To invoke Bobby Byrd, Rakim and Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, soul is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. It can't be calculated, borrowed or bought. The idea is more ancient than Scripture, and its effects are equally ineffable. "Soul" is pure cliché and an unavoidable ascription. So I asked Georgia Anne Muldrow what it meant to her -- because there may be no more soulful woman in the Western states than this L.A.-raised 29-year-old.
Her main residence is in the Mojave, but Muldrow frequently returns home, and she remains one of the city's most celebrated astral travelers. She's worked closely with Sa-Ra and J*DaVeY, and her latest greatest record is March's Seeds, produced entirely by the enigmatic Madlib, L.A.'s reigning jazz beats and blunts baron.
"Soul is a real and beautiful thing," Muldrow says from the home in Las Vegas that she shares with her children and "husfriend," Dudley Perkins, a funkdafied rapper-crooner who has released several albums on Stones Throw.
"When Curtis Mayfield sings, it's soulful because it comes from his soul, not the sounds that he makes. I think Neil Young is soulful but he doesn't make 'soul' music. It's about singing from your life experiences -- the difference between singing from the spirit in your body versus only your body."
In Muldrow's case, soul is birthright. Her father was renowned local jazz guitarist Ronald Muldrow. Her mother is Rickie Byars-Beckwith, musical director of the Agape Spiritual Center in Culver City. Her stepdad is the center's founder, Rev. Michael Beckwith, famed for his role as one of the teachers in The Secret. Raised in the Mid-City area around Little Ethiopia, Muldrow grew up singing in the church. But her intellectual epicenter was Leimert Park, the bohemian enclave in South Central that nurtured her love of poetry, politics and social concern.
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Released on her and Perkins' own SomeOthaShip imprint, Seeds is beatific but worried, balancing blissful soul samples and earth-goddess vocals with humanistic concerns (including an attack on Monsato for genetic food engineering). On its cover, Muldrow wears a caftan and afro, looking like the soulful spawn of Angela Davis. Inspirations include Aretha Franklin, Hindu scripture, Curtis Mayfield, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, racial inequity, Leimert Park and the year 1979.
But calling it soulful is one-dimensional; its definition of soul attempts to illuminate the obscure and the primal, the alchemy of digging deeper.
"The adjective I like to use to describe my music is tribal. Tribal is uncharted territory. In ancient cultures, music was a chief form of technology. It could celebrate a coming of age or calm down a crying child," Muldrow says. "For me, it's about trying to create music from an eternal place, something that affirms the spirit and supports those fighting the good fight. I want to help people heal."