Coming home to Amma Whatt
For a lot of Amma Whatt’s music career her writing was aimed towards the likes of Brittany Spears and the Keisha Cole’s of the world. Despite this, she describes herself as a hip hop baby, a child of professional African and Caribbean style performers, and most of all a soul child. Whilst Amma has toured across the globe with the Vinx and the Groove Heroes, & Polish DJ duo Catz n Dogz, she is currently focusing on herself with an LP, ‘Coming Home.’ The LP will be an exploration through Soul, Hip Hop, House and World music. Amma discusses how the devastating losses of many soulsters this year affect the industry, her gig on Mr Cosby’s show ‘Kids say the darndest things,’ and how she seamlessly infuses genres together creating her own brand of music. Margaret Tra writes.
You live and breathe music since you were young, what inspired you to pursue it?
I just have to sing, and write. Once I realised that music was the one thing, out of so many interests, that I had a burning desire to do, my choice to pursue it was easy. My inspiration was my inability to deny it's meaning in my life. I would do it absolutely for free.
We’ve lost a lot of legendary soul musicians this year, what are your thoughts on soul music today?
It has hurt my heart over the year to see so many of our greats gone. Barry Gibbs was one of my favourite songwriters, and definitely one of my influences. Whitney's voice, life, and death will of course live on in infamy. Truthfully, I'm still in denial about Michael Jackson. The icons are leaving us, but death and change is a constant. It saddens me, but I'm so inspired by what people have learned from the greats, and then in turn make anew through their own musical and personal aesthetic.
Soul music is going to be just fine. It's not limited by one sound or skin colour, or set of instruments. It's definitely not defined by Top 40. Although there are so many complaints of there being no ‘Soul’ in the mainstream, it's ready and waiting for those who'll seek out what they like. For everyone else waiting for radio to bring them their new soul favourite? They're going to be waiting a while.
You were on ‘Kids say the darndest things’? What was that like? What did you say?
That's a crazy story! My brothers were both professional child actors, and when I was 16 years-old I took them to an open call for "Kids Say The Darndest things". I ended up having an impromptu conversation with one of the producers in the hallway, who suggested I audition for their teen segment, and the rest was history. Neither of my brothers got the job, and I think they Just recently stopped being mad at me for taking it! Long story short, Mr. Cosby made fun of my name (Amma? Amma what? Amma be right back? Amma go to the store?). Then he said he knew my family from the projects. I playfully called him a liar, and then we hugged and made up at the end. It was a funny and endearing experience.
Are you working on any new projects now? If so what are they?
My first LP is in the works right now. Coming off the heels of my first public release with my EP ‘MAYBE’, I know exactly where I want to go musically now. This LP, tentatively named ‘Coming Home’, will be an exploration through Soul, Hip Hop, House and World music, conceptually examining what it means to return to oneself after a lifetime of questioning your purpose. More broadly and subliminally, it will look at the larger concept of African descendants returning to knowledge of self after centuries of miseducation. Hopefully it will be ready for summer 2013.
You are a mixture of R&B/hip-hop/jazz/world/house/soul, how important is it to you to not stick to one genre?
I never set out to be all those different things. They were just kind of in me. A lot of people don't know that for a lot of my writing career I wrote and demoed straight up Brittany/Taylor/Nikki/Keisha Cole type pop and R&B. I have commercial records placed internationally that no-one would ever know I'm singing. I get a kick out of that by the way. The songs that I choose to release as Amma Whatt, the artist most often have what I call ‘bop-factor’. That just means that although it may be slow, or sweet, you're still somehow going find yourself moving to it. I'm a hip hop baby, a child of professional African and Caribbean style performers, a jazz student, and a soul child? I love that all those styles live within me and come out in the music.
You’ve toured with quite an array of musicians, could you highlight one of the most memorable? Who was it, and what happened that made it stand out?
I loved travelling with Vinx and the Groove Heroes. Vinx, as one of my mentors, is always a joy to watch in action. I also learned a lot about going with the flow with sometimes crazy and eccentric concert goers! Some of us music lovers are wild out there!
Also performing as live vocals with Catz n Dogz (polish DJ team) at the Heineken Op'ner festival was amazing. In a wide open field, we sang and improvised along with House and Techno beats for over 4000 people until the sun came up. It was overwhelmingly epic!
Who would be your ideal collaboration?
I would love to collaborate with D'angelo, Lalah Hathaway, Angelique Kidjo, Hugh Masekela, Blitz the Ambassador, Esperanza Spalding, and so many more people I won't take up all your space by naming.
Who inspires you?
I am really inspired by my Indie contemporaries. Nicholas Ryan Gant, Underground Revival, Fredericks Brown, Mavis Swan Poole, The Crowd, Apple Jack, Muhsinah, and Ian Friday. Also Basquiat, Beyonce, Kanye West, Miriam Makeba, Phoebe Snow, Anita Baker, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald and many more.
What Stimulates your soul?
My soul is stimulated by nature. Sunsets are an everyday miracle that I break my neck to see every time. A rich blue sky and a brightly coloured landscape cures what ails me. My soul is constantly stimulated by love; the search for it, discovery, loss, and rediscovery of love always evoke lyric and melody all up in my spirit.