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Ledisi, Turning Loose

Ledisi, Turning Loose

by Shante Gordon

I can’t even describe the excitement I felt when Ledisi’s publicist confirmed her availability. I’d been a fan for some time and talking to her just confirmed why she’s definitely a favorite.

I caught Ledisi coming off of her two 2010 Grammy Nominations for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Going Thru Changes” and Best R&B Album for Turn Me Loose.

Shante: Hi LEDISI!! Thanks so much for taking time out for PMM today. What are you up to?

Ledisi: Oh, I’m in LA right now, running around doing things for future projects. You know, photo shoots, networking and meeting people. This is all knew to me because I’m a bit of a recluse but I see the benefit of it and I’m having fun.

Shante: That’s great! I’m sure you’re having a blast out there. Before we get into the nitty gritty, tell us a bit about your background. You’re originally from New Orleans right? As an aside, how have things for your family been post-[Hurricane] Katrina?

Ledisi: I’m from New Orleans originally but I was raised in Oakland, California so I claim both. My family actually owned three properties in 9th ward area of New Orleans, which you know was the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. We lost a lot, including a few people. Many died after the hurricane due to stress. When you’re forced to move after being in a place for a long time it causes a lot of stress on a person. Yes, a lot of stuff happened but New Orleans people are very resilient and we never quit. My family’s adjusted to where they are. Some have found life better in other places. Properties are still damaged. Tourist areas are pretty much the first places to be recovered.

Shante: Wow, I’m sorry to hear about your loss but I’m happy that things are turning around for your family and friends. Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed everyone, let’s move on to happier topics. Where do you draw your influence from? You’re classically-trained right?

Ledisi: Yes, I’m classically trained in piano and I play drums enough to doodle around…LOL. Actually, I started playing drums first. My step-dad and mother always had music in the house. They used to have a six piece band perform in our shot gun of a house! Have you ever been to the Blue Note (NYC)? Well, the size of the Blue Note stage was about the size of our living room, so I’m used to intimate performance spaces…LOL. My parents would perform a lot in New Orleans. I used to watch and emulate my mother my entire childhood. I watched her listen to records, I watched her dance to records. In fact, my earliest influence was definitely my mother.  I mean, I listened to Dinah Washington, Phyllis Hyman, Aretha Franklin, Chaka and Rufus. Granted, I didn’t always know [the artists’] names or all of the lyrics, but I always knew what they looked like in pictures. Oh man, I was fascinated w/ album covers. Funny story, I met Chaka Khan and she kept asking me if I knew this song or that and I didn’t…I only knew what I knew. In fact, go to YouTube and do a search of me and Chaka and you’ll see a video of Chaka feeding me the words to one of her songs. HILARIOUS!!

Shante: You reference a lot of older artists from your younger days that influence your style. How long have you been singing/performing?

Ledisi: I started singing when she was around 8 years old. I was constantly singing around the house so my parents were like, “Ok you have to get into something.” I was constantly imitating opera singers so one of my elementary school teachers suggested I be placed in performing arts school in New Orleans. From there I would go on to sing with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra.

I actually stopped singing when we moved to CA. It wasn’t until I entered a local talent show and won a competition that prompted me to attend the performing arts school in the Bay area. During my Senior year in High School, I was introduced to Gospel while studying Opera, which opened up my world tremendously. I left home really early to attend college. I ended up singing and waitressing in night clubs to get through school. That’s when my career really took off. I officially started my singing career in San Francisco in 2000. By that point, I’d played every nook and cranny in San Francisco and had to leave school and start working and gigging at the same time to make things work. I left San Francisco in 2003 and signed with Verve (major recording company) in 2007. It took about a year and a half to sign a deal but it was worth it because I’ve been with them ever since. They’re treating me pretty good over there. As long as they let me do my thing artistically, we’re good!

Shante: Speaking of what you’ve done artistically. I have to say, I truly enjoy this most recent album (Turn Me Loose, released Aug. 2009). Tell us about the creative process? How were you able to craft an album with so many different styles into a cohesive body of work? How would you characterize your sound?

Ledisi: I’m so happy that people are talking about it! You know, some of my fans beat up on me because they came to me on Lost and Found (released Aug., 2007), which is a very R&B/Jazz focused album. My older/regular fans know me as the artist showcased on this album (Turn Me Loose), which is more rock/soul-leaning. They’re like, “Ledisi is back!”

I listen to so much music! My Mom listened to everything from country to rock. In fact, The Beatles is one of favorite bands. I’m a U2 groupie! The cure…!  People think I only do Jazz/R&B.

I actually forgot I loved this music. I was trying to stay with the feel of Lost and Found and I had a bit of writers block. This new CD actually turned me loose! I am more complete on this album. I have something for all of my fans on this album. I mean, come on, I have to show who I am! My Mom used to say for years, show my legs because I used to wear a Jesus cloth all the time. When I finally put the pumps on and put my hair up I was like “oh right, this is who I am.” It’s the same with my music…I just wanted to do something different. Soul music is in every type of music. When I put on that Buddy Miles, Sam Cook, Odis Redding, all of the live stuff and old stuff, Wilson picket, my whole level and ear for music totally changed. I thought the label would hate but Verve lost their mind. They were like, “FINALLY!!! This is who you are. This is what you’re like onstage.” I had a blast working on the CD. It always takes people a while to get to my CDs but when they do, it says in heavy rotation for a long time.

Shante: It sure does! I know I play a few tracks from Turn Me Loose at least once a day. Hey, you just said something that really caught my attention. Please go more into this Jesus Cloth thing…LOL. What is a Jesus Cloth and how does it relate to how you perceive yourself as a woman/performer?

Ledisi: When you guys first called I was like how do I fit? I have friends are like real models, you know, tall, slim. I don’t feel like all of that and they’re like, “no Led you have to do this.” What I realized is that we have all the same issues. There’s always something going on and we’re all worried about how we look. The root of it is the inside. I didn’t realize that until this album. If you look at my older albums, I was always fully clothed, looking down or up but never directly at the camera. My mother always told me I am a beautiful Black Woman but it took a while for me to show that.

When I first got in, the music industry told me I had to lose weight. I dropped to a size 9 and was told that I still needed to lose weight . I had a weave too and that wasn’t working. Then I decided to wear my knots and really be Ledisi. However, I would always worry about my middle. It isn’t an issue for just me but every woman. I said you know what; I’m tired of worrying about this. I am going to embrace my curves and my legs and love me. Now I have a real stylist so I’m showing the real me. My stylist was like, “girl you better work these curves.” When I first met them [stylist team] I was like, “don’t look at me.” I would want to be like my friends and their looking at me like girl please, if I had that butt….

You have to just work what you have. My stylists made me feel like I’m a complete package, like a real person. Once I found a pair of heels, I wasn’t without them. I will even play basketball in these heels! Women need to embrace the best parts of their bodies. I’ve been showing myself off lately and I realize that people will love whoever you are. You have to love what you are first. I’ve been every size from a 9 to a 14 and it really is about what’s on the inside. Give yourself some credit for the things you have and the things you are.

For the things you want to fix, don’t complain just work on it. You have to look at the things in order to fix what you don’t like. I can’t stand when people don’t love themselves. You have to love yourself. Love it, it’s yours.

It’s a work in progress but I love me. Ain’t nobody else going to love me like me!

Shante: Now THAT was inspiring! After those moving words, I’m sure our readers want to know if you’re coming to a city nearby any time soon. What’s your tour schedule?

Ledisi: Well I just did a few dates about two months ago post-Grammy nods. I also have a European Tour coming in April. Right now, I’m cementing my image for the next round of shows/appearances and networking with people.  The European tour will consist of dates in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Germany and Austria. This year is turning out wonderfully!

Shante: Well thank you so much for spending a few moments with me, Ledisi.

Ledisi: Thank you and I hope to see you at the show on Sunday!

You can learn more about Ledisi by visiting www.ledisi.com