Artist to Artist: Persia White – Pure Rebel Soul

When we talk about “Black music”, we almost always are referring to sounds made popular by artists like Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and Patti Labelle. Even if unconsciously, our minds float to images of Diana Ross and the Supremes and other Motown greats, or hip-hop giants from Run-DMC to Rick Ross. The term “Black music” is used to pay homage to and envelope the legends and the unsung of R&B, soul, funk, hip-hop, jazz, and gospel, and yet, somehow, a net so generously cast still fails to capture the whole of our musical experience and contributions. Left scattered and often unattended are those artists whose musical offerings bring with them punk, electronica, trip hop, and straight-up rock n roll. We too frequently overlook bands like Fishbone, Living Colour, Three5Human, and Chocolate Genius, Inc., or push out of our collective consciousness former urban radio staples like Terrence Trent D’Arby (now known as Sananda Maitreya) because the music they’re creating comes from a seemingly foreign space compared to that to which we have become accustomed. With such extraordinary cultural diversity coming from the vast African Diaspora, and the African American cultural aesthetic in particular, there is still so much that we are liable to miss if we rely solely on what is popular or mainstream.

And then, there is Persia White.

Best known for her role as the bohemian-chic Lynn Searcy on the beloved CW series “Girlfriends”, actress, musician, and activist Persia White is perfectly perched to bridge the gap between that which we know and that which we’ve yet to fully explore. Her debut solo project Mecca (released in 2009) is a gorgeous exhibition of dissonance and distortion, with guest appearances by poet/musician/performance artist Saul Williams and British-born producer, musician, and actor Tricky.

SoulTrain.com jumped at the opportunity to talk to Persia about breaking barriers, life after one of the most successful TV shows in recent history, and her roles in writer/director Corey Grant and producer Datari Turner’s new film “Dysfunctional Friends” and “The Junior Black Mafia” co-starring Ving Rhames and Pam Grier.

Soul Train: You spent a few years in the Bahamas during your childhood, which no doubt provided a rich and multi-layered backdrop for you growing up. Talk about that experience and how the sights, sounds, and energy of the islands shaped you as an artist.

Persia White: It definitely had a profound impact. I was surrounded by rhythms, and drums, and dance. The islands are filled with music and celebration, so it’s multicultural and extremely diverse, a different way of growing up that’s very free.

Soul Train: When did you begin writing music?

Persia White: I tried when I was little, around 10, but it was mostly happy songs for my mom. Professionally, I was about 19. I wrote from personal experiences, but I’m always trying to grow. Writing was cathartic; my musical taste has always been a little different. I loved Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, Billie Holiday; those were some of the artists whom I really liked and who influenced my writing.

Soul Train: We got a taste of your musical talents in several episodes of “Girlfriends”; your single “Choices” closed out season 6 final (which was also the last season Jill Marie Jones appeared on the show). In the final season of the show your character Lynn began seriously pursuing a career in music. Was that an intentional turn the show took so that you could showcase your music?

Persia White: {The show} liked pulling elements from my personal life for Lynn. So it wasn’t really a platform for me, so much as it was taking a little from reality and meshing it with the character.

Soul Train: Let’s talk about your solo debut, Mecca.

Mecca - Persia White
Buy Persia White
music on iTunes

Persia White: The first three songs on the album are definitely more about where I am now. I also wanted to include some of the elements of songs that were on the show, because they’re part of this journey I’ve been through over the past several years. I did music before “Girlfriends”, but I put the music thing on the side because I wanted to do music that was different and not so mainstream. So I went for acting, and I’m glad I did because otherwise I wouldn’t have done “Girlfriends”. I had people telling me to pull out of the show in the first year and focus on music, but I really grew up on the show.

Soul Train: How do you describe your sound and your approach to music?

Persia White: The sound is a hybrid of analog and natural instruments. I also like to use production and soundscapes. My music has an emotional element to it and is also very visual because I tend to see my songs.

Soul Train: Who are some of the artists that have influenced or continue to influence you as a singer/songwriter?

Persia White: Definitely Sade, Sinéad O’Conner, and Bjork. I’d say those three are very strong influences. But I can’t forget Whitney Houston and Donna Summer; they’re completely different from what I’m doing but I learned how to sing as a little kid by singing along to their songs. They’re wonderful, powerful women in the world of music.

Soul Train: I had the pleasure of attending a screening of your new film “Dysfunctional Friends”, about a group of friends that spends the weekend together at the request of a friend who recently passed away. The cast boasts heavyweights such as Stacey Dash, Regan Gomez, and Tatiana M. Ali, as well as football star Terrell Owens. Tell us about the film and your character, Trenyce.

Persia White: Trenyce was a very fun character! I’m always playing the sweet hippy, but it was great to play a diva. She has a heart, but it was fun to give her levels and play with the character so one minute she’s full of herself and the next she’s a little more serious. I loved working on the film because the cast and the crew were so wonderful. It was a joy to come to work and be around such talented people everyday!

Soul Train: You’ve also recently wrapped a film co-starring Ving Rhames and Pam Grier, “The Junior Black Mafia”.

Persia White: Yes! It’s based on the true story of Aaron Jones, who is the first person in American history to receive the death penalty for organized crime. He’s been on death row twenty-one years.

Soul Train: It’s impossible to talk about Persia White without talking about your activism. You’re a spokesperson for PETA, a board member for the Humane Society of the United States, and a staunch advocate for veganism. Share with our SoulTrain.com audience how you became involved in the animal rights movement and why this is such an important aspect of your life.

Persia White: I think it’s important that everyone try to give back, do something to benefit someone other than oneself. Coming from a spiritual perspective, it’s easy to overlook animal welfare issues because they cannot speak for themselves. I do this not just for the animals, but for people, too. There is so much violence and injustice and cruelty, and if you connect the dots you’ll see it’s all one interwoven picture. We need compassion. I’m also focused on raising awareness of heart disease, and type II diabetes in the African American and Hispanic communities particularly among women and children. I’m working on a show to help people learn how they can get off their medications, just by shifting their diets. These are animal welfare issues, too, because our abuse of animals creates an unhealthy product {that we take into our bodies}.

Soul Train: This year we’re celebrating forty years of Soul Train. What are some of your memories of the show?

Persia White: One of the most exciting things to me ever was that I went to the Soul Train Music Awards when I was about 18, with a friend of mine who was the graphic designer who drew the train logo. We got backstage, and I met Stevie Wonder that day. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and I almost fell over! I’ve never been star struck, but I love Stevie so much! And of course this was really early in my career, but I walked the red carpet pretending I was famous. People were saying, “Who are you?”, and I said, “I’m the next best thing!”. At the end of that day I also met Randy Jackson, who is one of my dearest friends to this day. I was actually going to do my first record deal with him back then. But you know there was really nothing else like Soul Train back then, and of course I always dreamed of being on the show!

Head over to www.persiawhite.com to download Mecca and check out Persia White’s artwork. Follow her on Twitter, @RealPersiaWhite, and on Facebook!

Check out Persia’s video for “Strange Fruit”.

– Rhonda Nicole

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Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX whose EP “Nuda Veritas” is available on CDBaby and iTunes. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/rhondanicolemusic and on Twitter, @wildhoneyrock.

 



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