A chat with Esperanza Spalding


March 28, 2011 – When Grammy award winner Esperanza Spalding walked into the room nobody expected her to be a perfect size 6. All they knew about her was her mop of hair, and even with that, it would be easy to pass her by.

But since she was flanked by several organizers of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, it had to be her right?

She was an innocent looking creature who drifted in front of us clad in an off white blouse and black pants; she was all smiles and took her time to answer each and every question thrown at her, diligently. There were no sucker punches, even when it came to the Justin Bieber trip.

Cameras flashed at her, but she ignored them. She was asked why she chose to play the bass guitar…

“It’s like a language. You might speak Russian as your native language and find that there are certain words you look for and they just don’t say exactly what you want.

So even as you speak you have to keep looking for them. But then one day you wake up and start learning Icelandic, and you realize that you are able to say exactly what you want to. For me, that’s how I find the bass…”ESPERANZA_194913010.jpg

Though 26, ES seems much wiser than her years. She connects with her musical persona very seamlessly, and when you start to feel the awe rising up she says something young and quirky to bring you back to earth – and you realize that she is just a very lucky and talented human being.

She was asked, of course, whether winning the Grammy and beating Justin Bieber has changed her life.

“It’s still the same. Life is still the same. There are many more of you (journalists) in here though that’s for sure. But I still have to work as hard; I still put in as many hours.

I didn’t expect to win. Nobody ever does. In fact, I had already had a celebratory lunch the day before, to celebrate getting nominated for a grammy.

As a matter of fact, just being nominated was winning. But now, there are many more interviews so that’s cool,” she said, smiling.

ES does not peg her musical diversity on her upbringing or what she was exposed to growing up; rather on whatever she allows to influence her.

“Even at the age of 50, you can learn to be a great musician and get your own kind of music style.”

Esperanza’s mother did however teach her from a young age that she had to work for everything that she wanted.

And that with hard work, she has grown from greatness to greatness; even to be the star attraction at the 12th edition of the Cape Town jazz festival.

“I was excited to come here and so was my mom. She said to me last night that it must be amazing to perform in Africa, where jazz actually originated.”

This young lass has played for US president Barack Obama – a man people know nearly as much as Michael Jackson (and I exaggerate a little), but that did not really make my heart stop.

“Stevie Wonder was there, and Paul Simon, and these are people whose music I respect. I was more nervous from them being in the audience. Not that I don’t respect Obama, but those guys are musical geniuses…”

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