Sunday, February 28, 2010

Felice Rosser of Faith














photo by Sari Henry

Ms. Felice Rosser is a singer/bassist with a bluesy voice and a deep tone on her bass and one third of the band Faith. Faith is also comprised of Guitarist Naotaka Hakamada and Drummer Billy Ficca from Television. Together, these three passionate people make music as Faith. Faith's unique blend of psychdelic rock, reggae, African music and groove has been praised by some of the toughest critics, earning rave reviews. Here is the interview I did with Ms. Rosser.

DC: What made you say yes to participating in this documentary?

FR: Well it seemed like a nice thing. You seemed like a cool person who was passionate about telling this story, and I like movies and music. It's an interesting topic and I saw other women participating like Shelley of BlakBushe, who I know, and the other women on the blog who were talking about their experiences, so I decided I wanted to do the same.

DC: How long have you been performing with your band Faith?

FR: I've been performing with Faith since the early nineties.

DC: What made you decide that you were going to perform rock music, as opposed to traditional jazz or pop music?

FR: It wasn't a conscious decision, it just was who I am as an artist. I certainly don't really see too many separations between music the way that people seem to see music as these categories of this is rock, this is jazz, and this is R&B. I understand that there are differences, but this is naturally the music that I play and the styles cross over and overlap to create the sound of music that I play.

DC: What opened the door for your interest in the Rock scene?

What open the door for me was the early punk rock movement at CBGB's. It was music that was saying that everybody could do it. It opened a door for women to play instruments, because before that not many women were playing instruments in pop music that I was aware of at the time. You had a few but not that many. It was mostly singers when it came to women and maybe a few instrumentalist. That was my milieu when I started. There were a lot of people who were just learning to play and others that were accomplished musicians, but they were all learning and perfecting their craft. It became a lot of people playing simple music, and simply learning how to play, and that's how I came up.

DC: That had to be an amazing time at CBGB's during that time? Can you tell us a little about that?

FR: CBGB's was very small club. I came to NY from Detroit to go to college. I've always loved music from going to see bands in Detroit where the music was very mixed up as well. One night you would go to see Howlin' Wolf, the next night you would try and sneak into Bakers Keyboard Lounge to see Alice Coltrane, the next night you could go and see Stooges of Funkadelic, and two days later go and see Jethro Tull and the Rolling Stones. That's how we came up seeing all this different kind of music and loving it all.

So when I came to new York, the New York Dolls were just starting out and they were moving and singing in some new directions that really kind of set things in motion. Patti Smith came to my school and did a reading, and after the reading she said that she had a band and they're playing downtown. Myself and few others stumbled our way downtown to CBGB's to see her perform and that was my introduction to the club. I mean the first time I saw the band Television there may have been 8 people siting in the audience. It was a small dark place. It was a place where a lot of people who didn't feel they fit in other scenes could come and be comfortable because nobody bothered you at CBGB's. That's what I loved about CBGB's, nobody bothered you, nobody judged you, because it allowed all kinds of people to just be free. Everybody was there for the music and to just be free. You have to understand that Rock & Roll music had just been stadium music, where you would go to see a band like Led Zepplin at Cobo arena in Detroit, or at Madison Square Gardens in new York. Rock was arena music. CBGB's allowed you to see bands up close and personal. The setting was close and intimate. You would see the drummer in the crowd after a set and you could talk with him, grab a drink, and mingle with the band. People would come from all over to go to CBGB's because they loved being able to connect with their favorite artist in a different way. I mean people would come from, Detroit, DC, Boston, and Cleveland just to see and hear the bands up close. That was the magic of CBGBs. It was a great place and very inspiring because it allowed you to open your mind and get turned on to different things, different people, and different artistic mediums. CBGB's wasn't just a place for musicians. There were painters, plays, writers, and filmmakers. You would have a friend who was a filmmaker who would grab all of their friends, shoot on Super 8 and make a movie, go and edit, and the next day show the movie, and you could see yourself in it. It was a time where creatively things were raw, and organic. It was a fun time because we were all learning together and growing.

DC: Who are some of your musical influences while you were in the period of growth and learning?

FR: Well I definitely brought some of my roots with me. People like Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Funkadeilc, The Stooges and Chaka Khan. Those were some of the people from Detroit that I carried with me in my head. I was a huge a Jethro Tull fan and that whole english rock folk sound that they have. Then when I moved to New York I enjoyed bands like The New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith they are my favorites. The Talking Heads, Devo. Then you had the english bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Public Image Ltd. I would say that Public Image Ltd. is one of my biggest influences musically, and as a bassist their music really helped me define what I wanted to do and the style of their bassist Jah Wobble. Then there was the Clash that had a lot of Reggae influences to their music which was great.

FR: Coming to New York was great because it introduced me to Reggae music. There is a huge West Indian community in New York, and I began playing in Reggae music with several different bands, because I loved the music. The Basement 5 was another group that mixed Reggae and Rock in an interesting way. i liked the Bad Brains as well.

DC: What made you gravitate to the bass?

FR: I had a friend Deerfrance who I met at CGBG's and we became best friends. She had a guitar and I played a little guitar as a kid, so we decided to start a band. My friend said that we didn't need two guitarist, but we needed a bass player, so I went out and bought a bass form a friend of mine for $40.00 bucks and it took me like a year to pay him, but that's how it all started. That's how a lot of base players started. They begin with the guitar and then they shift because there is no need for more than one in the band.

DC: How did you find the right musicians to form the band Faith?

FR: I had been in a few bands before Faith, learning what I could. I was learning from women like my friend Myra, Annette Brissett, and Jenifer Jazz. They were great songwriters and performers who I was learning from and I'm still learning. Myra and I were writing songs and recording on a little 4 track, and decided to put together a band. In those days to find a band, you placed an ad in the Village Voice. So I placed the ad and I got a drummer, and a guitarist Rene Akhan and his girlfriend Diana Baker who played the keyboard and sang background vocals. We changed drummers a couple of times and other band members along the way, to what Faith is now which consists of myself, Guitarist Nao Hakamada, and Billy Ficca on drums. It's a great fit for us and Billy Ficca was the drummer for one of the bands that I loved which was Television. I would have never thought in a million years that i would be playing in a band with the on of the members from that band.

DC: To be playing with someone that you had an appreciation with is amazing?

FR: It's great because I never saw that coming. It just happens in a beautiful way that sometimes the one you admire, may be a fan of your music and end up playing with you. It's incredible to have that experience.

DC: What are some of the struggles that you've encountered?

FR: My greatest struggle as an artist, as a musician is learning how to play my instrument and to be great at playing my instrument. This is a funny business and we as artist can get caught up in chasing the record deal, and where am I going to perform, and what am I going to wear. All of that really doesn't matter if the music isn't any good. Chasing all of that is what blurs what your goal was to begin with which is perfecting your instrument. When Faith was going on in the 90's I was nowhere near being a better musician or as dedicated to perfecting my craft as I am now. What has personally been my biggest struggle is having a clear artistic vision for my music. It's important to know what you're doing, what you're trying to say, and how you deliver it once you've figured it out.

FR: You can spend too much time trying to get a deal and where you should really focus your energy is developing your audience. Waiting for the A&R guy to come out and discover you is in some cases the death of an artists music. While you are waiting for the discovery, you've passed up the opportunity to discover your own musical voice by continuing to perfect your craft, trying it out on the audience, and helping to tune your audience's ear to what you are trying to give them. If you master your craft and your audience, the deal doesn't matter. It's about what you can do.

DC: Then what drives the music?

FR: When you have a brilliant song it will take you far. Look at that guy PM Dawn. He's an incredible song writer and he could be black, green, purple or whatever, but his songs are brilliant and the audience stays invested because they love the songs. That's a gift from God, but also something that you can work on yourself. He mastered his craft. You have to listen to music, learn about the songs, figure out how they work. To me that's the key. I don't know what the industry is anymore, so to get caught up in "Oh they don't like us because were black, or why are they playing other people's music and not mine" is pointless even if all of that is true. But they can't stop you from doing your music. They can't keep you from developing a fan base that comes out to support you on a regular basis. They can stop you from being number one, but who cares about that if you are number one to yourself, and producing and performing the music that is true to the artist that you are and the audience that supports your music. All of the could've, would've, should've are excuses not to move forward. That works in any medium that you choose artistically.

FR: Look at you. Your a filmmaker whose been told that you don't have the means, or support, or the finances to do this project, but you are doing it. It's your passion for wanting to tell this story that keeps you moving. That's the same thing that musicians need to cary with them. The passion to keep moving forward and perfecting their craft when no one else believes in it.

DC: Do you find it more satisfying than if you had a major music deal?

FR: Of course I'd like like to have a recording contract. I think that people have to understand that there is a difference between fame and success. Once you understand that difference, then choose the path that suits you and move in that direction. I've been going to music school recently and I've been studying and learning about other people that came before me. Currently, I'm studying jazz vocalist Betty Carter and her career, and how she put out her own records on her own label Bet-Car Records for years. This is back in the 60's and 70's. I listen to that music and the music was so beautiful. I mean it is just astonishingly beautiful, original and well crafted. I saw an interview with her and she said she believed in working and doing her music. She worked up until she passed.

DC: Do you think about a music deal for Faith?

FR: Yes, a music label helps to offset the cost attached to promoting an artist, but there are consequences to having a deal with a label that doesn't believe in your vision for your music. It would be wonderful to have a relationship with a label that understands what you're doing, and to be able to work with people who are on the same page. That may still happen for me and Faith, but I just want to work and let my fan base hear my music. My son will be graduating soon, and now I would like to tour and have our music heard in other arenas.

DC: You are singer, songwriter, and bassist. Tell me about your process of creating songs?

FR: My music is more of a spiritual journey for me these days. I'm trying to express myself and share what I'm feeling and thinking in an honest way with my audience and hopefully they connect with it. Maybe they've had a similar experience and can relate to what I'm writing and singing about. There are songs that affect you and make you stop in your tracks. It's not really a process as it is a journey of events that happen and unfold.

DC: Tell me about the song "Lay me Down".

FR: That song is a song about those times when we tend to repeat what's bad for us. It's a situation that's not really that good for you and you're wondering why you keep repeating the same mistake over and over. It's about a sad situation that I went through years ago, but I've come through it. It's knowing when you see it coming to identify it and step aside to make the change, and not be afraid to make the change. Especially as Black women. We shoulder a lot of crap that is thrown our way and we have to empower ourselves to know that it's ok not to deal with it all.

DC: Do you find it difficult as a black woman in the music industry?

FR: I think that people will come to see you if it's about the music and our audience has been some of everybody. I mean it's an interesting question to ask because I wouldn't know how else to do it because I am a Black woman. I don't know what a white man goes through in the industry because I'm not a white man. I can only follow my path. I feel that if we concentrate on the music, then the line is blurred and available for everyone to enjoy. I want our music to get to the more regular people. A few years back we played in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, on a Sunday afternoon and it was great. Some of the people that came for the event were your trendy club goers, but then their were the regular folk with families that responded well to our music and had a great time. It was a refreshing sight for us because it was a different energy to vibe off. It was nice and I want Faith to do more of that. That's what I'm working on.

DC: What made you go back to school for music?

FR: My friend told me I should go, and I said ok and now I'm in school. It's not Rock & Roll, but the experience has been great. It's a jazz school called the Jazz Mobile, located in Harlem and I'm in the classroom learning the fundamentals of music. The Jazz mobile is based on black music, and taking the mystery out of people like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Theolonius Monk. They're the names you've heard your whole life and now we're breaking down their music and learning how they contributed to the fabric of music in this country and globally. I've really enjoyed being around my classmates and learning in the classroom where we all have something to contribute. They have a different attitude about music and to learn what they have to teach me has really been incredible. It's changed my whole perspective on music.

DC: You're an amazing musician already. Do you feel like it's elevated you some?

FR: It's made me less afraid of going different places with my playing. Sometimes as a bass player I think if I stay right here an just keep playing this rift right here I'll be ok. Being in school has made me take chances and move to other notes and see what happens. With Rock I find that the focus is on you, what you're doing, what you wearing, etc. With the Jazz Mobile, the focus is on the music. I've been taking private lessons from my bass instructor for a year and he doesn't want to know what kind of music I play, or my vision. He just wants to know that I understand the music, teaching me to read music, training my ear, and that's it. He teaches you that music is bigger than you and the science of music. It's so interesting and the journey to learn it is just amazing. I love things that are bigger than me that's where my interest are now. It's made me think about what I really want to say with my music and how I put it out.

DC: Are you self produced or attached to a label?

FR: We put out our own records.

DC: Do you consider yourself to be a Rocker?

FR: Yes I'm a Rocker. That's who I am and how I came up. I go back to the music I listened to my whole life, and that's what has helped to shape and mold me. It's been Rock music, Blues Reggae, R & B and Funk that have helped to pave the path. I love all music.

DC: Who are some of the women coming up behind you that you listen to?

FR: I love Ms. Kamara Thomas of Earl Greyhound and Ghost Gamblers. She's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I love her. I like Ms. Honeychild Coleman who has an interesting presence and a sweet voice that I like. I like this woman Vanessa Daou, whose a singer and multi instrumentalist and I like one of the songs from Lady GaGa.

DC: What is it about Kamara Thomas?

FR: Well Kamara Thomas is an amazing songwriter. Her lyrics are powerful and transforming and the song takes you on a journey. She has two songs that I love an awful lot.

DC: What advice would you give to the young women out there cutting their chops in the Rock scene.

FR: I would tell them not to get caught up in things that don't matter. The only thing that matters is the music that you create and getting it out to the people that are your fans. Create your own following and don't let others define who you are going to be and what you are going to create. If you do it right it will come.

Felice Rosser is such an inspiration and I hope that you all give her some love here and at her personal websites:



Here is a video of Felice performing:



To a musical Journey worth sharing,

Danni




Friday, February 26, 2010

Shelley Nicole's Blakbushe

I wish I would have been there to see Shelley Nicole's Blakbushe perform this past Thursday, for all of us who missed it, or were unable to get to New York, here is the performance. She is an amazing talent that we need to continue to support. Shelley is an example of why we need to continue to support these fantastic women!

Shelley Nicole's Blakbushe performing "Out Of My Mind":


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mama Moon of Uninterrupted


Mama Moon is the lead singer for the band Uninterrupted which is comprised of Kenny on guitar, Ahmed on drums, and Big O on the bass. The Maryland based band has been together for ten years and still loves what they do which is the gift of playing and performing their music. Moon's infectious love for her music is evident throughout the interview as she talks about the ups and downs of what she sees within the industry. As a wife, mother, band manager, promoter, and government worker, she still finds ways to make her dreams come true with her music. Here's a little of that interview.

DC: Why are you participating in the documentary?

MM: It's funny that you ask, because I was thinking of doing one myself. I thought if I did a doc it would show people exactly what I do as well as others. I wanted to try and help educate the audience on our form of music. My schedule became extremely busy so the time never permitted itself to follow thru. Now here you are to do exactly what's needed. We need something like this to show that there are women out here that can Rock and hold their own just as well as men, and that our presence and sound are completely different.

DC: How did you get started in performing and claiming Rock as your medium.

MM: Growing up as a child my household was filled with all kinds of music. My dad was the musician in the household and traveled with a many different bands and was the only black person in an all white rock band. My dad played the bass and the keys, but we had all kinds of instruments in my house growing up, and there was no separation in the music, it was just intertwined with whatever was brought into our house. We were involved in the church, my dad played in the church and my grandmother was the church secretary, so we were in church from Sunday to Sunday. Everyday!! LOL. So we got our musical training singing in choir, leading devotion service. If you hear me sing with that kind of roar and gospel tinge that's in my voice, I got it from church.

MM: As I got older and my friends were listening to R&B, I was listening to grunge and into like Nirvana, Soundgarden and definitely 60's music like anything Woodstock, Hendrix. It was just kindred to me for some reason and I just really enjoyed that type of music. When I decided that I would try and sing, I didn't think that I was strong enough to sing alone so I sang with different groups. I landed with a Jazz group where I met my husband who basically told me that my voice was definitely not jazz and that I had something else going on with my voice. So I joined this funk group that he was in called Divine Nature and I came in not knowing anything, never heard the songs or the music. I went in and sang over the music that they played. They gave me a title of a song and I created my own lyrics based on the title of the song. It was brilliant, and it was also the first time that I was able to hear my own voice and the sound of my own voice.

MM: That band stopped playing, so I looked for other avenues to still perform. I was hosting this event called "Mothers Milk" that was in DC, at a place called State of The Union, that is no longer there. I told my husband to gather some guys to come out and play, and they could be the band that backs the "Mother's Milk" show until we figure out what we were going to do. So they would come and back up the other girls and when it was time for us to perform, something happened. I mean we hit this groove that was unexplainable, but we knew it was good. They started playing and I was singing and it was just the right fit. So we kind of looked at each other and decided that maybe we want to continue this after "Mother's Milk" is over. Our biggest concern LOL, was that we didn't want to be a Rock band. We kept saying "we don't want to be Rock, we don't want to be Rock n Roll", because that was passe, it wasn't the norm of what was going on in the scene at the time, but that's what the music was. It took us a couple of months for us to embrace that we were going to be a Rock band.

DC: What made that decision to be a Rock band so difficult?

MM: It was difficult because of where I came from. When I started on the scene I was involved with the whole Neo Soul, poetry, spoken word, incense burning, cotton wearing chick thing and everyone knew me as that. I always sang, but when I got with the band and that kind of sound that we as a band were putting out, I was afraid that the people who were following me as this other person would leave the minute they heard my new voice, my new direction. It's knowing that people were going to think that I was trying to be purposely different and not accept the fact that I was really performing what I was suited to do. So it took a minute to gain that confidence to say fuck it, and do it anyway.

DC: Why were you afraid of that change?

MM: The fear factor didn't come from claiming the Rock genre as my choice of music, but more so of being labeled different. All my life I had been labeled as different, and I think I just didn't want to add one more thing to my plate as being more different than everyone else. I've always been told that I was different or strange. I wasn't the popular girl in school, I was the kid that was the outcast. I had tons of clothes in my closet put I chose to wear jeans with holes and my army boots, I was rebellious, and going against the grain. Since I wasn't accepted I just blocked everybody out and kept it moving. I remember telling my sister when we were little that before I die I was going to be in a movie and I want to lead my own band. She asked me what kind of music was I going to do because whatever I did it wasn't going to be played on 95.9, which was a popular station back then. What's funny is that she was right, my music wouldn't be played on a popular radio station. Growing up I was always trying to find that acceptance. So fast forward to me being accepted in the Neo Soul Spoken Word, community for what I do and who I am, that was difficult to let go. I was comfortable and now to shed that was a huge step for me knowing that my confidence was already bruised from past issues of identity.

DC: So did you lose that audience or maintain it?

MM: I was shut out. I think that people enjoyed my music privately but were afraid to commit to it publicly. I've had people tell me that they love the music but won't book me for a show, or people say she's crazy have you seen her in her show? So there is no place for me in that world anymore unless I strip down my music, and I'm not willing to do that. You either love it or you don't but I have to stay true to the music that I produce.

DC: Describe the music that you and Uninterrupted perform and what they can expect when they come out to support you?

MM: The music is thought provoking I think. People ask me to describe the music, and it's definitely rock. It's rock, but it's not just a spectacle without the talent and insightful lyrics behind it. Some people are just a stage show, and when you listen to them their not saying anything. For me with a background of a poet, I like to write things that uplift people, the things that happen in your dreams, love and the loss of love, and things that re going on in my life. The music surrounds everything that I write about. Our writing process is not structured where you write a song and then put lyrics to it. The band begins to play a groove, and I listen and then I begin to freestyle over the music, and when it's right we record it. We build our songs that way. It's very rare that we sit down and structure out a song. We just let it flow. We record the sessions as we play and then we go back and asses what needs to be tightened up, taken away, rearranged etc.

DC: What's it like in a band with all men?

MM: At first I was taking a back seat in the band and watching things unfold around me. But then I had to step up and start expressing myself in order to make sure that my voice and opinions were heard. We collaborate well, but we fight and have our arguments until it comes together and we are all on the same page. Sometimes that doesn't happen. They don't tell me what to do on stage, that's all me. There are times when we could be in the middle of a disagreement, but we have to perform and we use the music to get it out. I've been mad at my husband on stage, and I will sing him a song while we are performing and then transition back to the original track LOL. For the most part we just know that it's about the music first and foremost.

DC: What do you think the rift is between Black men and Black women when it comes to rock and the lack of support for each other?

MM: Most of the rift that I've had being a black woman doing rock is the thought process from men that I should not be doing rock. Most people believe that Rock is a genre for men because it is so hard, gritty, and in your face. I'm not really sure what that's about, but it's something that has been said.

DC: What are some of your struggles within the industry?

MM: There has been so many. We had an incident where the venue looked at the picture of the band, and labeled us as a Neo Soul band. They put that on all of their promotional items. Then we get to the venue to perform, they are surprised because the music is not what they expected. There have been times that we've been booked for festivals, and other artist refused to perform if we were involved because they felt we didn't fit. I would say that the biggest struggle has come from our own people and getting them to accept the music.

DC: How so with our own people?

MM: We as Black people are conditioned that we should only listen to certain things and that other forms of music are considered white music or someone else's music. So it's ok to listen to Neo Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, but when you start wanting to perform and listen to Country or Rock, the eyebrows go up and the questions of what are you doing and why are you doing that start to flow. The other side is fear and insecurities. Their afraid that they may like it and if they like it then how do you justify it to your friends.

DC: Why do you think that the support isn't behind black women performing Rock music?

MM: I think it's fear. I think that some people think this will be another thing that we women will take over. I had a guy tell me once that women can only sing. They don't write or produce in a way to be heard and they need to sing and support the man. Traditionally songs have been produced and written by men, but times have changed and women are doing extraordinary things as writers and producers. Some people believe that in order for women to succeed in the industry that their is some man behind the scenes pulling the strings. Times have changed and women are now very involved with the music that they put out there especially the women that are working in the world of Rock or Alternative music. We are the underdogs who if we don't get involved with our craft we will never be heard.

DC: So how does a band like Uninterrupted get noticed in a sea of everyone trying to be heard and grab a deal? What keeps a band that's been together for ten years moving forward?

MM: For us we are pretty realistic with where we are. For us we made our mistakes as far as the business is concerned, so we figure that we learn form the mistakes and we keep moving forward, because the music is what's important. The music is what drives a band like Uninterrupted whose been together for ten years to still keep moving. As a performer you have to define your own success in the time that is relevant. There is a growing period where you have to know where you are musically as a solo artist or a band. Most bands, it takes you a minute to really find your niche, your groove, your sound, your presence. Bands and artist are defined and re-defined all the time. Once you hit that spot you know who you are. We've been able to keep moving because we know who we are and what our music is and is not. Everything has it's time, and most of your great artist have been in the game for ten years or longer and that's black, white, whatever. Those that have been in the game longer and have had to work harder for it, they appreciate it more when that deal comes. They know how to handle it more, because they are able to draw upon past mistakes. We're not trying to be fly by night artist. You have artist out here who get the deal and can't handle what comes with it and the next thing you know they've become one hit wonders.

MM: We're not necessarily looking for a deal because the music industry is sick right now. The music industry is a sick thing that needs a healer desperately. If we are blessed to get a deal then we will happily accept it, but we are in it to make music and to get the message across. We want to make a living off of what we do and be committed to the craft of our music.

DC: So how does that work when you don't have a label attached to you and your holding down full time jobs?

MM: You find ways to be seen and heard. With social media there is no excuse. There's facebook, twitter, myspace, reverb nation, band website etc. where you continue to talk about what's gong on with the band. People will follow as long as the information is out there for them to follow. You meet people and you keep the connection and through that connection comes others. We've been pretty good at that. Even my husband, when he buys a new jacket or t-shirt he adds the Uninterrupted logo to it, to represent the band. People ask him all the time about the symbol and it becomes a talking point about the band. Even with me, I have the logo on my luggage, I carry cd's in my purse, I take the time to talk to them and point them to our site. There are ways to do it, it's just that when you have the obstacle of having to work a full time job, you have to manage the time of keeping up with all of that and working, and I'm a mom, so all of that comes into play. My husband and I are the driving force behind marketing this band and we won't let it die. We can't let it die because this is our dream.

DC: Are you working on any new projects?

MM: Yes, we are working on recording our second album. This is the funny thing! We've been ten years in the game and we are just now recording our second album LOL!

DC: How does that happen? Let's talk about that?

MM: We performed three or four years before we had a cd. I would sell the band with out a cd, and tell people that they had to hear us live. I was great at selling us to perform live. I would sell it with charm, charisma and a whole lot of Moon until they said yes, you can perform here or yes I will come and check you guys out. I would show up at places and tell them that they want us to come, you need us to come, you've got to hear it!! I just have this enthusiasm that won't let them say no. Once they saw the performance the next question was "do you have a cd?" and the answer was always no.

DC: Why didn't you have a cd to sell?

MM: We didn't have the money or the equipment or the things that were needed to make it happen at the time. We had to rely on keeping people coming back to live shows to hear new material. When we got a manager she hooked us up with Bill Vaughn, who owned Urban Intellect Studios. This guy was used to recording Hip Hop artist, and I don't think he recorded a band before. Our guitarist, Kenny, started buying equipment for his basement and we started recording a little in the basement, and then whatever we had we took it to the producer and they cleaned it up, and then I laid vocals down at Urban Intellect. So we rushed the process to get the cd done because everyone wanted a cd, and in doing that the cd wasn't as crisp as it should be. We released an unmastered cd just because we were trying to get something out there. That was a learning curve for us and we said that the next one would be done at the right time in the right way. That cd has carried us to where we are now.

DC: So fast forward to 2010 and doing your second album?

MM: This album is called "Unrestricted". The first album was titled " No Excuses". "Unrestricted" is about breaking the chains of anything that makes you feel like you are chained or restricted in anyway. It's about anything that keeps you from obtaining your goals, and also about love, traveling, time and space. It's everything that it's suppose to be and it's a declaration of who I am, who Moon is as a person.

DC: What's your favorite track off of the new album?

MM: As of right now the track "No Refills" is my favorite. It's a song that touches me the most. It's a relationship song that deals with women who put up with a whole lot. You know like the brother who keeps going to 7-11 refilling his cup when ever he wants to, but I'm like check it you can't come up in here no more refilling your cup every time you feel like it at all times of the day and night. I don't want that no more LOL, so you need to get it together or move on. No more refills on my expense. That's "No More Refills".

DC: When do you expect to release that album and how do you plan to market the album since you are an underground band?

MM: Well our plan is to release three songs and get it into rotation. We have some Harlem radio stations willing to assist in that goal and then flood the internet. We hope to complete the album by the fall, but those three songs will help us to secure gigs, and then you will see us on tour gigging a whole lot after the release of the album.

MM: It all has to do with your presentation, and the stage show, and your interaction with your audience. When your audience comes to see you, their coming to see whatever vision they have painted of you in their mind. We've had people standing outside waiting to meet us and tell us how much they loved our music. That only happens if you are doing something right. You have to keep the audience engaged. After a performance it's not uncommon to see me dripping in sweat talking to these people, signing cd's, giving hugs, taking photo's because that's what helps to keep our audience coming back and buying our music. It's the personal interaction that keeps them engaged. That's the difference between me and some other artist. I'm not untouchable and I never want to be that. I'm going to give them everything I have on that stage, everything, because you came to support us and in return I have to deliver what you came to see. When I'm done performing I'm going to get off that stage and come out to the audience and give you the same love that I received on stage.

DC: How do you feel about all of the cookie cutter music that's out there and will that change anytime soon?

MM: I think that it's so saturated with the same thing, that it's now at a point where everyone is waiting for that one artist, or that one band, or that one something that will just change the game. But until then you got Little Wayne, and Diddy doing rock. When the industry looks at Rhianna as a rock chick, why? It's because that's all that's there. It's gonna take one, just one to penetrate through were they are so great that the industry will have to take notice. Once that group or artist breaks, the labels are going to model everyone else to be just like that and then it's going to become cliche all over again, and then the cycle begins again.

DC: How did you develop your sound?

MM: I modeled my voice after men. Even though I can sing a first soprano I modeled my voice after men. I love women with deep voices who can sing, like Nina Simone, Joan Armatrading, Felice Rosser, and Cassandra Wilson. They are the women I listen and learn from because they do have those deep tones to their voices that are often found from men. Don't get me wrong, I listen and love the voices of others, but what's missing is the more deep voice of rock from a woman. What's out there now in the mainstream is more of the higher pitched ladies, and what's missing are the other tones and nuances that come from women with deeper voices. My voice is an instrument and when people hear me sing they tell me that it sounds like I'm an instrument in the band, and I take that as a huge compliment because of worked hard at achieving just that.

DC: Did you ever take vocal lessons?

MM: I went to a vocal coach, because I had someone tell me hat I needed coaching. When I got with the vocal coach she asked me why was there. She said that my voice was fine, but what we discovered through conversation was that I was using my voice to compete with the band instead of listening and learning to blend my voice as an instrument with the band. That helped me a lot.

MM: The other thing that I had to get past was that I never like to hear my voice when it was on tape. I didn't want to hear it, but my husband told me that I needed to listen to myself singing, because how else was I going to perfect my sound, or correct my mistakes, or switch it up. I didn't want to do that. He would sit up and listen and study the music, my voice, the performance, but I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to see or hear what I was doing. It took me a while to get past that but I'm glad I did it, and know I study my voice and my performance to make me better. As women we are always fighting with insecurities and this was one of mine. What if I don't sound good, what if I don't like my performance. As long as I didn't study my voice or performance I could walk around like everything was fine. You have to be able to dissect your self in order to make your self better.

DC: Do you miss out from not having that mainstream record deal?

MM: Somewhat. Uninterrupted is still trying to increase their following and I don't think it's going to happen where we live. I think with the right team behind us we can go far and do some wonderful things, but that can only happen when you have support, time, and a broader fan base to make that happen. We're not trying to stay here in DC especially when music travels globally and that's what we as a band strive for. For our music to travel outside of DC.

MM: We have a management team that is interested in us but we have yet to speak with them, and even that is a difficult thing because a manger is supposed to work for and with you, not the other way around. So that process of finding the right fit is difficult especially when at times you as the artist can't explain what it is that you do. That's why it's important to have people who get what you do in your corner. That's the only way it can work.

DC: How do you feel about the labeling of music?

MM: It's interesting because some people equate the term Rock with white people, and they would rather be an Alternative artist than to be labeled as doing white music. For me our band is a funk, rock band. Being a rocker has all different looks, moves, taste, and genre's within the genre of Rock. Labeling is for whoever needs an answer.

DC: It's interesting to me that people would equate the term Rock with just white rockers.

MM: I think that the race card is always going to be pulled and no one wants to slip up and appear to be a racist. Race is a sensitive subject in everything that we do. I even have an issue with the term Black Rock. I feel that music is just music. Why does the ethnicity of a person have to come into play and be attached to the music. Do I have to call a Latino person who plays Rock a Latino Rocker? Why? They are playing music and the genre is Rock. Their ethnicity has nothing to do with it. One of the biggest Rock bands of our time was Queen, with Freddy Mercury as the lead singer, who was of Indian decent straight from India. It was sad because he didn't want to say that he was Indian or gay for that matter for fear that he wouldn't be able to do his music! The music should stand for itself.

DC: Who is in your playlist?

MM: I'm listening to Switch, The Beatles, Lenny Kravitz, Maxwell, Minnie Ripperton, Meshell Ndegeocello, Billie Myers, Nika Costa, Terrance Trent Darby, just some of everyone. Good music is good music and that's what I like to listen to.

DC: What advice would you give the women coming up behind you?

MM: Be honest with your work. Study your craft and don't let your fears conquer you. Have perseverance, dont be afraid to collaborate with others, and carry yourself with integrity. Be able to accept construcitve criticism and use it to grow. But most importantly don't be an asshole cause that will get you know where.

For more information on Uninterrupted and Mama Moon you can check out their websites:


Here is Uninterrupted performing "Butta":



To a musical journey worth sharing,

Danni



Monday, February 22, 2010

Jocelyn Ellis & The Alpha Theory













photo by David Foster III

Jocelyn Ellis And The Alpha Theory are an experimental group of musicians, that fuse rock, soul, hip hop, and other various genres to define the sound of Urban Folk. Together they seek to create a movement of music that breaks down all barriers. My conversation with Jocelyn was a wonderful journey into the mindset of someone who wants to make a difference through the gift of music.

DC: Why did you say yes to this documentary?

JE: It's an exciting concept that gives voice to so many of us that don't get an opportunity to discuss our craft and our passion and love for music. It's a chance to hopefully network with women who have the same passion.

DC: How do you define your music?

JE: I classify it as Urban, Folk & Rock, more Urban Folk mainly. Urban Folk is a little obscure as a genre but I think it fits more of what we do. When you listen to folk songs you think of stories being told, and string instruments, and sitting on the porch and someone singing. I started out that way, where it was just me singing and doing everything. Then you add the band (the Alpha Theory) and they've helped to bring a big part of the Rock elements that make the sound unique to what we do as a collective.

DC: How did you discover that you wanted to pursue this genre more so than R&B?

JE: I'm a creator who doesn't like boxes, labels, names, titles or even genre's. That's why I like Urban Folk because it's undefined in a sense and still questioning. With my music you may hear a little jazz, a little soul, gospel, rock, pop it just depends on the mood that I'm trying to create with the song at hand. Not labeling the music allows me to be free to just create and go with it, without worrying if I'm creating within the box. To me R&B has gotten to a point where they are so boxed in and restricted in terms of where they can go musically. I knew that with my style I wanted to go everywhere musically. If I want to sing operatically one day and then throw in some guitar licks, with African percussions, to make it what it is then so be it. I just see limitations with R&B. I just want my music to resonate with people regardless of the label that is attached to it.

DC: So if the industry did away with genre labeling do you feel like the doors would open up for you?

JE: Definitely! I'm so anti- labels and the needing to put any kind of definition on what the music is. I mean it helps us as artist to try and articulate it because the question is always being asked of you "What is your music?" But in the same since it limits the expression of where your music can go, because once you say my music is this, then you become boxed to that. I think the best scenario would be to create a scenario that has no walls, no doors, no windows, no ceilings, and no floors, so that it allows artists to be as free as they can. I think if it were open an free like that, people would come to you regardless to listen to the music, instead of you trying to break down someone's door to show them or tell them what your music is.

DC: So how do you avoid the label?

JE: It's hard because the industry is so label driven. When I started cultivating my music and my style I knew that my music didn't fit in R&B and I couldn't be just classified as jazz, or rock. So we had to define and find a place where our music could be free and breathe and exist for what it is beyond a label. We as a band took control of how we promoted ourselves.

DC: So you started as a solo artist. How did adding the band enhance your sound?

JE: I started as a solo artist singing and playing piano and being labeled as an R&B artist, because as an artist playing piano you are either Jazz or R&B in the mindset of record labels. I knew that my music was something else. I met the drummer in one of my classes and he came out to fill in for another drummer that was out. After that gig he told me about his band and that they were looking for a lead singer. I went down to practice with them one day and it just clicked. From the moment they started playing and I started singing it just clicked. We've been together ever since. I always wanted to explore the rock side of my music with live instrumentation besides just the piano. I never thought I would find a group of individuals who were as dedicated to their craft as I was and learning to perfect their craft on their own. To me it's more than talent, it's more about passion and the need to study your craft to the fullest. We've been together about a year and half and it's been wonderful.

DC: So how does your audience perceive your band?

JE: When we first got together it was like people saw it as an R&B soul singer playing with a rock band, but after people got used to me being a part of the band they realized that we were a rock band. We weren't separate entities coming together we were just one.

DC: What are some of the issues that you are faced with in this industry as a Black woman?

JE: It goes back to having to prove yourself. As a black woman fronting a predominantly white band you are faced with having to prove that you belong in that band. Once they see you perform and hear the music, that all goes away. It's just getting past the hurdle that maybe you don't belong in that spot through the perceptions of others. I love this band and it is the perfect fit for what we do. The ethnicity of who we are doesn't matter because the music speaks for itself.

JE: It's interesting because none of us in the band see color. We see notes, we see melodies and rhythm. We don't bring that into our world or even notice it until someone else brings that up and honestly no one has really brought it up. There maybe the curious looks of some, but like I said that goes away the minute we begin to perform.

DC: I read somewhere that you wanted to start something called the "Jenesis Movement". What is that?

JE: It's basically a movement of community and universality through music. It's the new birth of sharing music and to basically revolutionize how we perceive music and the images that we put out. It goes back to the bible and genesis. In the bible genesis is the first book, it's the beginning. So with the Jenesis Movement it represents a new beginning and community of creators and sharers that just love the art of making music, and support one another no matter where your from, what you believe in, or where you live. For me that's why I do music, that's what I represent. I love life and people and my gift is music and I want to share that in a pure way.

DC: Are you self produced?

JE: We are unsigned so we produce and promote ourselves. We do talk about it as a group on whether we want to pursue a label deal, but we also would like to maintain and keep control of our content, which is hard to do within the structure of most mainstream deals. From my stand point the structure of record labels is dying anyway. The other thing is that with all of the technology that's out there you can do a lot of what a label does, and if you can find the capital to start your own, there is no need for a mainstream label.

JE: If we could find a good indie label with the same vision as the band, then that would be something to look at, but for right now we are still self producing and promoting ourselves. The main goal is to be able to live off of what you do and for some that's where being signed to a label comes into play but they give up a lot for that deal. They say for every five to six bands signed to a label, only one is really successful.

DC: Did your music grow once you became part of the band?

JE: It definitely grew. Adding those additional instruments adds so much to the sound and the richness of a song. I can only do so much on a piano with ten fingers and the song is wonderful, but when you need to add the depth that you're looking for, sometimes you have to add additional instruments to bring that forth. It helped me expand creatively. There's something magical when you play with live musicians that resonates and pushes the music further. My band came with a breathe of musical knowledge and they've taught me so much about their own instruments and being around those instruments. I can hear bass parts so much more in songs, distinguish the difference between live drums and synth drums, it's just been an amazing musical journey working with these guys. My ear is more refined having worked with these guys. When you have four energies sharing it just takes the music to an entirely different level.

DC: Where are you trying to get to musically?

JE: I think as a group we are trying to get to a place where we can share our musical globally. It would be great to be at a point in our careers where we can our and share our music in other countries and to be able to grow culturally through those experiences. It's experiences, traveling and life that make you grow as an individual and for us as a band. I think that's part of where we would like to go musically.

DC: Who are some of your musical influences that keep you motivated?

JE: When I was growing up my mom was a huge influence, because she listened to everything. Whether it was a soundtrack from a movie, George Michael, Stevie Wonder or the Police, it was just a breathe of music that she introduced me too. As I started discovering music myself I would say, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Janice Joplin, Michael Jackson, Sade. I love Sade! Alicia Keys was inspiring because I never saw a female artist that sang and played the piano. She let me know that it was ok to be that type of artist. As I grew older I discovered other women that sang and played at the piano, but Alicia Key's was within my generation and refreshing to see.

DC: What is it about Janis Joplin?

JE: It was her passion. I mean when she sang you felt every single tear that she ever cried, you could feel her pain, her laughter, her love. She sings with so much depth and passion and soul. Her music is gritty and heavenly at the same time. I love listening to her because she created music that people felt, and that's something that I strive for with my music. I want people to feel my music. When I listen to Prince or Aretha, their music moves me. I want to move people.

DC: What was it about Prince?

JE: Prince is one of the most innovative artist that I've studied. He goes from singing straight pop rock to a sound that you can't define, to being so diverse that he is just Prince. He's an artist that experiments with instrumentation, he's brilliant at production, the way that he arranges his songs and the methods of composing and playing all of the instruments, I mean he has it all. He's just a genius.

DC: What do you think needs to change in the industry to give artist like yourself and equal platform for getting your music out there.

JE: That's a good question. I don't think the industry is going to change. I think it's always going to be what it is. It will evolve because of technology and the way that they market, but it's like any other industry, it's still going to be the industry. I think that for us it's really not about the industry changing for us, but us changing the industry.

DC: So how would you change it?

JE: What comes to mind is breaking the machine. Like breaking the machine and building it back up from scratch, because I think that we've squeezed so much of the pureness and the creativity out of the music to make it an industry. People aren't getting the creativity anymore, their getting whatever is left after the industry molds you into what they want you to be. I would like to see a breaking of the system, because if the system breaks then that means that the gates are really open for all of this music that is out here and still pure but no one gets to hear.

DC: So it's like processed food. You keep eating what's put in front of you and then you get your taste of some organic and you're like what is this?

JE: It's the same thing. You can hear the same thing over and over and then one artist will come out that makes your ears stand at attention and you start searching for who that artist. It takes you out of the day to day rotation of what your ears have been conditioned to. We need that on a more regular basis. We need people to be hungry for something new and daring instead of the dame cookie cutter music we are fed.

DC: Tell me about our EP "In The Begining".

JE: "In The Beginning" was a wondrous experience. It was my first time producing an EP. I started the EP just as I met the guys, so when you listen to it, it's a combination between my solo work and my collaboration with the band. You will hear tracks with the synthesized music and some hip hop elements, and then you will hear the tracks with live instrumentations and that's when the guys come in. It gives people a chance to see what I did as a soloist and also what we've done as band. It's a good taste of who we were at that time.

DC: What do you think your second album will be like?

JE: We really just create some really great things together. I think the next album will be just a great embodiment of us growing together and highlighting our different voices within the album. We all have great ideas and sensibilities that help to enhance our band's sound. It's going to be different and out of the mold and out of the box. It will be a very diverse album that will resonate with a lot of people. I'm excited about it.

DC: What's your favorite song from the EP "The Beginning?"

JE: It would be "Sugar Rose" because it's a song that derives from the things that I took from my family including the lessons, words of wisdom, and just things that inspired me growing up.

DC: What do you want your listeners to walk away with when they listen to your music?

JE: I want them to walk away rediscovering that they are human. I want to rekindle emotion and humanity in us, and if I can do that through music with the band that would be an amazing thing.

DC: So what's going on with the band?

JE: Currently we are on tour in North Carolina, which is where we're from, as well some other cities on the east coast. After the tour we're taking a writing break for a couple of months just to finish and tighten up some pieces that we've been putting together, and it's a really good time because it's busy and we're learning a lot, but we are also experiencing the pains of the underground where you're wanting to do 10,000 things, but only having ten hands. It's a great experience because we get to keep our feet on the ground and we get to learn about all sides of the music industry, from the promotions, marketing, financing, it all teaches you what this business is all about for yourself. So it's just a good growing period for us. It's exciting right now.

You can learn more about Jocelyn Ellis and The Alpha Theory at their website: http://www.jeandtat.com


Video of Jocelyn Ellis and the Alpha Theory performing "Sugar Rose":











Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leila Adu

Technology is amazing as I learn how to use it LOL! Leila Adu is also joining the documentary and I want to thank her for her patience. Leila and I had a brief conversation via google chat about a week ago, where she gave her commitment to the project.

It's said that she has a voice like hot treacle on broken glass, whether singing of love or social change. her fans consistently return to her concerts to be "taken away to parallel dimension of music thought.: Raised in New Zealand of Ghanaian descent, Leila has produced three acclaimed albums, written for and sung with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, toured extensively and had radio play in UK, mainland Europe, Australia, Russia, and the Far East.

In 2010 she was voted one of Bold As Love's "Ten Sistas Who Rocked The Decade." Look for Leila's interview in the next few weeks and support her at her sites:



Here's Leila's performance of "manic Depression" performed at the URB ALT: Jimi Hendrix Tribute at Galapagos Artspace in Dumbo Brooklyn:




To a musical journey worth sharing,


Danni

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jaqee

Pleased to announce someone from outside the U.S. doing her thing and now involved in the documentary. She goes by the name of Jaqee, and her sound is unique and refreshing. I took a piece of her bio form her site to post so you get a since of her journey.

Born in Kampala, the Capital of Uganda, she began her vagabond like life the moment she was born. During her childhood, she travelled the rural areas of her home country with her parents. This is where she collected her first impressions of the life as a nomad. From birth on, wandering the earth became a part of her destiny. In the early nineties she undertook a huge step and immigrated to Sweden. The City of Gothenburg would become her adopted home from where she was able to access all the different destinies and directions, which were on offer to her.

Through all the borders Jaqee crossed, music has always been her steady companion whereas it never was a stereotype thing that let her get down with any special genre, than more like a special feeling. “To do what I want in a particular moment is my motivation. I like to express myself in all kind of sounds.”

In 2005 Jaqee made an impact with her debut album “Blaqalixious”, which was mainly a Soul and R&B album. After further creative and fruitful collaborations, Jaqee released her second long player “Nouvell d.. amour” in 2007. This time, the sound was more of a rocking, bluesy vibe. It seemed to be the total opposite to her debut album but for Jaqee it was only the next step on her path in the circle of life. One step further on, she encountered the songs of Billie Holiday, which lead to the album “A letter to Billie” recorded together with Bohuslänbigband, a lovely homage to the great American Jazz Singer. Both of her first two albums each received a Swedish Grammy nomination and several appearances in the Swedish national television increased her standing as a passionate and soulful Singer. So Teka, producer and creator of many successful riddims for his co-found German label, Rootdown Records worked with her on her Third Solo Album. Together, they combined their talents into one album. The results of which you can now hear on “Kokoo Girl” a refreshing mix of Old School Reggae sounds from the seventies combined with up-to-date Beats, electronic twists and turns and of course the amazing voice of Jaqee.

Please check Jaqee' s myspace page http://www.myspace.com/jaqee, as well as her personal site http://www.jaqee.com/.

Here is Jaqee singing "Castara Blues" from her second album Nouvelle D'amour:


Jaqee's video to the song "Karma":



 

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