On November 4, London’s Jazz Cafe was treated to an awesome night of a soulful, bluesy, jazzy kinda something that had us all bursting into a clichéd but unbeatable spontaneous applause. Singer-songwriter Anthony David was totally professional, infinitely engaging and best of all, his vocals were smooth and rich like warm melted Belgian chocolate, oozing from a cake: truly that smooth, it was always destined to be that way. Some big magazine names, other than the brilliant Flavour of course, were there to see Anthony David perform tracks from his new album. Supported by the brilliant Avery Sunshine, Jazz Cafe was blessed.
Anthony David (cousin to Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men) is now three albums in, with his latest instalment, As Above, So Below, an album that sees David delving deep into his versatile talent and his Georgia roots. “Georgia influences me in all aspects of my music. I have gospel influences, blues influences – I mean, some of the best artists in the world are from Georgia. I think even my philosophies on life all have Georgia as the base.” Indeed, that Georgia attitude is prevalent as Anthony David makes me feel immediately relaxed and asks if I want a juice. He then obliterates an orange juice and water (I think it was a hard night of celebration).
Admittedly, a bit of a newcomer to his music, I listened to his back catalogue more intently, and it’s easy to believe he has that ‘something’ that will always make his music appealing. Perhaps it is partly down to the fact that as an artist he does not appear to seek fame outside of his art. He laughs, as initially he wasn’t that interested in being a singer. “I am a writer and that is how I came into the business. I think fundamentally what I do is communicate, so the singing part was just something to help me communicate, and then it became something I really liked to do.”
His first brush with fame came with India Arie, the beautiful ebony songstress (who he managed for a while in her early years), writing the quintessentially soulful track ‘Part of My Life’ for her critically acclaimed and multi-Grammy nominated debut album Acoustic Soul (200l). “India was on my second album (with the Grammy-nominated ‘Words’). She has done so much for me, so I really wanted to do this third album without her there. Our careers have always been linked, but hers more so. Her career has been more of an influence on mine because she blew up.”
Though India appeared on his second album, Anthony David is an antagonistic mix of laid-back and fiercely independent as he continues to forge his own musical direction. “When I started out I planned to be my own person because I did not want someone to tell me what to do, and that is what happens in a label – which is not necessarily a bad thing, because many artists do not know what they want to be. For me it was about developing organically and finding the customer after the product. Like, this is what this is, do you like it? I think then it is sustainable and it allowed me to focus on development.”
A cover of popular Tears For Fears track ‘Everybody Wants To Rule the World’ (1985) on his latest album further reinforces that independent streak. “I thought it would be really interesting to cover 80s tracks I really liked that are really soulful, but because the artist is not black or whatever, people do not associate them with soul music, even though when you sing, people know them.”
Sitting in the lobby of a plush hotel he obliterates another juice as we move on to his album. Packed full of political themes and personal songs, he works with the simple formula that “good songwriting is about connecting on a larger level from something very small”.
“I am shocked to be on my third album. When I said I am making my first [3 Chords and The Truth, 2004], two people said, ‘Cool.’ The others, I remember saying, ‘What, you making an album?’ (as he feigns surprise). The second album I had more of an idea of what I wanted to do and a little something to prove, and while touring around, people were expecting a third album and so it is a surprise that now they want it.”
He need not be surprised. Anthony David can count Michelle Obama as one of his fans and a recent appearance on Later with Jools Holland sealed his UK credentials. “Jools Holland was definitely a nervous time for me. It was an awesome show, but I had to learn to perform ‘The Red Clay Chronicles’ acoustically and I do not usually perform it, let alone remember the words. They picked that one and said I could not perform on the show unless I performed that track.”
Any thoughts on his next album? In a characteristically humble but realistic way, Anthony David still seems unsure whether his music will always be successful. “My albums are the interplay between how people react to them, so no, I am just concentrating on this for now.”
As Above, So Below is released in February
Words by Semper Azeez-Harris