tactic was one drop of African blood made you Black or Colored as they used to say. So when the whites were in the majority they wanted to subjugated as many as possible.
RM: What was it like working on this project. How long did it take you?
MB: It takes me such a long time this one it took about a year and a half for the idea to finally hit me. I am lucky enough to be in a relationship with another writer, and he keeps a lot of photographs around for inspiration himself. He saw me having trouble, and put a picture in front of me of a segregated area from the 1950s. It sparked the idea. I just started wondering how anyone could ever really handle that kind of daily psychological attack.
RM: How did thinking about it make you feel?
MB: I can’t even imagine. I am sitting on a bus, and I have to get up and give my seat to a white woman? Like what?! And it’s just a normal accepted thing, everyone does it, and no one gives it a second thought. It’s madness. It makes you wonder what madness are we accepting right now that 50 years from now we won’t believe we sat still and allowed.
RM: What was Ralf Gum’s reaction to the song when you finished working on it?
MB: He loved it. He told me at the start he was ready, and happy to make records that made strong statements.
RM: To some, the term “Coloured” people may seem a bit outdated. Tell us about your use of the term in the song.
MB: In South Africa the “Coloured” with a “u” is a separate racial classification than Black what we may call “mixed race” in the US. But that’s only phenotypically, culturally its a totally different scenario. It’s very nuanced and complicated on purpose. Where Whites were in the minority, divide and conquer was a more useful tactic for oppression. This song was really written in protest to the current rightward shift of Western governments around the world. Once rules start popping up in a society that separate people, and their freedoms by racial classifications however blatantly or subtly, your society is about to fall apart.
RM: Is this the first politically song you’ve written that has a political perspective?
MB: Nah, I have been writing socio-political records my entire career. All my songs are really about sex and politics.
RM: Is this the kind of project you would do again?
MB: I will always make provocative music so absolutely
RM: Monique, thank you for making time to do this; it was great speaking with you.
MB: No problem, my pleasure.
* Claudette Colvin currently resides in New York City. Ms. Colvin is represented by her sister Gloria Laster, founder of Laster Group.
* For more info on Monique Bingham visit: http://www.moniquebingham.comFB/IG: Monique Bingham
* Claudette Featuring Monique Bingham is available on http://www.traxsource.com
Photo credit: Roy Anthony Morrison/PhotoSoul Media
About Roy Anthony Morrison
A graduate of School Of Visual Arts; Roy Anthony Morrison has covered New York City’s House Music scene for over 20 years.
He has been a contributing writer, and photographer to; Dance magazine, SouledUp.com (UK), FabAfriq Magazine, MSN U.K,, and Essence Magazine. He currently serves as Fashion, and Entertainment Editor for Caribbean Posh Magazine (U.S.V.I.)