Check out our Q&A with Imani:
soulhead: How do you think the independent soul music scene has changed since the beginning of this century?
Imani Uzuri: My music has always been a cross pollination of genres influenced by my southern Black American upbringing as well as an expansive curiosity for different world cultures. I was just beginning my career at the turn of this century and really feel like it all began for me in 2000 when I went to London and started to understand the international nature of the music, poetry and arts scene that I had been experiencing. I started to collaborate with inspirations from the Drum & Bass scene over there including 4Hero, Plutonia and others. Then I met Bill Laswell in New York and got a chance to write a song with Herbie Hancock. All of this was happening as I was beginning to travel, perform and define myself as an artist.
Since beginning my career, traveling and performing has allowed me to be a part of the eclectic international underground scene that has embraced and sustained me. Social media sites and the internet in general are further helping internationalize the way we independent artists share our music with the world.
soulhead: What is your process for choosing the different sounds for a song?
Imani Uzuri: Each song has its own unique emotional story to tell. I like the idea of creating a musical mosaic with the various instrumentalists I collaborate with. I like to experiment and we explore timbre, intensity, dynamic. As the songs are workshopped the soundscape for each song emerges. This is a thrilling process.
soulhead: Throughout Gypsy Diaries, you come off as a very strong, self-assured woman. However, in “Lament” you present an emotionally vulnerable side not found in most other songs on this album. What is the significance of including “Lament”?
Imani Uzuri: For me vulnerability is strength. “Lament” (for which I wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Marvin Sewell) reflects that space many of us experience after losing someone we have loved deeply. The doubt and sadness we have to contend with. The letting go.
soulhead: It is rare to hear a female singer’s voice unfiltered. Do your producers ever clean up your vocals or do we get raw and unfiltered Imani?
Imani Uzuri: I am the lead producer on my albums. I perform all vocal parts and believe in making sure my voice translates a realness of emotion. I am particularly interested in beautiful and unexpected harmonies as well as sounds that are more guttural and “raw”. With all of these varying vocal expressions, I seek to create a deeply emotional sonic tapestry.
soulhead: What is the secret to creating an eclectic yet cohesive world music album?
Imani Uzuri: I think it’s important to be open to new musical sounds and unafraid to juxtapose sounds that may at first seem unconnected. For The Gypsy Diaries, I was thrilled to be able to explore sounds like the sitar and Japanese shinobue flute and see how they would interact with my voice and strings. The musicians I worked with are incredible and include Neel Murgai (sitar, daf), Marika Hughes (cello), Christian Ver Halen (album co-producer and guitar), Todd Isler (percussion) and Kaoru Watanabe (fue and western flute).
soulhead: What is your favorite song on Gypsy Diaries?
Imani Uzuri: I love my album in general. One of my favorites is “She Came Traveling” which is the 2nd half of the last track on the album. I was on retreat in Mexico and unexpectedly got a chance to see a sea turtle give birth on the beach one night. It was an amazing experience. After she laid her eggs she slowly turned around and made her way back across the ocean. I learned that these turtles travel thousands of miles to give birth. The idea of her journey moved me — faith and sheer will power must have been her guide. I felt a kindredness.
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