Sexy, hypnotic and scintillating are just three of the words one hears when referencing the voice and stage show of soul performer Yahzarah. In Season 33 of the television show Soul Train, Yahzarah graced the stage, debuting new solo music to a national audience, but, little did we realize that it would take several years later to get an updated collection of music from this sultry songstress who has worked with numerous famous names—from Erykah Badu to Earth, Wind and Fire. But, the wait was well worth it.
In 2010, she dropped her first studio album in seven years, The Ballad of Purple St. James and ignited a firestorm of praise and fandom as her independently produced CD drew attention across the world and garnered her recognition as one of Jet Magazine’s Break-Out Artists of the Year. For the woman whose stage name is inspired by her two grandmothers, it is important that her work creates a legacy for those who come after her while paying homage to her grandmothers and ancestors before her. “I wanted them to live this dream vicariously through me and that’s why I made my name theirs,” says Yahzarah. “I have an African state of mind and recognize the importance of African worship of ancestors.”
Revering those before her, Yahzarah also has strong opinions on success, parenting and sexiness. In this week’s Sound Check, she hipped us to what inspired her award-winning CD, why she keeps working with the Grammy-nominated group, The Foreign Exchange and the state of her current affairs—musically and personally. In the midst of producing a fundraising benefit concert for an all-boys academy in North Carolina, to teaching Performance Art this summer at the University of North Carolina, Yahzarah is definitely a busy woman with no plans to slow down anytime soon.
About everything, Yahzarah says, “Above it all, I choose joy.”
SoulTrain.com: Hi Yahzarah! Absolutely love your latest album. I named it one of my personal faves of 2010. It gave us some 80’s flavor, some sensual balladry and some futuristic sexy on cuts like “Starship”. What inspired you to craft many of the songs on such an epic album?
Yahzarah: Aw, thank you, so much. I wanted it to be cinematic and epic. I wanted it to be about love. I’m definitely a woman now and wanted to showcase my growth as an artist. The album was shaped around the story around songs on the album like “Starship”, “Shadow”, and “Last to Leave”. The album is the good, the bad and the ugly. I never had the nerve to say to people some of the things I say through these songs, so, I wanted it to be that honest.
SoulTrain.com: Well it definitely comes across. To create this album and to promote it, you collaborated a lot with the group The Foreign Exchange, Phonte is actually featured on songs on the album. One could call you the first lady of Foreign Exchange. Tell us a little bit about how that connection happened and why it has been so longstanding?
Yahzarah: [Phonte] and I went to college together and dreamt of what we would do musically when we had the opportunity. We have shared goals. He keeps elevating our experience through song, it’s like a ministry of importance. We may fight every decade or so and may not talk for a while, but no two people are fated to make music together like Phonte and I are with Nicolay, of course. We are very intense personalities.
SoulTrain.com: Ok, so, let’s switch gears. In all honesty, you are one of the most fit bodies in the music industry today. You don’t shy away from exuding sexiness as you uphold the finest standards in musicianship. Is there a standard you have when you style your wardrobe, is sexy a requirement?
Yahzarah: (laughs) There is a going joke in my family that I’ve been sexy since kindergarten. I made my first Solid Gold outfit at five. Sexy women like Tina Turner are my inspiration. I’m always striving to keep it sexy, sensual and always classic. I’m African, I have curves and I’m not ashamed to show it.
Recently, I was asked to produce a show in North Carolina, a fundraiser for a school for young men. Got a call where I was politely asked to make sure there was not going to be anything sexy on stage since the boys will be there. (laughs) I knew they were talking about me. I understood what she meant. I know how to do the family show. There are people who exude sleaze, and that’s not me.
SoulTrain.com: And, you have incredible voca talent which is not always the case when we see artists who ooze sexiness. You have an astounding vocal range that sounds effortless on record and on stage. What regiment do you follow to keep your voice in tip top condition?
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Yahzarah: At first didn’t do too much, but I’ve learned you have to protect your instrument, your voice. I tell bands I work with: “If you can’t hear me, you’re too loud.” I also work with vocal coaches closely. It doesn’t take much to destroy your voice. Knowing when to be silent is very important. Staying away from stress is also important. Peace is of great importance me, too. Oh, and Gatorade is my friend. I drink it to stay hydrated.
SoulTrain.com: Good to know. I’m sure aspiring singers reading this can appreciate that. So, switching gears again, I wanted to have you talk about some news that has been circulating recently. There is some major news you unleashed on your audience last month when you opened for Erykah Badu. Something about a Baby St. James. Congratulations! Tell us what this pregnancy means for you personally and how this will impact your music career.
Yahzarah: Thank you! Yes. I’m very happy. This time in my life, I didn’t know I could be pregnant. I’ve suffered from fibroids since I was very young, so, this baby boy coming, I’m really excited about. I’ll be working until my water breaks. I’m scheduled to work a month after my baby. There are plenty of mothers in this industry that are doing the same thing—Julie Dexter and Maysa [are just some examples].
I refuse to hide my pregnancy. I am just as sexy now as I was before I became pregnant. I’m like a piece of ripe fruit–still just as sexy and getting just as much work. My motto is “Look, I’m pregnant, not handicapped.” I wish someone would tell me that I can’t do what I’ve been doing. My goal of success is just that more important to me now that I have someone else to think of.
SoulTrain.com: How inspiring. Have you names your baby yet?
Yahzarah: Yes. His name is Miles and I’m very proud of him already.
SoulTrain.com: What a great name! So, you named Julie Dexter and Maysa, who are some other mothers in the industry now who you hope to model as you embark on your journey as a new mother?
Yahzarah: Sunshine Anderson, of course Erykah [Badu] having seen first hand with her son. It was nothing for her to run off stage and breastfeed.
My mother is a retiree and can’t wait to go on the road with me. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m blessed with resources. I’ve always admired women I see doing it.
Children are a blessing. I could have decided to not have had this child, I’m in the middle of a divorce and it’s not the ideal situation. But, I know that God gave me this baby for a reason and I’m having a baby with someone who will be a very excellent father.
SoulTrain.com: As you look back on your career and moving forward with such fame and a new baby on the way, what would you say are your top two successes in life so far?
Yahzarah: I don’t think I can call them yet. I think I’m on my way there, though. I was on the preliminary ballad for the Grammy’s and that was so huge– to meet people I’ve idolized all my life was a golden moment. Roberta flack, Jimmy Jam… having The Roots playing one of my songs—“Legend”– was epic.
Most of all, people thought I wouldn’t be around, and I’m still here. That’s my biggest success.
Be sure for follow @Yahzarah on Twitter and on her own website http://www.whoisyahzarah.com where you can hear entire album streamed for free and join the email list for exclusives, tour dates and upcoming news. Check out her single, “Starship”.
– Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
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Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is co-founder of Liberated Muse Productions, production company of the annual Capital Hip Hop Soul Festival that returns to Washington, DC in 2012. Follow her at KhadijahOnline.com.