With eleven years as a solo artist and a new label behind her, N’dambi is now promoting what is by far the best album of her career to date. N’dambi (which means “most beautiful”) has a relaxed vibe that’s probably due to her gradual rise as a solo star. She started out duetting with Erykah Badu, the ‘Queen of Neo Soul’, whose work encompasses elements of hip hop, RnB and jazz. From these experimental beginnings, N’dambi went on to develop her own sound, and break new ground musically herself.
What is your life philosophy?
Always be open to new things… You never know what might come behind learning something new. Open yourself to new food, travel, different cultures, languages… I think it’s important to do that. I also think it’s important to freefall; when you freefall you can actually land better because you’re preparing yourself for whatever. In the grand scheme of things, you can’t control things because life is full of a lot of randomness.
OK, based on that reasoning, I’m guessing doing music professionally was not how things started out for you. If so, when did it all change?
I thought that I would be a writer/book author first, but I didn’t have enough life experiences to write a novel – hadn’t really lived! I thought my day-to-day life was kinda mundane working, for almost a year, at the bank. I would be at my job and ask customers, ‘What are you gonna do in five years?’ They’d say, ‘Well, hopefully I’d move up on the company ladder.’ I’d say, ‘No, you’re supposed to say, you’re gonna work for yourself!’ [Laughs] So, in my mind, I was already here… I already decided my path, and I would always work jobs where I’d work for like three months, make money, and then quit, because I never thought that that was what my purpose in life was. For the music, what started the domino effect was when I got sick at the bank. I had told God, ‘I need something, I need to get out of here… I can’t get out fast enough!’ But, you know, you have to be careful how you ask for these things to happen. So, I got sick, really sick, with strep throat for a week. Then, I was out another week because my sinuses drained, and then chicken pox came…
[Laughing] But I got three weeks to decide what I wanted to do [with my life]. I decided to give them my one-week notice and quit, and work for a temp agency, which is a little bit more flexible. Then, I started fielding around, doing theatre and finding creative cipher circles where people would do poetry/spoken word and all kinds of stuff, and just getting more involved. So at that point, I didn’t have enough [of a life story] to write a book, but enough to write three- to four-minute songs.
What happened next?
At that point, Erykah [Badu] – we’re from the same hometown [Dallas, Texas] – she and I would be a part of these cipher circles at my cousin’s gallery where all hip hop heads would go, and we’d jump in the circle and start singing stuff. And we were like, ‘If I go on the road [on tour], I’m gonna take you with me, or vice versa.’ So, she gets the deal first and I go on the road with her and that’s how that happened. When people asked me, when I quit my job, what are you going to do? I told them, ‘Next time you see me, I’m gonna be on TV!’ I didn’t know how that was gonna happen but then the next I ran into someone I told that to, they were like, ‘You said you were gonna be on TV and you did it!’ Granted, I was on
TV singing with Erykah, but I was on TV! [Laughs]
From your debut album, Little Lost Girls Blues to your most recent release, Pink Elephant, what has been your evolution as an artist?
My evolving has been being more the storyteller/griot. I stretched my range and sang in higher registers on this album. I even played around more with my arrangements, especially with the background vocals as chord structures for
organ/pad chords, like in The World is a Beat.
You didn’t do any collaborations or duets with any artists on your album. I’m assuming that was your intention, but what about upcoming projects? Are there any artists you would be interested in collaborating with?
Well, that was deliberate. One, because, for some people this might be the first time they’ve ever heard of me, so it would be to showcase who I am as an artist, to see what I can give, and then features to follow. I’m pretty much interested to work with any artist hungry to do music – I like pushing [outside] the box.
You can preview the entire Pink Elephant album and check for tour dates at www.ndambionline.com
Interview by Ahmed Sirour