I do not like Nina Simone’s music that much. I cannot help it, I simply do not find her voice to be very soothing or nice to listen to. I know it is a horrible thing to say, but I am just being honest here. Some songs are pretty nice, and the lyrics are good, but I am just not a jazzy/bluesy kind of person and again, the sound of her voice just is not easy to the ear to me.
But as I had read a few very positive articles about the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, I started to watch it a few weeks ago. At first I had no idea what the documentary was leading to, but I did notice they interviewed a lot of very essential people, which felt honest and real to me. The filmmaker, Liz Garbus, interviewed the daughter of Eunice Waymon (which is Nina Simone’s real name) and her ex-husband, among other people that were important in her life.
Even though at first the documentary did not feel as excellent as I read it should have been, the second half of it surely was. I noticed that when I was watching, but even more in the weeks later. The Kurt Cobain documentary was impressive because he was a weird guy, but everybody kinda knew that. The whole thing about the Miss Simone one, is that Nina Simone was struggling so much without many people really knowing.
I thought it was really interesting how she helped so much during the Civil Rights era. It is always very hard for me to imagine those times, not just because I am white and therefore I cannot truly know what it felt like to have a different colored skin back then, but also because it was in a different country, in a period of time when I did not walk this earth yet. However, just because I cannot truly know what that felt like, I am very interested in this, especially now that it seems America is still often struggling with racism.
That the Civil Rights era still is very important to Americans and unfortunately sometimes very relevant, is something that can even be seen in pop culture. In a way you could say that Beyonce is the new Nina Simone, especially with her awesome song Formation that just released during the Super Bowl. A strong video too, which can only be watched on Tidal by the way, but it is totally worth it. For a Dutch girl like me, not everything in the video is as clear message-wise, but a lot of it I understand and I appreciate Beyonce taking a stand.
Anyway, back to Nina Simone, it strikes me how lonely she must have felt all the time. Sometimes she was so far away from her daughter, often she was abused by her husband (although I am not sure if she was not totally innocent on that part herself, the documentary is not very clear about that) and she was struggling with an illness that did not really have a name back then. It is so fascinating to watch her perform, to try to see something in her eyes, but she is so hard to read!
I am very glad I got to see this documentary, which did not make me love her music, but it did make me love the person. Even though she seems like such a tough woman, she did care about things (like the movement) and she expresses herself so amazingly in the lyrics of her music. The documentary itself was extraordinary too, it felt like an excellent telling of her life story, well edited and very much worth the effort.