Measha Brueggergosman with her t-shirt on global warming. The Canadian-born soprano opera singer has gained international recognition over the last five years.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
January 19, 2007
Afrobella of the Week, The Afrobella Interview
I’ve made allusions to my job here, but today I will tell you all what I do. I’m the calendar editor of the Miami New Times, and my job is to write and put together the section that includes all of the hottest events in the city for that week. I love having my fingers on the pulse of the city, so to speak.
Very rarely, my job winds up relating to something Afrobella. I wound up having a wonderfully serendipitous experience recently, which leads me to my first full-length Afrobella of the Week for 2007.
Last year, I got e mails and comments from quite a few readers suggesting I check out Measha Brueggergosman, a beautiful woman with a large ‘fro and an even larger voice.
She’s a soprano who is essentially is a freelance soloist, brought in to work with the world’s best orchestras. I checked her out, thought she was amazingly beautiful, but never had a chance to really explore her work at that point. Then a press release popped up in my work e-mail. Guess who’s coming to town with the Cleveland Orchestra for their two week residency at the Carnival Center?
I just about screamed when I saw the gorgeous photo and information they sent me. Obviously, this was meant to be.
I arranged an interview with Measha and told her right off the bat that this was a two-part interview. One about the Cleveland Orchestra performance – she will be singing in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, otherwise known as “Ode to Joy.” The second was all about Afrobella, to which she replied, “Oooh!” Then “Hey- aren’t we friends?” I’m confused for a moment, then I realize she’s referring to MySpace. I had just added her that day. So nice to know that some stars actually check their own MySpace pages! (While you’re there, check out her version of “Summertime.” Homegirl is fierce!)
I know essentially nothing about orchestras or Measha’s kind of music, so I had to get those questions out first. Let me tell you, Measha Brueggergosman has sung in practically every major city in the world. “I opened the seasons of the Quebec Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony… in the Spring, when I’m in Gothenburg in Sweden, we do Gothenburg, Lyon, Paris… Tel Aviv for five or six concerts…”
I was amazed by her job, the fact that it requires her to travel to the world’s artiest cities and perform and the most luxe venues. Still, she is far from jaded.
“I still don’t take it for granted. I think it’s one of the coolest jobs in the world. Right now I’m staying in Cleveland at this beautiful hotel with the cast of Dancing with the Stars! You wanna talk cool? I wanna talk having a glass of wine at the hotel bar and watching Cheryl go by!” she gushed. “I’m a reality television junkie, and that’s one of the rare shows that is actually about talent!”
She was so excited. I found it hilarious that someone with such a highbrow occupation had such lowbrow interests as reality television. “The music is what elevates the medium. So you have to have singers and musicians who are healthy and are treated well… you have to be fit, and I think if you live a full and delicious life, that all comes out on stage anyway. So in a way, one helps the other. My lowbrow interests keep me fresh and humbled by this grandiose art form that I happen to be blessed enough to do for a living. I’m still a 29 year old from the Maritimes, and I still get absolutely speechless when I see Joey Lawrence in the hotel lobby!”
Whoa! Both of us felt like we grew up with him, watching him with the bowl cut on Gimme a Break, then as the studly idiot on Blossom. Now he’s all grown up. We gushed about the newly sculpted and shave-headed Joey Lawrence for a bit too long, but it was all fun. Measha is a happy, giggly, fun-to-talk-to person who just happens to have one of the world’s most notable singing voices. We totally clicked.
We talked conductors and Beethoven, singing in foreign languages, and the plastic surgery nightmares on South Beach. I admitted, in a superficial city like Miami, at times I feel so different, so stared at.
Being a super curvy girl with a big head of crazy hair in a city filled with lithe, breast-implanted, blond-by-any-means-necessary, skimpily dressed women will do that to you.
I tell Measha, sometimes I just don’t feel like I fit in here at all.
“Yeah, but you feel like you don’t fit in but then you realize that everyone else looks the same. You stand out because you’re hot! You’re hot because you’re different. The uniqueness is attractive,” she purrs. “I was just in L.A, I had to convince myself of that in L.A. I was like, OK… I’ve left my self-esteem at the door! But then you realize everyone looks the same.”
When I told Measha about my Canadian readers who e mailed me about her fabulous fro, she gasped. She loved the idea of the site, and at that point she hadn’t even seen it. And she was instantly ready to discuss hair products with me!
“I’ll tell ya, there’s a line of products called Devachan, and they are… amazing. I stopped shampooing my hair three years ago, and I didn’t have nearly as much breakage. I was able to grow it. I’m never gonna straighten it again. But sometimes I have it braided for something different. But I love those products, they specialize in naturally curly hair,” she gushed.
Measha’s been natural for five years. “I think I was straightening out of habit. My mother straightens of course… it’s a generational thing, it’s a cultural thing. I’m not sure, it’s just what we did. I was in an opera where I had braids put in, and I liked it, and I just let the straight grow out and I thought – why don’t I just wear this? It’s so much easier! I would never begrudge my mother, she really takes beautiful care of her hair. She has the beautiful, long… you know how length is a status symbol in the black community… I don’t know what’s up with that. But yeah, it was like, I know this is going to be easier. I’m not gonna be have to think about it, I can get it wet… so I gave into it. I love it!”
For anyone who thinks that afro hair is unkempt, or not workplace appropriate; look at Measha as an example. She performs around the world for the crème-de-la-crème, and she says she has never faced judgment from anyone because of her hairstyle.
“I think people are just relieved – finally, someone with an afro! I think at the core of it all, what is most important is the work. So if I didn’t feel secure in my ability as a singer, I think I wouldn’t let that bleed into what I look like. In classical music you get to dress up in beautiful gowns… and you want to reflect the medium, and respect this tradition that you belong to. That to me is bringing everything I can to it, and also ensuring that with my seemingly au courant kind of look, I play my small part in modernizing this genre of music and keeping it as relevant as I can for as long as I can. It’s not like people are banging down the door to come to classical music concerts. We need to accept our role in the death of this art form. It’s like church! They have to modernize as well. It doesn’t mean that they need to dilute the message, they just need to acknowledge that you know, people seem to be ready for a different package.”
As a total classical music ignoramus, Measha drew me in with her style, and the sheer glow of her personality.
“You can only be who you are. It gets so exhausting to be someone else, you know? And I think it doesn’t do anybody any good for me to be anyone else but me. You feel like you have more to offer as yourself, than as the projection of what people might want you to be. I’ve never ever had anything but positive reinforcement from orchestra members, conductors, all of the people I work with,” she says.
“So this is you,” I say, which instantly makes me think of Mary J. Blige’s Take Me As I Am. I love that song, but it strikes me as somewhat ironic. When MJB was on the Tyra Banks show with Jada Pinkett-Smith and Lisa Price repping Carol’s Daughter, she admitted that the industry makes female singers — including herself – feel like they need to be the skinniest, with the longest hair. Personally, I’d love to really see Mary without the weave. If there’s any singer that talks the natural-hair talk but doesn’t walk the walk, it’s her.
I discuss that apparent contradiction with Measha, and she sort of agrees with me. “Well, you gotta wonder if this is what she wants, or if it’s what her stylist wants,” she says. “I wonder, are we doing our children’s and our children’s children a disservice by presenting a lack of diversity?” She gives a heavy sigh. “I’m so sick of… same,” she says. No kidding.
Here’s Measha, singing Reve Infini (Infinite Dream). She’s got the voice of an angel, and she’s so beautiful and down-to-earth. Love her!