Afua Richardson is a 21st century Jill-of-all-trades. Whether she is winning the 2011 Young, Gifted and Black Entrepreneurial (YGB) Nina Simone Artistic Excellence Award for being the only female Black comic book artist who has worked for Marvel, DC and Image Comics, or touring as a support artist or part of a duo appearing on television—from Soul Train to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon –Afua Richardson is a busy, busy woman. She took time out of her busy schedule to chat with SoulTrain.com about her expansive career and her upcoming work as part of the duo Afua & Alexa.
SoulTrain.com: Afua, thank you so much for talking with us today. First off, I have no idea what my first question should be. You are involved in so many things that the average person will be tired just hearing about it. But, let’s get it started by giving us a run-down of all of the hats you wear.
Afua Richardson: I’m a comic book illustrator, one of the few who inks and colors their own work, as well as a comic book writer. In addition to that, I’m a singer, songwriter, classically- trained musician, and voice actor. My current project is a collaboration with pianist Alexa Edmonds-Lima out of Atlanta, GA which will be entitled a.squared.
SoulTrain.com: Would you consider this project far removed from your work as part of the group ScarletBlue? Tell us what has been different about transitioning into the music you are doing now.
Afua Richardson: ScarletBlue was a duo with me and fellow songstress Shanelle St. Cyr-Moore. She might be one of the most talented and poised singers I’ve ever known personally in my entire music experience. I learned so much from her. The music we created could only be created with the two of us at the helm. Our influences were so varied– hers being Mariah, Whitney and then the oddball bands that we had in common, and mine being Stevie, Sarah Vaughn and Stone Temple Pilots. The end result was doo-wop pop.
The industry constantly wanted to change it into more of something they could identify and place in a rotation. But with our seemingly polar ingredients, that wasn’t actually possible. The music I’m doing with Alexa I feel I have to think a lot less about. She writes beautiful pieces and it’s almost as if those un-played notes are songs already in existence. I only need to write them down. It felt that way with Scarletblue, too. But with this project, I don’t feel the doubt and apprehension of being “ too weird” . I’ve learned to trust my musical vision more. So perhaps it’s not the music so much that’s changed, but me.
SoulTrain.com: You’ve been on the scene for awhile, but your presence has always been pretty laid-back. Who are some of the artists that you’ve worked with and projects you’ve worked on with which our readers would probably be most familiar?
Afua Richardson: I guess I am old bones, huh? I started off playing the flute at 9 and by the time I was 11, I played at Carnegie Hall in various ensembles. I was a background dancer for a time–MTV Jams with Bill Belamy, on BET on a show hosted by Ananda Lewis…I eventually got into underground hip-hop as a beat-box artist-battling-turntablist and doing various performances with Razel’s former partner Dred in the all-female hip-hop crew named the Anomalies. I impersonated anything I could until I eventually impersonated a singer, then eventually became one.
I sang background for various artists. ScarletBlue shared a stage with Sheila E. and I sang background for Urban Mystic. He is an artist I did the most touring with. We opened for Parliament Funkadelic, Ciara, Alicia Keys, Outkast, and we performed on Soul Train when Shamar Moore was hosting. I worked with Daddy-o from Stetsasonic and Montell Jordan for a spell.
SoulTrain.com: Goodness gracious! You have performed with a whole bunch of popular acts! I’ve been a big fan of your art work since 2010 when I first met you at the Black Age of Comics convention in Chicago. How has your work as a visual artist—a Black woman in a predominately male industry—impacted your music?
Afua Richardson: Well, thank you kindly! As a visual artist in a male-dominated industry, I see my task like many others in my life–a welcomed challenge. I never want to be judged by my appearance or gender. I want my work to do all the talking for me. So I strive every day–and I mean EVERY DAY–to be a better artist, be a better storyteller. I constantly put myself through artist bootcamp. I do plan to do projects that incorporate both my art and music. I believe as soon as the end of the year I should have at least two projects like that finished.
SoulTrain.com: One question I like to ask those I interview is, “As an artist, what do you think is your responsibility when you create music for your listening public?”
Afua Richardson: I owe a debt to music. I’d seen some hard times and just hearing that melody or being able to play whatever is on my heart has saved me from a life of a constant broken heart. More than anything, whatever I say in my art, even if it’s not “ deep” or surreal or overly metaphoric, I want it to be honest. I never want to create something that upholds a false reality, a logical fallacy or an idea of me that is not only untrue but would bring ill on someone receiving it. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever write a sad song that causes someone to feel what I feel. But, people need to understand that music is one of the things that at a fundamental level, is a powerful learning device. When you ask someone to say their ABC’s don’t they start to sing it? It becomes a mantra. It embeds itself into your unconscious mind. So whatever you put out for human consumption, make sure there’s something healthy in there less you’ll be selling sick thoughts to the minds of your brothers and sisters. Might sound a little over-dramatic, but I find it to be true. People can hypnotize themselves with bad music.
SoulTrain.com: Well said. You attracted a lot of attention to your music abilities when you did a rendition of the “Bed Intruder” song, playing bass and bringing some serious funk to the song. While it looked like it was done in fun, people were stunned by how bad ass your talent is. What was some of the best feedback you received when you uploaded that on YouTube?
Afua Richardson: (Laughs) You saw that, huh? I was so tickled by the Gregory Brothers’ masterpiece, I had to do a quick cover. I just never expected it to be so popular. I think the Gregory Brothers and Antoine Dodson himself crowned it one of the top 10 covers…I’m not a very experienced bass player, so it was a little off beat, but it was a lot of fun. I’m glad a lot of people got a laugh over it.
SoulTrain.com: As you look at your career from when it first started to now, what has changed and what are you most proud of?
Afua Richardson: I think I’ve taken more responsibility. I’m probably most proud of my change of attitude from that of a rather mousy and reserved and unconfident performer to one who knows their value, their limitations but more importantly, what they have to offer that’s different than what’s out there. I might have been at my proudest hearing that my grandma recorded my Soul Train performance on VCR, and [hearing] my father say that he was proud of me, something I’m not sure I heard very often. It’s right up there with receiving the Nina Simone Artistic Excellence Award in Arts last year and singing with Stevie Wonder in the music store I worked in ages ago.
SoulTrain.com: What do you have planned for us in the coming months?
Afua Richardson: I’ve got several comic books to finish—four to be exact. Dotted between that is music with Afua & Alexa , opening my new store at Afua Richardson.com and manifesting something magical. I never know what the coming months have to bring.
SoulTrain.com: What’s your favorite Soul Train memory?
Afua Richardson: Oh my goodness, there are so many to choose from…I’d have to say Micheal Jackson’s 1993 performance of “Remember the Time”. Whenever you watch Michael you want to see him dance. In this episode however, he remained in a chair for most of the song, save for a few moments when the music just erupted from him, but he quickly sat back down. I don’t know if it was for medical reasons or just to signify that he was the King, but waiting for him to dance was probably gave me a chance to sit back and listen to the amazing timbre of his voice. I still can’t believe I live in a post MJ world. He was truly one of the greatest and most successful artists of all time!
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is creator of LiberatedMuse.com and a longtime music writer and performance artist based in Maryland. Visit her on KhadijahOnline.com.