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Issue 1084

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Feature

NU LIFE: Divine Aspirations

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With their decade-plus career having already encompassed a MOBO Award, a sell-out tour of the UK, plus a royal performance before The Queen herself, Birmingham-born and-raised British urban gospel trio Nu Life this month finally release their long-overdue debut album âA Woman Like Meâ.

Prestigiously described by prominent Radio One DJ/MTV presenter Trevor Nelson as âvocally and musically one of the best acts to come out of the UK everâ, a chatty Dionne Williams, Maryanne Hepburn and Estella Ible gather at a North West London recording studio on a bustling Saturday lunchtime to discuss with âB&Sâ their critically-acclaimed, musically-diverse new LP. Beginning with its bass-bumpinâ, punchy title-track single, which has already been dubbed âa bold Christian sistasâ anthemâ.

âI wrote that song - âA Woman Like Meâ - around seven years ago nowâ, begins Dionne, the trioâs most talkative member: âAnd I did it in response to a song that Iâd heard on MTV that was a bit soppy, a bit soft. It was basically a woman singing to a guy about how he was making her feel, and it just made her sound really weak. So I wrote âA Woman Like Meâ to testify to the strength of Christian women - something which all three of us are. You know, I hadnât actually heard any song that had done that previously. And, in the song, Iâm really making the distinction between us Christian women all the OTHER women out there. Iâm basically saying that Christian women are stronger. We know our minds; we have our faith to fall back on - so that, when the going gets rough, we donât bail out. You know, weâre in it for the long term. We love our men; we SUPPORT our men... And we do have something significant to offer.â

With production on the album coming courtesy of Midlands-based outfit 5am (famed for their remix work for the likes of Usher, Christina Aguilera and Joe), its varied moods range from upbeat cuts like the Sounds Of Blackness-sampling âOptimistic Remixâ of the buoyant groover âNow That Iâve Found Youâ and pounding funker âTake My Eyes Off Youâ; to slower tracks like the majestically-orchestrated, emotional âWholeâ and the jazzily swinging âSpeak Fatherâ.

âWhen we were trying to decide exactly how we wanted our album to sound, one of the things we definitely DIDN`T want to happen was for people to pigeonhole it as a stereotypical gospel albumâ, asserts Dionne: âBecause not everybody likes straight-up traditional gospel, it was important to us to bring as much flavour and variety to the table as possible. Basically, we wanted the album to appeal to young and old alike while also transcending any racial and gender barriers.â

âAnd, with our own musical influences ranging from reggae and traditional gospel to jazz, R&B and even classical, we do feel the album reflects all thatâ, adds an equally articulate Maryanne: âSo, while there are obviously songs on there thatâll lend themselves readily to a church environment, there are also tracks that will appeal more when we go out to the clubs or perform at open-air festivals.â

Nevertheless, in terms of the lyrics themselves, the threesome openly agree that their songsâ uncompromisingly-straight-up gospel messages remain completely undiluted: âAs we started out singing, if you like, hardcore gospel - albeit with contemporary lyrics and music - it just doesnât make any sense for us to now water it downâ, retorts Dionne: âFor us to start saying something and then change that strategy just to appeal to the mass market, would be like a slap-in-the-face to God and to our integrity as people. So, while itâs not unheard-of for DJs to call us up and say `Your trackâs great but why have you said Jesus in the middle of it?`, our answer is always `Because weâre a GOSPEL band!`!

âBut then, though we do look at the upside to being a Christian, we also make a conscious decision to look at what it`s like to be on the rough side of the mountain tooâ, she continues: âItâs just that, while our songs reflect the fact that as young women we face the same experiences and temptations as everyone else, the difference is we write about those experiences from a Christian perspective.â

Having started out by winning a national talent competition 12 years ago, Nu Life have - over the years - found themselves supporting numerous visiting big US acts like Angie Stone, Mary Mary and Ne-Yo. Nevertheless, the performance that remains most significant in their minds took place in their own hometown back in 2002: âPerforming for The Queen for her 50th Jubilee at Birminghamâs Symphony Hall was a definite highlight for usâ, recalls Maryanne: âBasically they were asking for a gospel group. And, when we got the call from our manager, we were like `Us?! Are you SURE?!`!... But I guess, once weâd got over the initial shock, we just went ahead and did what we had to do! And it was definitely an honour to do it! We actually sang with a string quartet that day, and then afterwards we were able to meet The Queen and shake her hand. And, though we were very, very nervous about having to curtsey for the first time, we did it - and weâre all very proud of that moment!â

The album âA Woman Like Meâ is out now. The single âA Woman Like Meâ follows February 2, both through Urban Essentials
Words PETE LEWIS

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