Soul of Philly: Lady Alma
A Mundovibe exclusive interview with Silhouette Brown vocalist Lady Alma
After half a decade, Silhouette Brown – the original production and songwriting team of vocalist Bembe Segue, Kaidi Tatham (Agent K / Bugz In The Attic) and Dego (2000black / 4hero / dkd) – return with their aptly titled sophomore album, two. Silhouette Brown’s second LP two features the unmistakable vocal sounds of Philadelphia’s Lady Alma who has appeared on countless club classics from Sylk130′s “When the Funk Hits The Fan” to Soul Dahmma’s “Happy” and 4hero’s “Hold it Down”. Soaring with a distinctive soulful voice from start to finish, showing all her versatility and warm spirit, Lady Alma delivers two into a relaxed head-nod-soul experience.
Alma’s distinctive soulful voice brings a vivacious energy to the various sounds introduced in the album. With two, Silhouette Brown guides us toward a new dimension of modern soul music with a distinctively London-esque flair. It conveys a touch of melancholy in tone through contemplative yet hopeful lyrics and just enough groove for those looking for that “je ne sais quoi” in their regular dosage of Jazz and Nu soul.
“Get With It” is a hip-hop song featuring Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, which talks about uniting and progressing. “Leave A Note” talks about suicide, while “Hear Them Often Say” is about having faith. Another instant hit is the collaboration with M.D Akwasi on “Strawberries in Vinegar,” which is a guaranteed boogie anthem. Silhouette Brown’s extremely skillful production team pushes a warm, sumptuous melody, which delivers groove in a way only they know how. This group of extra-ordinary artists created two, which is the musical product of their skills and talents.
Listen to the full interview here. Full transcript below:
Mundovibe Interview with Lady Alma of Silhouette Brown by mundovibe
Mundovibe: It’s an honor to speak to you, I give you big respect. I’ve been a fan of y0ur contributions going way back to, of course, King Britt and I’m a big fan of the EP you did with Mark de Clive-Lowe and your work with 4 Hero. Big respect.
Lady Alma: Thank you very much.
MV: So, let’s go right into this new Silhouette Brown and my first question is, how you became the vocalist on this recording.
LA: Well, I’m friends with all three of the creators of Silhouette Brown, which is “Dego” McFarlane, Kaidi Tatham and Bembe Segue and I knew about the first Silhouette Brown. I’m a fan of those three cats so I was already in on it, but I did not know that I was going to be a part of Silhouette Brown until the later part of 2008 when Dego started talking about it. We stated recording in February of 2009 and now here we go.
MV: Yeah, well it’s exciting because you’ve got a history with those guys and, of course, ‘Hold It Down’ was such a phenomenal track so this is kind of a bearing the full fruit of that collaboration I would say.
LA: Yeah, I think so. I’ve had the opportunity of performing with Kaidi and Bembe on stage and working with Dego in the studio. So, for me it was an honor for it to happen. That they even considered me as pulling it off: it’s five years in the making so I’m very honored to be the one on the next installment.
MV: So, how do you describe Silhouette Brown?
LA: Definitely different from the first installment. Dego is now living here in the States, so it’s a little more States friendly. He and Kaidi are very complex with their drum patterns and what they lay down and I think him being here kind of Americanized the sound of Silhouette Brown to make it more American friendly. More boombap beats and more just laid-back, grown folk &B tracks with some heavy contemporary gospel influence chords played by both Dego and Kaidi. So, it’s definitely different from the first installment.
MV: And, of course, five years ago was kind of the peak of the “broken beat” sound, so they’ve clearly evolved and matured and I’m sure you have to.
LA: Oh, yes. It was such a challenge doing this album. But I appreciate the growth of my craft from it.
MV: Well, you come from a long, long background — I watched the documentary on your career, which stretches all the way to being a child. That’s phenomenal. I know that you came up with the church choir but wow did you end up with your style that you have now?
LA: I would like to say how it evolved to where it is now: it definitely has to do with the church but more, even more that my mom had me in music school, going for music/academics with GAP, which was my day school. And she also had me in after school activities at Settlement so, even though my background was classical it kind of helped me to mesh so many different genres of music that I was learning to develop the style that I have now. I’ve always sang, from age 3 all the way up to now. So, I think just being around different entertainers, my friends that are also in the music business. Being influenced by all of this different music that I’ve been exposed to, whether it’s been personal or professional I just think that everybody has had a part in making my sound what it is now.
MV: And how much of that is part of the whole “Philly Soul” kind of thing?
LA: Oh, I would say it has to be at least 60 percent. I have a lot of friends in the business like my cousin is Jaguar Wright and I’ve watched her perform. And Asia from Kindred and even Jazmine Sullivan. Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry and all these ladies and even some guys and even the old classics like
Diana Reeves and Dinah Washington and Martha Reeves: all of those cats are what has brought my sound to the forefront as Lady Alma. I’ve been influenced by a lot of vocalists and I try to take a little piece of something from each one, and not try to copy. They’re successful in their own right so noone wants another one. If anything you should be able to take something and evolve it and I think that’s what has happened. But I thank all of those people, even the producers that I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed that the notes that I choose become more complex because they’re complex. Everybody influences me.
MV: You hooked up with King Britt and you attribute him to launching your career to some degree.
LA: I’m very proud of King, King is like my brother number one. And it started out as an admirer to the admiree. You know, he was a DJ at Silk City. I just used to enjoy the music with the live element they had. My and my girlfriend, who was actually my partner in the early Sylk 130 recordings, used to go out on those Monday and Saturday nights and I would get so moved by the music that was spinning because it was at a time where top 40 music was really taking over and you wished you could get a little bit of the grown folk music that you were brought up on. So, that’s what these cats used to spin — not only that but I’m a lover of house music. So, that’s how it came to be, just kept going out and one day me and Tandy was just in the middle of the club singing and they couldn’t believe it.King heard us over the top of all this stuff and was like, ‘Oh my God I’ve gotta work with those girls.’ And Tandy knew King already prior to us working so I was introduced to him and from there it’s where it is now. And I do attribute and I have to say if it wasn’t for God first, bringing me to Tandy and her bringing me to the club to meet King I probably would be at my regular 9-5 helping doctors fit patients for lenses.
Silhouette Brown release 2
MV: You definitely like to collaborate with people: how did that process work with Silhouette Brown?
LA: Well, I was only working with one person as far as the music production part of it. But I had worked before I worked with all of those cats prior to this project, in some form. So, it wasn’t too difficult.
MV: Were the lyrics your collaboration?
LA: Nooo, the only thing you are getting from me is vocal arrangement. A lot of the lyrial content was written by Bembe or Dego. That’s why I said earlier that it was a challenge, because I didn’t write any of the lyrics and to bring what they heard, as far as to them what they’re interpretation of their songs would be for me to give them what they want, that was a big challenge. Good thing I personally do know them and know how they like things and what they would do as the artist. Like, when Dego was being Dego the artist I know what he wants. When Kaidi, as madd as he is with all that talent, I know what he likes to hear from just working with him in the studio. And then being onstage with Bembe, I know where she goes. She’s so uninhibited, she can take a song with no lyrics and you’ll think it’s lyrics the way she does things. So, I tried to like put myself in those positions and then bring Alma, the sound that they want. That was such a challenge but I grew so because I allowed myself to just rest in my vocals and let someone do something else.
MV: That would be very challenging I would imagine. Especially, there’s some pretty heavy — it’s kind of emotional, some of the lyrics. Some heavy, adult topics in there.
LA: Yeah, it is. And it’s funny actually, I’m not ashamed, there’s a few songs where you’d have thought I wrote them because they really were personal tunes. Actually two of the songs, and I’m getting a little choked up right now, but ‘Casualties of Honey’. Well, I broke up with my boyfriend about the time that we started recording and ‘Leave a Note’. I had contemplated last year of leaving a note, and that can be on record I’m not ashamed, I’m doing much better right now. I think the mere fact of just finishing this group of work has helped me to heal a whole a lot. And I also seek through my pastor at church for spiritual guidance now. A couple of songs there are verrry personal so if they sound as if I wrote them or some sort or I’ve experienced them it’s because I have.
MV: Well, you definitely did put that into the songs because you interpreted them very well and I listen very closely to the lyrics, one which grabbed me was ‘I want to dream forever and rest my head in a pool of red’. That’s heavy stuff and we all go through these moments where were just wondering, especially these days. But I don’t want to get all heavy here because it’s really uplifting music.
LA: Oh, yeah. Because on the flip side, I got my healing from this album. The good part is that I was healed through this body of music and lyrical content that has substance. And it really caused me to just reflect on my life and if I had, even going through all my down stuff, if I had a chance to live my life differently or do it again I’d do it the same way.
MV: I listened to all of the tracks, I didn’t get to listen to the full length of them because it’s not out yet, but it was really resonating, it really sounded great. Now I understand why it has a different flavor to it because as you said, it’s more accessible to American ears. Now, how are you going to interpret this live?
LA: Oh yeah, we’re getting ready to start rehearsals and I’m so, so excited. My personal keyboard player who plays in my band has been pulled into the Silhouette Brown family and I know that Dego is going to get Kaidi over for some of the shows so he’ll be playing as well. So, I’m really excited because all three of those cats are sick, madd musicians and I know just those three right there is enoght that it will be mind blowing. It will be new and different because as a collective group we haven’t worked together in that sense. So, the first couple of shows might be rough but after that please. Actually I think from the first show to the last show it’s going to be something new every time.
MV: And you’re know for just taking over and giving everybody that uplift and your live show is supposed to be phenomenal. Tell me about some of the recent live work you’ve done.
LA: Actually, I just got back from LA. A girlfriend of mine, Felicia (the Poetess) Morris, her dad has been in radio for 45 years and that is a milestone because if you last 45 minutes you’re doing well. But they had a benefit concert for him at the Congo Room, which is Sheila E’s club, and my girlfriend works for Jamie Fox on his radio station the Foxhole. I was performing last Monday at the Congo Room and Jamie Fox came up and sang with me. I got to meet and see Mr. Stevie Wonder, Lenny Williams, some great, great talent. It was really a good event. Before then I would have to say, I did something local and I did a gig at S.O.B.’s in New York for my friend Manchild Black, he has a party called Soul Ascension and I did it with DJ Mr. V and it was dope because it ended my whole trip, I’d been in Atlanta with DJ Kemit. I don’t know if a lot of people know who he is but he’s the DJ for Arrested Development and who went on to work with a lot of great people who also was the resident DJ of this big party in Atlanta that happens every three months called the Fall Jazz. And he brings in some heavy cats, the whole idea of this even is you never know — people fly into Atlanta from all over for this event. Me and Kemit did a track for his album called ‘You Don’t Know’ and that’s dope. So it started in Atlanta and then I went to LA and made some connects out there and came home and then headed up to New York. And it was freezing, but the hottest night ever.
MV: SOB’s a nice room too.
LA: Oh, yes it is. People in New York came out and showed their love. It was freezing cold but I’m serious, there was a lot of people that came out and showed their love. In those nine days I had I would have loved to stay out in LA and attend some Grammy parties but I had work to do.
MV: It’s good to hear that you’re playing out in different cities. A final question: do you see Silhouette Brown blowing up the spot in the States and worldwide.
LA: I see Silhouette Brown really impacting people who have not been impacted by grown folk music. I see people being introduced to it and I see it breaking some gaps that we have. I’d like to see Silhouette Brown for a while, for a long time. I feel that it’s going to catapult me for the other things that I have in the works. And I’m forever grateful to those three for even considering and then choosing me. I see longevity for Silhouette Brown, here and worldwide.