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Up, 'Tight' and Alright: Kofy Brown serves soul, straight-up.

Java Jive

Kofy Brown's 'Skinny and Tight' reinvigorates Bay Area R&B

By Amanda Nowinski

If you want to call the Oakland-based Kofy Brown a diva, that's all right by her--just don't make the mistake of assuming that this diva doesn't write her own music and lead her own band, too. Merely a sexy "chanteuse" this woman certainly isn't.

"If someone wants to refer to me as diva, I see that as a compliment," says Brown, whose newest funk-soul-rock fusion album, Skinny and Tight, will be released on her own Simba Music label later this month. "I see being a diva as being an independent woman who will stand up for herself and express it with confidence. But also remember that I make my own music--people always ask me, 'Well, who produced your music?' People always expect the man to be the producer--women never get props for arranging the whole thing."

A Washington, D.C., native who began her career as a hip-hop MC, Brown is filled her new album with the intensity and depth of classic R&B, but set to a harder tone with rock-energy drive and moderate dance-music tempos. Brown's rich vocals and honest, poetic lyrics set the stage for the lush instrumentation of her bandmates, drummer Maurice Miles, keyboardist Michael Wayne Meyers, bassist Spencer Murray and guitarist Brian Hill. This is straight-up soul as the pre-millennial times would have it.

Brown's inspiration for her third full-length album came after she and her band performed last year at the North Sea Jazz Festival alongside luminaries such as Cassandra Wilson and Bootsy Collins. When she returned to the Bay Area, Brown locked herself in the studio and emerged a few days later with most of the tracks on Skinny and Tight. "I felt so much more confident and alive when I made this record," she explains. "After our show in the Netherlands we were hanging out at a bar in our hotel, and Bootsy came up to us and gave us incredible compliments on our show. At that moment I said, 'Damn, I really am doing the right thing.' It wasn't long before this album was in the works."

But the road to success for a female band leader isn't easy, insists Brown. "People say that the Bay Area is a great place to be a musician, but if you're a woman, you probably won't get that much coverage in the press or attention in the clubs," she says. "And if you're a black female musician, you're practically invisible. Look at Ledisi--that woman should be getting more attention--she's amazing and she leads her own group."

Being a black artist interested in pursuing the rock angle, whether male or female, is even trickier, asserts Brown. "I feel connected to the spirit of the music in rock--the freeness. But a lot of times black artists get pigeonholed--they have to be either R&B or hip-hop," she explains.

"It's hard to market a black rock musician and get them radio play. Now Portishead, what is that? They can do anything they want, no one saying that can't do that. They sample everyone and are given more creative freedom, but for black people there is a harder, more rigid structure that you have to conform to--or else the music industry won't pay you any mind."

It isn't just the industry that rejects black rock, says Brown--it's the black audience as well. "Your typical black audience might not admit to liking rock, but a lot of heads secretly are into Metallica."

"We've been oppressed against liking rock because we think it's gonna make us look bad, so a lot of us front. The Isley Brothers were rock-influenced. And Bad Brains and Living Color are completely rock. All these restrictions and musical limitations have held all people back. If you have to make yourself to fit in a category, your true artistic sense probably won't exactly show."

The drive to show off her truest artistic sense is exactly why Brown and partner Nzinga Hatch run their own label--no one's going to tell Brown what to do. "Ani di Franco is definitely a role model of mine," says Brown. "She owns her own label and doesn't have to answer to anyone. If you're not in control, someone will inevitable try to screw you--it happens to everyone. The big industry will want to mold you into their creation, make you sound, look and act ways you won't like. I'm in this for real--if we can sell a decent amount of music on our own, it's not worth it to be on a major [label]."

With the release of Skinny and Tight, it's quite possible that Brown will soon get the widespread attention her music deserves. Deep, genuine and funky to the bone, Brown makes one thing clear--never underestimate the power of a true diva .

For information on Kofy Brown's upcoming Bay Area performances, contact Simba Music at 510/763.6670, or email [email protected].

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From the August 30, 1999, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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