- World excluding USA & Canada
- Vocal Jazz
- Catalogue Id:
- VMD 79356
By DEAN RUDLAND
If you were looking for an easy way of summing up Camille Yarbrough it might be difficult. Her life has seen her take on many different careers: she has been a dancer, poet, actor, writer of children's literature, and a recording artist. To most she may be best known as the voice on Fatboy Slim's Praise You which used a sample from Take Yo' Praise from THE IRON POT COOKER.
The LP came about when Bob Nemirov (who had also performed a critical role in the early career and discovery of the great jazz singer Oscar Brown Jr) played a demo disc of the music to a friend at Vanguard Records. The record fits in with others that appeared at the time by artists such as Sarah Webster Fabio and Jayne Cortes, poets who added their words to funky backing tracks as a way of putting their message across. Of course, all of this music has a creative and philosophical link with the recordings that were appearing by the Last Poets, the Watts Prophets and, in more tuneful moments, Gil Scott-Heron.
Of the female poets, it is perhaps Yarbrough who comes closest to Scott-Heron. Like him she integrates the music with the words to create songs rather than poems over funky grooves. So we get the serious messages of All Hid, But It Comes Out Mad or Take Yo' Praise, but we also get wonderful melodies that you can hum, even if you don't remember the words. Take Yo' Praise sees the lauding of not one man, but 'black man' in general, and in its words it shows a distinctive part of Yarbrough's work, the politics of the personal. In this she is applying her own day to day existence to the generality of the black American existence. With this she may well lose a panoramic view of politics, or of offering a polemic desire to change things, but at a distance of 30 years it seems a lot less na?Øve than some of the outbursts of the Last Poets now do.
It may be this connection with the personal that has dictated much of what Camille Yarbrough has done since she recorded the album. As well as continuing to perform on stage she has given her time to working with children as part of the Jazz Mobile project and her own African American Traditions Workshop, teaching drama and poetry. Whilst she has also continued as a political activist, her greatest success in this period have come with another new career as a writer of children's books. These, including "The Shimmershine Queens", "Cornrows" and "Tamika And The Wisdom Ring", are written with a strong adherence to the black American tradition, mixing the feel of African folk tales, and awareness of the community from which the children they are aimed at come from.
So it is quite clear that although the success of Fatboy Slim's Praise You may well have kicked off a different level of recognition for Camille Yarbrough and her music from the mid 70s a worldwide number one can do that she had no real need of that lift. As a poet, activist, writer, dancer, actor and of course singer she was already an important and respected person in her own right.