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Interview: Tamia, Singer and Songwriter

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This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience. 

Since 1994, Tamia has put moves on the hearts of music lovers across the globe. And like a fine wine, her musical repertoire has aged well, despite contemporary transitions from traditional R&B fare.

R&B music is fortunate, however, to have Tamia's presence, because it is rare to find a female singer who is beautiful and sensual, yet poised and elegant, in the current musical landscape. Rarer still is the consistently positive nature of Tamia's artistry and professional image: both of which are direct reflections of her spirituality, class and long-term marriage to Grant Hill. It goes without saying that her work is deserving of widespread critical acclaim. Nevertheless, she is oft-overlooked, even with four GRAMMY nominations to her credit.

On November 14, 2006, Tamia released Between Friends, an album that highlights the beauty and dynamics of relationships. As Tamia's first independent release, Between Friends also christened Plus One Music Group, her very own label. Enjoying more creative control, Tamia collaborated with Gallo Records and Image Entertainment for international distribution.

Upon review of Between Friends, Tamia managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on motherhood, her battle with MS and, of course, music.

It is often said that life influences art. How has motherhood influenced your work, as a singer and songwriter?

The content of my music has not really changed, but before I go to work, I make sure that the kids are okay. When work demands that I leave the kids, it has to mean something. I think it is the same for any woman with kids. With every decision, there is a price to pay. Now, I weigh any decision I make against my kids, which is how it needs to be. Time is precious and the cost is much bigger. It is definitely a juggling act.

It is hard to believe that "You Put a Move on My Heart" was released over a decade ago. What memories still shine bright from that moment?

Oh, lots. Being able to go around the world with Quincy Jones was pretty incredible, having him tell me stories about all kinds of people like it is just Johnny from down the street. He knew Ray Charles and everyone like that and he would say, "Yeah, I called Ray…" Those were the moments. I cherish them more and more as time goes by.

How did you and Quincy Jones first meet?

Quincy was looking for someone to record "You Put a Move on My Heart." At the time, I was one of several artists signed to Warner Brothers without a great deal of work. My manager, Brenda Ritchie, approached me and said, "Quincy's looking for someone to sing this song. Why don't you go and try it out?" Well, the rest is history: I recorded the song, Quincy made it the first single off of Q's Jook Joint and I had the pleasure of touring the world with him. Everything happened really fast. What you hear on the album was my audition!

Wow! The song has fared quite well against the test of time. Looking back at your early success, how has the industry changed since then?

For one, most music labels do not invest time in artists like they did before. There are relatively few artist development-type deals. Artists are expected to hit it big on the first try and many hope to get a second chance. The belief that it takes time to cultivate a career has disappeared. Everything is expected to happen overnight and if it doesn't, oh well, on to the next. Music has become a very disposable industry.

Speaking of artist development, are there any particular artists that you keep your eye on? 

I really like Rascal Flatts. I'm a huge fan of country music because I love good stories and drama – not in real life, but in song, I do. I love tone. I am not a big fan of all that fancy stuff that people do with their voices, but a singer's tone speaks to me. Cece Winans has amazing tone—she does not have to do much but sing and the tone just penetrates you. That is what I like. I am not a big vocal gymnastics person.

Is there a particular artist you would like to work with? Over the years, you have had several memorable collaborations. Do you have any special collaborations brewing in your mind?

On More, the last album, I sort of let them happen. I collaborated with Eric Benet a while ago, and I have done collaborations with Babyface, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Brandy and quite a few other people. I love a good collaboration, but it just has to be the right timing for both artists.

Your latest album, Between Friends, does not feature a single collaboration. In fact, you really took the independent route—putting up the money for its release on Gallo Records in South Africa. How was the experience, for better or worse? What was different with this album than with others in the past?

Being independent is just a completely different ballgame. You really have to be knowledgeable of the industry and what you need to do in order to sell your album. It is a lot of work but much more gratifying at the end of the day, because you are involved in it from beginning to end. Anything that you do correlates to the success, or the lack thereof, of the project.

You worked pretty heavily with Shep Crawford on Between Friends. What relationship do the two of you share? And how was the album produced, from concept to actual CD?

Between Friends was the easiest album ever. In terms of the music, I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted the album to sound like. All Shep and I had to do was go into the studio and create. With the success of "Stranger in My House," we developed a wonderful friendship. We definitely have a great deal of chemistry, so it was effortless to go from there and create songs. We always said that we wanted to work together, so when the time came and we had the opportunity to do so, we went into the studio without even thinking, "Hey, we want to do an album." It was more like, "Let's see what happens; let's go and create." The industry was changing; I wanted to be ahead of the curve and the change, so the time was right to try an independent release and see what happened.

What particular song did you enjoy recording? And did any of them pop out of nowhere—giving you an "aha" moment?

There is a song on the album called "Me." It is a beautiful song. Originally, I wanted to put it on More, but I had just recorded A Nu Day, which had "Stranger in My House." Since it was very similar to "Stranger in My House," we decided to wait a while before releasing it. So my "aha" moment happed when we finally picked the CD to put it on. That is the great part of being your own boss.

My favorite song off of Between Friends is "Last First Kiss." I think a lot of people can relate to that dream. My personal favorite, from all of your albums, however, is "Tomorrow," which was the closing track on More. A few years ago, you gave a powerful performance of the Winans' hit on BET's Bobby Jones Gospel show. Can we expect a Gospel album in the future?

I don't know. I would like to. That was my signature song in church, and the Bobby Jones performance was a huge moment for me. My very first concert, as a kid, was a Winans concert with the Clark Sisters—so it was an amazing moment for me.

It was an amazing moment for Gospel lovers as well. Chill bumps were going up and down my arm. It was evident that the Spirit was shining through your performance. In the early years, what pressures did you have to overcome, so that you were known for your voice instead of your pretty face? Over the years, you have been able to balance your sensual side with style and grace.

That comes with getting out there and performing. As far as records, especially nowadays, you can sort of hide behind them. With Pro Tools, you can come out sounding like Whitney Houston. In front of a live audience, however, you can not hide your performance. That is where you get a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. People are curious to find out if you can do the same things you do on record.

Is there a particular song whose reception surprised you?

I wasn't surprised about the success "Me." Shep is such a great songwriter. I have to admit that the lyrics caught a few people by surprise. I can always tell whether or not someone's really listening to the song because they say, "What? She's just changing it up completely."

Well, I knew better.

Someone once told me, "You have a strong lesbian following. Did you do that song on purpose?" Well, if you listen closely, then you know that the other woman in the song is me! [laughing]

Well, one thing is certain: you caught everyone's attention. [laughing] Do you have a special relationship with the South African audience? Between Friends was released in South Africa several months before its arrival in the United States.

I love performing in South Africa. The thing about being independent is the approach is different. I was ready with my deal with Gallo Records in South Africa before I was ready with my deal in the United States with Image Entertainment. Because of the Internet, the world has become so much smaller, so it just happened that way.

How do you want to be remembered 10 to 20 years down the road?

Honestly, I think that your kids are your legacy. No matter how great a singer I become, if people said, "Yes, she was a great singer but she was a bad mom," I would heartbroken. I would rather be remembered as a good mom, someone who tried to keep the balance, especially when it comes to family. That means a lot of juggling, trust me. It is not as easy as saying it, but life is about balance—finding it and holding on to it.

On a personal note, how is your battle with MS going?

It is going very well. I'm doing well.

Are there any particular foundations in the United States that you would like your fans to support or just be aware of?

My husband and I support different foundations. A lot of them are kid-related. I'm involved in the MS Society. I think it's important that people get as much awareness as possible.

Are there any other social issues that you would like your fans to rally behind?

Kids are a big one. They are our future. Anything that has to do with preventing child abuse is close to our hearts. When we had our own children, we came to understand how parents influence their children's lives. So we will always remain strong on child issues, child advocacy.

Since you brought up Grant before I did… [laughing] How do you feel about your marriage being idolized in the press as the picture-perfect relationship? Do you ever feel the burden of being a role model?

We just live our lives. Life is not picture-perfect. I have MS. Sometimes you get thrown curve balls and you just play the game. It is not a bed of roses all the time. It is about how you choose to look at things. It is easy to be nice and polite and friendly when life is going great, but you show your true colors through adversity. I am not saying that we are perfect; we are definitely not. We both are fighters. That is just what we do. If you have a battle, you want one of us on your team for sure.

"Still" – is it an ode to your husband?

Oh, I am sure he would be glad to hear that, because he always says, "Why don't you sing happy songs?" From time to time, when driving down the street, someone would say "Grant, what did you do to her?" [laughing] I just like to sing about drama. "Still" is a great part of my show where I can sing about us being so great. We love that song.

Unfortunately, there are very few songs like "Still" on mainstream radio. The track is very refreshing—a real song about the power of love. As time passes, an old love can still be fresh. It can still be new.

Yes. Love—that is what we are all looking for, right? In between all the drama, we're all searching to find that, and some of us are lucky enough to have found that. It doesn't mean there isn't drama from time to time, but the good moments are great.

For more information on Tamia, visit her official website.

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About Clayton Perry

  • Daphne

    I heart HER!

  • KJ

    Excellent, excellent interview. Two thumbs up for you and Tamia!

  • Ed

    u really got Tamia to open up (LOL)…always felt she was undervalued…

  • daja{future model}

    im hopin to b as famus az u 1 day

    hopefully somebody will discova me like someone discovered u at that party for Luther Vandross