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Play It Forward: Singer Constance Hauman On Harmony, Rhythm, Opera And Funk

Singer Constance Hauman, in an archival photograph taken on Oct. 26, 1989 at Club MK in New York.
Singer Constance Hauman, in an archival photograph taken on Oct. 26, 1989 at Club MK in New York.

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, funk legend George Clinton spoke about opera singer and funk keyboardist Constance Hauman. In particular, he praised Hauman's many musical talents, which extend across genres.

"I had no idea about the opera part" of Hauman's career, Clinton explained, "until somebody ... showed me a video and I'm like, 'Oh my god — what?' I had to call her up and say, 'You didn't tell me about this.' " Later in the interview, he added that he's ready to tour with Hauman, as they have in the past. "I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you ready to hit the road again? We've got some unfinished things to do. We were right in the middle of recording some of the shows live when the pandemic started ... I'll see her in outer space."

Hauman says Clinton's words moved her to tears.

"You know, he was an idol, and Parliament Funkadelic was such a huge inspiration and something I always listened to on the road when I was doing opera to keep me going," she says.

Hauman spoke to NPR's Ari Shapiro about her new album, Tropical Thunderstorm, her experiences as a multi-genre musician and an artist she's grateful for: Daf player Asal Malekzadeh. Listen in the audio player above, and read on for highlights of their conversation.


Interview highlights

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On performing as Cunegonde in Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra

"I would say it changed my life in that, as George said, 'I went to outer space.' It was like being transported to another galaxy to have that experience and then have to come back to Earth and go back to having a 'normal' opera career ... My whole life for the future was contained in that one moment, and I think that's what — years later — gave me the courage to just say, 'Okay, you know what? That happened. Why couldn't it happen again?' I'm gonna get this band to George Clinton."

On her evolution as a musician

"Well, again, I have to take it back to Lenny [Leonard Bernstein, who also composed Candide] and the Young People's Concerts [a televised CBS series that brought classical music to a wider audience] ... As [Bernstein] would always say, 'There shouldn't be genre prejudice because good music — no matter what genre it is — is the same music.' ... [He showed that] there shouldn't be a psychological block in people to listen to different types of music, and he was the first and only conductor to do that."

On performing both opera and funk

"Yes, I mean, I think you become a better musician by being open to everything because rhythm is rhythm ... If you really take apart [Alban] Berg and [Arnold] Schoenberg and [Claude] Debussy and Maurice [Ravel] and all those harmonies they were experimenting with at different times you can hear it translated then into funk harmonies and R&B harmonies ... It's harmony and rhythm; it's sound and light."

On the professional Daf player Asal Malekzadeh, who Hauman has nominated for the next Play It Forward...

"Well, Asal Malekzadeh, and she is an Iranian Daf player...[A Daf is] an ancient instrument from Persia. And she has a 90-piece female percussion band, and she's a driving force in the music there."

... and a closing message for Malekzadeh

"Asal, you don't know me, and I don't know you. But, I know your music. And your music makes me feel like I know you. And I'm so inspired by everything that you're doing as a teacher and a mentor to other musicians. And I think your rhythms are so beautiful and inspire me. And I hope [that] I meet you sometime."

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