Charles Bradley on seeing the spirit and the soul of America

By Mike Dunn
When Charles Bradley’s spirit opens up onstage, it’s extraordinary. Photo: Shayan Asgharnia

When Charles Bradley’s spirit opens up onstage, it’s extraordinary.
Photo: Shayan Asgharnia

CALGARY — There’s an energy in Charles Bradley’s voice; the boisterousness of a young man through the measured tone of wisdom, of a man who can only be slowed by forces beyond his control. After a short health-related layoff in Europe, Bradley is back at full strength, and itching to get back out onstage. “Can’t tell me when to sit down, nature’s gotta knock me down,” Bradley tells BeatRoute with vigour, “I’m ready to get back on the road, I’m bad to the bone and I love to give the people what they want. Maybe that’s why the Good Lord did what He did, ‘cause He know I won’t stop.”

Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires have been vigorously touring the new release Changes, and Bradley expects to get straight back to work once he’s able to be home for a bit. “I got to finish what I’m doin’ out in the world, you know, making people happy,” says Bradley, “and then when I get some time to slow down then I’ll start going into the studio and doin’ another album.” Bradley is also “considering adding a couple more pieces, making it more dynamic to [his] taste.”

Soul music in America has always been a vehicle for social justice, from Sam Cooke through Marvin Gaye, James Brown through D’Angelo, and Bradley has carried on that tradition of speaking directly the challenges facing Black America. Changes cut “God Bless America” finds Bradley speaking thoughtfully on his experience in the United States over a mellow gospel organ, “America, you’ve been real, honest, hurt, and sweet to me. All the pains that I been through, it made me strong, to stand strong, to know that America represents love, for all humanity.”

Bradley believes that soul music needs to be real, and honest. “Looking back in my history, where I come from, soul music is the cry of the world; it’s the cry that’s tellin’ you what is goin’ on, and the pain that you had lived through.”

Racial tension in America is as high as it’s been since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the anxiety so many African Americans live through every day is something Bradley is painfully conscious of: “It scares me, it scares me so much, and that’s why a lot of times, if I don’t have reasons to be out in the streets, I’m home, staying around the house to keep busy or I’m in the studio. ‘Cause when I walk in the streets, I look into the policeman’s eyes, I look into the people’s eyes, I see the truth. And it hurts sometimes, and I think, ‘God, what can I do about it?’ I feel these things, and sometimes I don’t wanna say something, I just come in the house and close the door and don’t wanna face the world. But when I get onstage, my heart opens up, and I see the traces on people’s faces, and I just let it all out the way I feel it in my heart.”

Bradley continues: “You know what I’m finding out today? It’s not a racial problem, it’s evil forces, and evil forces can go in any colour. They can be white, black, whatever, when a person got an evil force inside them, it has no colour, and that’s what we gotta realize, all over the world. You know, we’re all just bodies, but the evil force is out there in the spirit.”

As a musician, Bradley sees through music, and the power to open that spirit: “If I’m with the band, and they know how to take that music and make my spirit open up, oh man, you got a show. I played with bands, and they just play the fundamentals of the music, the album, and then I’m, I’m just like a robot. But if you got musicians that know how to open their spirit, and get into the soul of the music, then oh my God, you got a show. I have no holdback in me, and my spirit is just gonna open up.”

Charles Bradley performs at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver on September 17th, Winspear Centre in Edmonton on September 21st, MacEwan Hall in Calgary on September 22nd and Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg on September 24th.

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