Photo by Jose Cotto
For the past 50 years, the Hamilton Hill Art Center has been the hotspot for promoting and preserving black art and culture in Schenectady. On July 14, they’ll be celebrating their half-century of contributions to the community with theater, dance, fashion, art and music performances by black artists from the local area and beyond in Sankofa: The Legacy at Proctors Theater.
One featured performance group coming to Schenectady is Brooklyn’s Lady Moon & The Eclipse. The ethereal, six-piece, cosmic soul band is celebrated for their messages of positivity and love as well as their celestial creative focus.
As described by Ngonda Badila, AKA Lady Moon, she “carries the essence of the Moon sending a message of love, peace, and light,” as the band messenger, the musicians “serve as the Sun shining light upon her” and the audience represents “the Earth, also known as the Star People of Earth, completing the metaphorical eclipse,” in a form of metaphorical alignment during their performance.
The Sankofa show will be a special one for Lady Moon & The Eclipse, which includes her two sisters Ntangou Badila (vocals) and Nkoula Badila (vocals, percussion). Their mother Pamela Badila will be performing with two of her dance students as Diata Diata International Folkloric Theatre and their brother, known as hip hop artist Young Paris (Roc Nation, AFROPUNK) will also be performing at the event. Their reunion at Proctors will take place right around the time their father, Elombe Badila passed away five years ago.
“It’s as if some of his force is bringing us all together,” Badila said. In an interview ahead of the show, the band leader, lead vocalist and songwriter spoke with The Alt about her family, her personal journey in creativity, the band’s upcoming album as well as the importance of alignment, positivity and getting right with yourself in order to change the world.
The Alt: Is this creative focus you have something something you were raised with? How would you describe “alignment”?
Ngonda Badila: It was a personal focus of how we can have a personal relationship with ourselves in terms of mind, body and soul but also how we can have healthy relationships with others. For me, understanding alignment and how to work with other people is an important thing that we need to know on this earth. We’re so diverse and so different, so many cultures and colors. We have to learn how to work with each other and align with each other, but you have to align with your own self first. You align your mind in the way you think about things, your soul in the way you feel about things, and your actions in the things that you say. If you’re saying something you should be doing something as well, otherwise how are people really gonna follow you as a leader? You’re thinking, ‘We can change the world,” but what are your actions towards that? They’re not aligned if you’re not actively doing something. Alignment is a solution for the chaos of the planet.
I feel like as a musician, there aren’t too many people out there who are doing this work. They’re going around it. They’re focusing more on the problem. I don’t always hear artists who are expressing a solution, they’re mostly saying things everybody already knows and that’s why people get excited. Artists who actually talk about solutions, people don’t get it. The message is too good, too raw, too clean. It’s too right. Everybody loves a little bit of wrong, which is fine, but right now we need to balance things out. It’s so easy to relate to the problem, it’s so much harder to get to a solution. It’s a product of our society, ancient colonialism, racism, the result of humans being afraid to love, to smile, to see the beauty in life. I’m sure there’s much more beauty in life than there isn’t.
How are we blinded to that? If you’re sitting inside a dark room because you’re hurt, if you go outside, smell a flower, that’s healing. You have to know how to take those steps out of the darkness. It’s been casted over us and we don’t even realize it.
ALT: How does the music of Lady Moon & The Eclipse help find those solutions and that outlet of positivity?
NB: One thing is the action. With the band, the reason these musicians are a part of it–because I’ve tried to put this band together many, many times–is because I believe that they’re on the journey to be really working on themselves, not to just accept that whoever they are is enough. Realize that there is more if you have a better relationship with yourself, there’s more to you. The universe just put everything into alignment. Oh, you guys have plants in your home? You do yoga and meditation? You have friends who are doing that in your community? Good. It will be easy to work with you guys, and easy for you guys to understand what I’m trying to do. The first part of it is us understanding what it means and practicing in our action, if people meet us or even follow us in our social media and they see that we’re making music that’s uplifting and inspiring and it’s real for us. We’re actually living that lifestyle and being true to what we’re saying. That was the first part, realizing that we were all going to be together on this journey.
ALT: How does the songwriting process work for you, being surrounded by bandmates in this mindset?
NB: I’m the main songwriter that comes to the band with lyrics, some music, and arrangements sometimes. The band is also part of the creative. The way the process happens is I come with a song that’s written in some sort of way–a bridge, a chorus, whatever. They’ll hear it and put in what they want to contribute with their instrument. It’s part of the alignment, how we can all work together. At this point, after three or four years as a band everyone is contributing when there’s one initiator. It’s not just me saying, doing, or writing everything though I am responsible for the lyrics and the melody. I’m the messenger.
ALT: Did it take you a long time to find that part of yourself as a messenger? Did you always feel that power?
NB: I’m actually a Leo in Mercury, and my sun and my moon move by Mercury which is in communication, writing and analysis. So, I feel like, cosmically, that was always my destiny. I was always doing this, I grew up in the choir, in middle school I was always trying out for plays every summer. I grew up singing with my family and doing more Congolese traditional songs. Singing and dancing was always a combo in my life, I was always a performer.
When it came to coming to this consciousness and writing this way [pauses] I didn’t grow up with that many friends because I was always questioning. “Why are we doing this? Why are we assimilating to that? Why can’t I just be the African girl who does African dance? Why is that discriminated against by my own people? Why is there still racism in this public school?” When I wanted to talk about real things like that, people just weren’t interested. They wanted to talk about boys and going to the next party. I wasn’t in that mentality. Yes, I did try to assimilate, but my truth always came back to me, like, “No.” So as soon as I graduated high school I was ready to find out who the heck I am, not out bullshitting life.
What is the truth about life? Why are we here? What should we be honoring, paying attention to, respecting? Where are our morals? Our standings? Our principles? Why do I feel like they’re being taken away and washed out? Both of my parents always talked this way also. I even befriended people who were elders, way older than me, because I wanted to have these conversations…sometimes they didn’t even know what I was talking about.
I started Lady Moon & The Eclipse when I was 22. I was already thinking about how we could be more aligned and be love. I had an open mic and announced to myself, “I want to be a singer. I want to be a messenger of peace through my music and my writing. I want to be different and I want to bring a brighter message. Something that is open to all races, all classes, all ages. Something that is speaking to everyone.”
It’s equal music. It’s not just talking to one race about one racial story, it’s talking to everyone. We’re all sharing the world. I understand that there is resentment from other cultures towards Americans–what they’re doing to the world and what they’ve done to our history in colonial America… With my music, I just want to share some truth out here with pop, R&B, funk, folk culture to speak to everyone. Anyone can hear this, it’s not just one crowd.
There are artists who have one style of music who can speak to everyone…actually, no. That doesn’t exist.
ALT: But in Lady Moon & The Eclipse, there’s a style for everyone?
NB: I haven’t hit any metal or anything but there’s one song I tried to take that way–a song about actions. Don’t let your actions get you lost. Don’t walk a journey you don’t understand. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Right now it’s called “Emotional” because I feel that a lot of people act on emotions too much, which can really hurt us. The song is about not getting lost in a journey driven by your emotions because your emotions are not always correct. I feel like we’re in a state right now in the world because actions are being taken with the wrong kind of emotions. Racism in this country? That’s emotions. That’s a race of people thinking that another race of people is below them, but why? Is it jealousy? Insecurity? Let’s get our emotions right.
ALT: Is “Emotional” the first venture for you in terms of exploring hard rock music?
NB: Yeah, well it’s a little hip hop and rock–that’s another thing about our music. Everything is a combination of multiple genres. No song is just one, you’ll hear lots of different things in them, like, ‘Whoah, they just got real jazzy right there.”
ALT: Is that because you have such a–
NB: Diverse band? Yes. We all have freedom of expression, that’s what the alignment is. We can be who we want and still work together. People need that example in the world. You can have this. Two of the bandmates are Jewish males. One is Japanese-American. My sisters and I are Congolese. It’s like, ‘What the heck kind of combination is this?” It seems so abstract and otherworldly but we have a way. We’re celestial beings so you can’t even look at what we look like, you just have to be like, ‘They make some really cool, super infinite, cosmic music that’s just really different.”
ALT: And you’ve been working on a new project following the Believe EP. Do you have a sense of when the new full-length [Journey to the Cosmic Soul] will be out?
NB: We are putting it on for January, hopefully for the Eclipse Season Tour, but we don’t know yet. We’re working really, really, hard. It’s almost gonna be a year and a half already of us working on it. It’s a lot because everything is live. There are some synth stuff but it’s not sampled beats. We’re not taking anything that’s already been designed, everything is 100 percent from scratch. We hired a trio of trombone and two trumpets and then string [players]–cello and violin. We’re holding onto the traditional way of playing music. Now everything can be done sitting at a computer and then the artist will hire the band, but we’re keeping the tradition of playing together as a community and recording together as a community to make a real, live work, not from a machine–which is fine too, it’s just not how we’re doing it.
ALT: Are you still in the process of writing or adding songs?
NB: We’re recording the album songs, we’re not exactly writing new songs…we can. I’m writing songs as Lady Moon for my own projects that I want to do. I’m constantly writing music, whether for The Eclipse, on my own or with other people for collaborations.
ALT: I saw that the band has been doing some traveling in the process of making the album, and that places like New Orleans have been pretty inspirational. Were there any other places you went to record or write that have influenced the band that way?
NB: We do retreats twice a year. This is a more recent approach to songwriting together as a community. We used to meet in our studio, me and my husband’s [drummer Ken Reichi], in Brooklyn where we’d rehearse and I’d write songs and bring it to the band. I wanted to find a new approach where we could all initiate something.
It’s usually a week or even a weekend for us to just really be together and be creating in a new environment. It’s a real tribe vibe because that’s what bands were. So we did one in NOLA and then another in the Berkshires, where we recorded “Augmented,” a song paying homage to the Congo, for freedom and the continued fight for freedom. Every time we do a residency, we create some content to keep that memory. It’s something we try to keep consistent: twice a year we do a residency and twice a year we do an eclipse season tour.
ALT: What would you say you want audiences to take with them from that live experience?
NB: I would love them to walk away feeling like they just experienced magic, that magic is real and that there are a lot of people in the world who are fighting for peace and justice. To not give up. That you too can fight. Let’s all start this trend using the magic in ourselves to be examples and inspire others by being a light in the world, so that we can all be shining for each other and keeping each other out of the dark.
I want people to feel uplifted, really happy and good about themselves that they came out and experienced this. I want them to feel good about the world and not have too much fear. It’s easy to relate with the problems, people love doing that part. It’s not so easy to act on the solutions, it’s probably one of our biggest challenges. Find a new perspective with more light, one that’s more positive.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.