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Get Down On It

[whitespace] Ledisi
Luscious Lady: Ledisi, along with her band Anibade, is creating an unusual reputation for an energetic and seductive mixture of R&B, jazz and funk.

R&B, jazz and funk singer Ledisi knows how to move a crowd

By Christa Palmer

Your style reminds me of Ella Fitzgerald mixed with the classic soul and R&B jams of the '70s. How did your style come about?

Ledisi: I take from each part that I've learned: jazz, R&B and opera. Opera I use a lot with my breathing. Even from Beach Blanket, I learned how to be a performer and how to entertain and reach out to an audience. I've also learned a lot that from Mom, who was an R&B singer in New Orleans. I do a lot of scatting in my music, but my music is R&B-based. So people tell me I'm Ella Fitzgerald with Chaka Khan with a Tina Turner flair. I mix those people into who I am, and I don't do it alone, because we've all taken from the old-school jazz players. I mix it all up so I have the hip-hop crowd saying that it's sort of like rap, but it's called scatting, which was here long before rap was.

Christa: Do people tend to spotlight Anibade in a particular niche like straight acid-jazz or R&B?

Ledisi: Yeah, and I don't like using phrases like acid-jazz or R&B. It took me a long time to get it all together and incorporate different things into my own style. I flip everything inside out. I take R&B songs and make them jazzy or put a scat line over them. I mix all those elements together. That's what music is about. It's about being inventive and creative and expressive. And it's been hard because sometimes I do too much scatting, or too much from R&B or gospel. I'm truly caught in the world between all of three.

Christa: How do the old-school jazz players react to your hybrid of jazz?

Ledisi: A lot of older folk that are strictly jazz, they don't like it but they respect me for trying, like I respect them for what they've taught me. It's all about respect. But I can adjust to any occasion. If it's all blues, then I can do all blues. If it's all jazz, I can do straight jazz. But in my world I want to mix all of it together.

Christa: You mentioned earlier that you'd like to get into rock music a little bit. Why is that?

Ledisi: There's more energy to it. I want R&B to be like that. Hip-hop is, but R&B can be kind of low-key and stiff. What's amazing me more and more when I get in front of black audiences is that I'm always afraid that they're not going to accept me because I'm so loud and carefree. I'm just more afraid they are going to question what I'm doing. But they love it. And when Sundra plays the B3 organ, she just takes the band up to another level. All colors and all races love it. More conservative and low-key crowds give me the same response that a crowd that's yuppie and loud and beer drinking does. So I'm doing something right. I just get excited and that's what all colors get into it. But I look at myself as a tool because God put me on this earth to be a tool--to generate whatever spirit he wants me to move that day. I have to do it because it's my job. You got to understand that your talent doesn't come from you, it comes from somewhere else. Whether you believe in God or not, there is some other source beside yourself that moves you.

Christa: Is it sometimes a challenge to get the audience into your original music?

Ledisi: It's hard to get people into your original tunes but it's been easy for me, maybe because of my experience in performing and entertaining. It's so important in performance to interact with the audience. It's not about your talent. It's about giving them something that they can feel and relate to. If they like me, great, and if they don't, that's fine, too, because I can't help you. I can only be who I am. Just recently I've gotten into this thing of taking my shoes off during a performance. And I don't know why, but my favorite Bay Area blues and jazz singer, Faye Carol, takes her shoes off too. Faye Carol is raw, but she's serious, too, because music is serious. She'll touch her breast or do this yodel thing and take off her shoes and jump around. It's so natural. I love people who just gives themselves entirely to the audience. A lot of singers like that glossy thing. But I want to sweat. I want your mascara running, I want some booty-shakin' because that's what it's all about. Singing is so personal. It's about giving who you are. And that's the feeling I like when taking your shoes off. I'm just starting to understand that to take your shoes off means you're home. As long as you have your toes done, though. You've got to have your feet done.

Christa: What other musicians have inspired you besides Faye Carol?

Ledisi: My mother is an inspiration to me because she was an R&B singer when I was growing up, and I'd watch her perform in the park by our house. I grew up on Earth, Wind and Fire. Tina Turner is my favorite. Her soul is amazing. If I ever met her, I'd just pee on myself. Tina Turner is one of my favorite singers because she gives you that rawness of who she is--energy to the 10th power and then some. She sweats and doesn't mind. She just gives it to you. Tina Turner and also Chaka Khan; no one sounds like them. Billie Holiday took me awhile to get into. I like her conviction and the way she sang. You felt her pain over and over again. You would feel her emotion. You felt how she felt and she moves you. That's what makes a good performer.

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From the September 21-October 4, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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