Floacist: Go with the Flo
Having secured seven Grammy nominations as one half of London female neo-soul duo Floetry, singer/songwriter/poet The Floacist - aka 33-year-old Natalie Stewart - this month returns with her second solo album release for US independent Shanachie, the appropriately-titled “Floetry Re:Birth”.
Released as a celebration of the Tenth Anniversary of Floetry’s initial breakthrough as a recording act, the spiritually-driven “Floetry Re:Birth” - pioneered by a jazzily seductive remake of the twosome’s 2003 US R&B Ten ballad “Say Yes” - prestigiously boasts vocal input from the likes of Grammy-winning contemporary soul man Raheem DeVaughn (the soulfully-shuffling “Start Again”); Gold-selling South African songstress Thandiswa Mazwai (the spiritually-grounded “Roots Of Love”); plus young African vocalist - and granddaughter of legendary musician/activist Pinki Mseleku - Demi Mseleku (the mellow, Zulu-language-embracing “Children Of The Sun”).
All of which - with the album representing the first recording project Natalie has created at her London home-base utilising her own production outfit FREE SUM Music Company - combines The Floacist’s award-winning talents as a composer, singer, poet and lyricist on a Nolan Weekes-produced set whose positive, affirming stories of love, lessons learned and personal growth take their diverse musical inspiration from the worlds of soul, jazz and African styles.
Born in Germany in February 1979 to Jamaican-born, UK-raised parents, Natalie would first hook up with singer/songwriter (and fellow former BRIT Performing Arts School student) Marsha Ambrosius in 1999 to form the duo Floetry on London’s open mic/performance poetry scene. Meanwhile, with the aim of the group being to create a new genre through combining spoken word with singing, the following year would find the twosome - dubbing themselves “the Songstress” (Marsha) and “the Floacist” (Natalie) - re-locating to the USA. Where - immediately embraced by America’s then-flourishing neo-soul scene - by 2002 they would sign with DreamWorks Records. Following which they would go on to release two US Top Ten albums - 2002’s Gold-selling “Floetic” and 2005’s “Flo’Ology” - which would ultimately find Floetry selling over one-and-half million records worldwide and picking up seven prestigious Grammy nominations along the way. Meanwhile, significant songwriting collaborations at the time included the likes of Jill Scott, Bilal and - most famously - Michael Jackson, for whom Marsha co-penned the 2002 US R&B Number Two ballad “Butterflies”.
Nevertheless, with Marsha in 2006 signing a solo deal with superstar rapper/producer Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, 2007 would ultimately find the twosome going their separate ways and splitting up. Following which 2010 would finally see Natalie re-emerging on the US R&B scene with her Top 20 debut solo LP “Floetic Soul”; while the following year would find Marsha attaining a US Number One album with her solo debut “Late Nights Early Mornings”.
… Cue a softly-spoken, intelligent Natalie on the line to “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss her new album - the aforementioned “The Floacist presents Floetry Re:Birth” - plus her views on her 2007 split with former Floetry musical partner Marsha and the possibilities of a future reunion.
PETE: You’ve been quoted as saying the purpose behind your new, second solo album “Floetry Re:Birth” is to celebrate the tenth anniversary of your creative vision - Floetry - first taking flight
NATALIE: “Absolutely. In fact the project is ALL about that. It’s a complete celebration of the ten-year journey of Floetry becoming a genre in itself that’s now within the mainstream. The prelude to which of course happened in the late-Nineties on London’s open-mic poetry circuit, when myself and my then-poetry group 3 Plus 1 began a movement that was really looking into expanding and developing the connection between poetry and the melodic voice. Which in turn is what led to me one evening inviting Marsha (Ambrosius) down to join us on a show that we were doing. And it was actually that night - when the connection between us as performers and the audience turned out to be so phenomenal - that the two of us first became inspired to take the whole concept further as a DUO… So yeah, I guess the actual 10 years itself really does kick off from Floetry as two young women from London - myself and Marsha - making our way to The United STATES. At which point a lot of ADDITIONAL aspects come into play, in terms of the actual music INDUSTRY then coming on board.”
PETE: So can you expand on the way you feel the Floetry journey changed once the US music industry became involved?
NATALIE: “Well, the fact is that addition to our journey of aspects like management and record-labels and production-companies ultimately did lead to your good, old-fashioned music-industry story - where a lot of those influences that came along at that time did try to create a form of separation between us. But then having said that, on the OTHER side of the coin it wasn’t actually until after we’d had great experiences like receiving seven Grammy nominations and collaborations with the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince that we eventually did get to 2006 and Marsha signing her solo deal with Aftermath RECORDS - which of course is what led to us SEPARATING.”
PETE: So can you fill me in on your journey from 2006 until now
NATALIE: “Well, to me 2006 to 2010 basically represents the behind-the-SCENES part of journey that’s celebrated on this new album, in terms of things like creative ownership, self ownership... You know, legally there were a lot of things that were placed in the way as far as me being able to keep the Floetry brand ALIVE. Which meant I basically had to take time out to align the ownership of the trademark in order to be able to re-enter the industry as an independent artist and still support and continue the journey of the BRAND... Which is why ultimately today, following the arrival of my first solo album in 2010, we now finally get to this point of me releasing my first album to be recorded organically at home in London with live instrumentation - which in turn also makes it the first album to be created completely in the Floetry/Floetic ETHOS... So yeah, ultimately throughout the record we are talking about the celebration of a journey that has been filled some serious challenges as WELL as all the many accolades and achievements.”
PETE: So do you now, in view of all that’s happened, see any possibilities of you and Marsha ever getting back together as Floetry
NATALIE: “Well, the heights we enjoyed together with Floetry were so fantastic that yes, when Marsha signed to Aftermath it did feel quite LANDSLIDING. But then at the end of the day, she and I did make some incredible MUSIC together. Which is why it hurts me deeply, as her friend and as her creative partner, to hear her now promoting the things she’s PROMOTING - which are not true of her life and our childhood that we had together in LONDON. I mean, she has a song out now called “Fuck And Get It Over With” which is all totally at odds with the vibrations and energy we created with Floetry, which was always very much about love and community. But you know, there’s no denying that Marsha is irreplaceable with regard to her position in the early days of the group… Which is why for her the doors of Floetry will forever remain OPEN - I mean, they’ve never been CLOSED! But as I say, it is quite clear right now with regard to what she’s doing - singing songs about having pistols on her hip - that she’s promoting a type of energy that is simply not her TRUTH. So in terms of a reunion, if Marsha were to realign with the ethos that we as Floetry created in terms of responsibility for words, sound, vibration, energy, positivity, then yes, I think it would be FANTASTIC! It’s something I think Floetry fans EVERYWHERE would be very, very HAPPY about!”
The album “The Floacist presents Floetry Re:Birth” is out now through Shanachie
Words PETE LEWIS