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LEDISI CHRISTMAS 2009 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
In 2008, Ledisi and her band were set a mission by her label Verve Records to write, record and master an album of Christmas material in only 9 days, just in time for the holiday season. Miraculously given the hectic schedule, less than 2 weeks later Ledisi delivered ”It’s Christmas” a soulful Christmas instant classic. A year later the album is sounding better than ever. We catch up with Ledisi whilst she’s in Seattle promoting her new album “Turn Me Loose”. The hardest working woman in showbiz discusses Christmas at her crib, gumbo, dance off’s, sexy album covers and of course we re-visit the recording sessions of her ”It’s Christmas” set. So grab some wine, a mince pie and a Ferrero Rocher, recline in your new slippers & get festive with Ledisi…


SJ: Did Christmas come a little earlier for you this year? With the announcement that yet again you’ve been nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards?

Ledisi: I’m shocked and I’m excited. I think I’m even more excited about this one.

SJ: How come?

Ledisi: Because I wasn’t expecting it at all and there were a lot of changes made so I was hoping that wouldn’t affect anything and people actually responded very nicely to it. I’m really happy about it.

SJ: Did you go to the last Grammy ceremony?

Ledisi: No I didn’t go anywhere I just left a session and came home, chilled out and then I got all these phone calls. Later in the evening I was like “oh ok that’s great!” I was still grateful for it.

SJ: Are you feeling Christmassy, have you been able to unwind for the holidays yet?

Ledisi: I haven’t been able to shop yet, I’ve been working. So I haven’t had anytime to start getting presents though I just put up a tree and that’s it! (Laughs) I did that earlier this week. I still have more stuff to do but I really want to send out some gifts to my family, I’ll do that this week while I’m in Seattle. I have 6 shows to do this week in Seattle at the Jazz Alley. I’ve been in DC and those shows have been sold out. We’ve had to do Christmas songs as well as songs from all of my albums and of course were promoting “Turn Me Loose” as well. Because I’ve done TV a lot of the people that are coming along are new to my music.

SJ: At the gigs do you still sell your independent albums (The brilliant indie releases “Soul Singer” & “Feeling Orange But Sometimes Blue”)?

Ledisi: Those CD’s are hard to get, I don’t even have them yet, were looking to get proper distribution for those CD’s so right now were in talks about getting those albums out there. I never have a box of “Feeling Orange” those albums go fast (laughs). Sometimes we find a box!”

SJ: Where are you spending Christmas this year?

Ledisi: I live in Oakland, also that’s where I’m doing another 2 weeks of shows in Oakland through the new year!(laughs) I’ll be working right up until January 4th”

SJ: Does it ever snow in Northern California?

Ledisi: Ah it has recently a little bit – it’s very cold. The weather has been really cold.

SJ: What’s Christmas like at Ledisi’s?

Ledisi: I’ll be spending it with my family in Oakland. We’ll have New Orleans (the city Ledisi’s family hails from) food, my Mom & my Sister cook. I’ll make pies … I’m good at baking (laughs). We’ll be making a seafood stuffing that is incredible. It has crabmeat, shrimp and onions instead of pork or sausage. It’s like a little bread with seafood in it.

SJ: Let’s talk presents…

Ledisi: Wow, I don’t really want gifts honestly, the gift is I get to spend time with my family because I never get to spend as much time as I would like (with them). I’m always on the road so just to see my niece and nephews and we hang out, just talk and eat. Usually they get me some socks or something simple because I tell ‘em I don’t want anything. But I buy them toys, though they want electronic stuff like a computer, iPod or something really expensive now! I have to save up for it (laughs) I have one niece who is really into music and she wants a guitar so I’m trying to figure that out. She’s a writer and poet, she follows my career and is really proud of me but also she gets very defensive of me. She’ll see little comments and she gets mad and I tell her “look people are gonna say whatever, you’ve got ignore all of that and be what you want to be.” I love her songwriting and her passion for music, she’s like a little India Arie (laughs).”

SJ: Do you have a musical family?

Ledisi: Not really, my sisters don’t sing at all but they love music. My family on my Mom’s side are really, really, really smart. Only two generations have singers in the family. My great grandparents owned a church and my aunts and uncles are writers, activists and lawyers … they’re more nerds! My Dad’s side is really more musical than my Mother’s side.

SJ: When you go to church over Christmas are you expected to sing?

Ledisi: No I do not sing at church. When I have the chance to go to church I sit way out at the back with friends, I’m not into singing at the church because church is really personal for me so I like it to be really private. I’m not into singing at church in front of everybody – I get really nervous anyway (laughs) more nervous there than with anything else.”

SJ: I guess as well everyone knows you when you walk into church…

Ledisi: Yeah I don’t get any peace there either. People always want to talk or take photos and the Pastor will always tell them no, you can’t do that. But I don’t mind it but when I’m at church I just want to fit in and be regular. Actually there’s a Church in DC that I will be doing a concert at after Christmas and that will be great, to be able to give something back and raise money. I have 3 different churches that I go because I travel so much but when I was younger I went to church everyday. I knew everything about Christmas; I wanted to be a nun (laughs). I had to recite the bible … I was a mess!”

SJ: That comes across in the album “It’s Christmas” which begins very spiritually with the songs “I’ll Go” and continuing into “Children Go Where I Send Thee”

Ledisi: I had one of the pioneers of Gospel music who wrote “I’ll Go” (especially) for me called Richard Smallwood. Richard’s huge, he’s had a lifetime achievement award from the Grammy’s, in fact I just did the BET Gospel celebration (which airs in January in the US) with all of these Gospel greats that I had never met before, you know how you see people on TV but you never meet them? Well they actually knew who I was which was amazing. People like Fred Hammond & Donnie McClurklin I mean I was passed out (laughs). To have Richard on my album was a big treat.”

SJ: but whilst it starts off with a religious vibe as the album continues – and this is backed up by the artwork – “it’s Christmas” becomes a bit more romantic…

Ledisi: Yeah (laughs) it’s quite confusing huh?! I didn’t want to do the regular Christmas thing, actually the Christmas album was the beginning of me breaking out like I did with “Turn Me Loose” and what’s funny is I’m surprised people didn’t notice that because the Christmas album really says it all. I go from church, to jazzy, to bluesy, to R&B, to old Motown on that one Christmas album but just because it says Christmas people are really comfortable but for “Turn Me Loose” it broke out even more. The Christmas album helped me realize I could do whatever I wanted to. Also the cover that I really wanted I was told “No that’s too much” (laughs), the picture where the CD lays that was the one I wanted for the cover (a pic of Ledisi showing a little flesh – nothing wrong with that). For me there are a lot of different things about Christmas, it was church first and then we’d put our clothes away and go hang out and party, someone would then get drunk and there would be a big ol’ fight, or arguing. Or card playing or dancing. There would be all kinda stuff going on, especially when we would visit my step Dad’s, Aunt’s or my Cousin’s house, it would be a little more loud and violent but also we’d visit different houses and we’d have dance off’s, like “Be There For Christmas” reminds me of old Motown Christmas music and we’d all have a dance off.

SJ: How did that work out for you? The dance off?

Ledisi: Oh I would just watch. Because you know I would always just do the same dance so it didn’t work! (laughs) We’d end up dancing together!

SJ: “Be There For Christmas” is one of my favourite tracks on the album…

Ledisi: Rex Rideout and I wrote that, I just really needed that beat to be like the beat on the old Motown sound because it reminded me so much of my childhood. I had to do a Michael Jackson song (“Give Love On Christmas Day”) because I’d hear that, it was always on in the background everytime I went to my Aunt’s house for Christmas. By the end of the night my parents would be dancing with each other and the lights would be low and they’d be kissin’ each other. It would be a romantic thing too it wouldn’t just be about God and hanging’ out with everybody.

SJ: When I heard “Give Love On Christmas Day” I thought it might have had something to do with the Johnny Gill version…

Ledisi: No I hadn’t heard that version, but I love Johnny Gill we’ve bumped into each other several times in the past year, he sung at the Soul Train music awards and he was awesome, but man I hope he finishes the record he’s working on because it’s incredible. He’s like the modern day version of Teddy Pendergrass on his new album. I can’t really say all of the things he’s doing, that’s his business but I will say that he is singin’ his face off! (laughs) You guys will love it.

SJ: You said that making “It’s Christmas” was a precursor to the direction of “Turn Me loose” did you find that it gave you the licence to be more creative?

Ledisi: I loved working on the Christmas album, (even though) it started as I’m gonna do 3 songs for iTunes. I didn’t know what they were. But it ended up being “look we have 3 days why don’t we use those three days to do a whole album?” and I was like “what? Are you kidding me? This is crazy!” (laughs) So we ended up going in the studio, Rex and I spent 2 days writing and 3 days recording everything with a live band. We had the Perri Sisters on there, I went to George Duke’s house within those 3 days, recorded with him and that was incredible. So I was doing the rounds. Keb Mo played came in and sang within those 3 days. We had the string arrangements and horns come in during that time and then we had 4 days to do all the mastering and that was it.”

SJ: The album ends with a feel good killer called “Thank You” a great song produced by Luther “Mano” Haynes, who you worked with on the “Lost & Found” album. Tell me about that song “Thank You” and will you be working with him again?

Ledisi: I would love to. Mano is like a big brother to me – he’s worked with Fred Hammond, Jonathon Butler & even Gerald Albright. I rang Mano and told him about the Christmas album and said “I need at least 1 tune” and he had this one shuffle groove and I wrote to it and said this one can be dedicated fully out to God … “Thank you, thank you, thank you” I have to have one for God on my albums. And that one was for him.

SJ: Well my thanks go to you Ledisi. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  
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