Even where she doesn’t speak the native tongue, Mary J. Blige still gets her point across.
The queen of hip-hop soul didn’t cut back on her usual motivational speeches and minister-esque lectures during her concert Friday night at Columbiahalle, a converted gym in Berlin’s Tempelhof district. The crowd ate up every word, despite the likelihood that Blige’s rapid-fire chatter and sassy-sista slang baffled even the most advanced English students in the house.
But M.J.B. communicates with everything she’s got. At the end of “Children of the Ghetto,” the singer – clad in a black D&G tank top, skintight pants and a sparkly, cabaret-style hat – shouted, “I’m a child of the ghetto, and I gotta keep my head up, I gotta keep my spirits up,” while jerking and jolting her body in a way that effectively conveyed the struggle.
“When I say ghetto, some people just think of a poor neighborhood, but let me tell you something about the ghetto,” she continued after the song’s completion, holding up her index finger and waving it like a mother saying, “Nuh-uh” to her child. “It’s not just a poor neighborhood. It’s a mentality. Some people call it ignorance. And it’s in every neighborhood – rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods.
“Because the ghetto,” she concluded, pointing to her head, “is here.” The crowd burst into cheers, apparently having gotten the gist: Mary J. doesn’t need no hateration or holleratin’.
Blige often reminds her fans about the rough times behind her – the days when she hated herself, hadn’t yet found God, and got messed up with drugs and men who did her wrong. But she usually drops these reminders only so she then can give them the bright side and proclaim how her fans and God saved her, how it’s all good now.
“It’s nice when people make you feel like somebody, when they make you feel loved, but the most important kind of love is when you find love for yourself,” she said before heading into “My Life.” “I wrote this song when I didn’t love myself. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t know who God was. But now I know who he is and I want to live and live and live.”
The show was essentially divided into three acts: a get-the-party-started opening, a midsection of ballads and then another series of dance-oriented songs leading up to a “Family Affair” finale. Not surprisingly, each segment came with its own attitude and costume.
Blige’s voice made its entrance before she did – she sang the opening lines of “Love,” from No More Drama, before emerging in jeans and a tight gray tank top. Sporting shoulder-length golden locks and hipper-than-thou shades, Blige was all confidence and feistiness as she led her six-piece band, three backup singers and troupe of dancers through a batch of high-energy numbers spanning her 10-year career. She got the strongest response when she reached all the way back to her 1992 debut, What’s the 411?, for “Real Love,” “Reminisce” and “You Remind Me,” a sign that long-time fans represented a good portion of the crowd.
“I wasn’t expecting Berlin to have so much love for Mary,” Blige said. “This is ridiculous.”
Her vocal talents shined the brightest during the section of ballads, for which she wore the black showgirl outfit. Gruff one minute and smooth as velvet the next, her voice sounded like it’s only become richer from months on the road. She hit the greatest highs with “Children of the Ghetto” (a cover of the Eddy and Chris Amoo tune), “Not Gon’ Cry” and “Your Child,” capping off the latter with a rant against deadbeat dads.
Introducing “Seven Days” from Share My World, Blige took a moment to speak to her sistas. “Ladies, we’re about to go somewhere, and when we come out, no one’s ever gonna be able to mess with us again,” she said. Ever the girl’s girl, Blige has always shown concern for her female fans with broken hearts, urging them to remember that those scrubs ain’t never gonna be worth their tears.
To get things moving again, the diva donned what was basically an all-white version of her cabaret-inspired getup, complete with a matching hat, and launched into “No More Drama.” The song evoked the strongest response when she hit the lyric, “It’s up to us to choose/ Whether we win or lose/ And I chose to win.” While her dancers boogied behind her, Blige paced the stage and made fervent pleas to stop the drama. After finishing the number, she spent a minute mulling over September 11 and the war on terrorism and called for unity and peace.
“This war that we’re having is so unnecessary – tell me why,” she said. “We’ve got to stick together.”
The singer returned to the stage for an encore of “Family Affair,” her Dr. Dre-produced hit that calls for everybody to get on up and dance their troubles away. The number was the consummate finale, with Blige and her dancers making the best of the bounce. Under a hail of confetti, the crowd sang and danced along, proving that they’d indeed left their “situations at the door” and “got it crunk,” just as the lyrics ordered.