Today Antique is wearing a black skirt over green tights, a boldly-striped tank top over a black long-sleeve shirt, bright earrings that look like ice cream cones you might find in a Dr. Seuss story, an orange and black bandanna in her hair, and black 1950s-style cat’s eye glasses with sparkles in the corners. “I dress in different eras every day,” she says.
The music she creates, however, is naked.
As the lead vocalist of the ensemble Antique Naked Soul, Antique, along with vocal percussionist Tommy Shepherd, also known as Soulati, and vocalists Jayme Brown and N’gala McCoy, composes songs that consist solely of the human voice. The challenge, she and Shepherd say, is managing to create full-bodied “manifestos” within the limitation of such spare instrumentation.
The ensemble could just as easily be described as musical historians or preservationists. Over the course of their self-titled debut album, released last month, their overt political messages are propelled forward by the repurposed sounds of their heroes and ancestors alike. “It’s always been a fascination of mine…the music of the past,” Antique says. “It’s just really important to me that we call our ancestors into the space.”
On the album’s opening track “Intro: Wade in the Water,” Antique pulls a melody from influential 1990s hip-hop trio the Fugees before shifting into a rendition of the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which she notes was once used to “signal to other Africans that were enslaved that they needed to lay low in the water when they were running away.”
Later in the album, the spiritual makes another appearance in the cautionary “Lay Low,” which Antique says she wrote as a modern translation of “Wade in the Water” and which she describes as a “new Negro spiritual.“
The song starts with what sounds like the hum of a fluorescent light, or a microwave, before Shepherd adds a march-like beat. “Don’t roll through the hood with your guard down cause these streets don’t care about you…lay low,” Antique warns, her voice accentuated by harmonies provided by Brown and McCoy.
Not all of the ensemble’s influences come from the past, however. Many of the beats that Shepherd uses were originally created by Oakland producer the Nothing, who, Shepherd says, loves how they have been recreated with the human voice.
Other influences come, in a sense, from the future, and it what it holds for young people: Antique used to teach at ARISE High School in East Oakland and Shepherd has been teaching drama and hip-hop theater in different incarnations since 1998. Antique says that songs like “Lay Low,” and “Good Enough,” the latter of which addresses questions of “identity as a woman of color,” were directly inspired by conversations with her students. “When you open up a magazine and you don’t see yourself anywhere, how does that feel?” she had asked them.
Even though much of the music is full of an almost-palpable frustration, very few songs include profane lyrics.
“Some of the music…I want my kid to hear it, too,” Shepherd says.
Antique performs a solo set this evening at the Uptown for the Color Me Black album release show.