Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Boho Darling of the Week

      I haven't thought about Angel Grant in a very long time. The model-pretty, airy-voiced singer-songwriter was meant to be the jewel of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' Flyte Time Records, which they formed in the late '90s. In 1998, I flew to New York to attend a three-day series of artist showcases being thrown by Universal Music; one of the artists slated to perform was Ms. Grant since Flyte Time was distributed through Universal. (The criminally overlooked Rachid was also part of the three-day showcase.) Grant's single "Little Red Boat" was already a minor r&b chart hit whose video was in heavy rotation on BET. Hours (at least three) slowly went by with no sign of the star; all the free shrimp was eaten; the vanilla-scented candles in the middles of the tables pretty much melted away; the backing band ran through their bag of tricks, and the gathering of movers & shakers were salty as hell. (At one point, Jimmy Jam took the stage and jokingly asked, "Any singers in the house?" He was smiling but he clearly wasn't amused or happy.) Finally, Ms. Grant showed up... Now, I can't say for certain what the problem had been, but when a female voice rose above the crowd and proclaimed, "That bitch high," the room murmured in collective agreement. And Grant's career was pretty much over before it began.
      Grant came to mind while I was listening to Joyful, the debut CD of Ayo. Ayo's voice is better, stronger, possessing more character and texture, and her songs are tighter (which is saying something, really, 'cause Angel's songs were generally very good.) But something of Grant's arresting vulnerability is in Ayo's style and approach. A resident of Germany, born to a Nigerian father and a gypsy Roma mother (the biracial beauty brigade is constantly upping the ante, yo... it ain't enough to just say you're half-black/half-white no more; your shit's gotta be hyper exotic... cubed), Ayo's guitar driven, folksinger, singer-songwriter approach is heavily centered on reggae (she cites Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer as influences -- as well as Pink Floyd, King Sunny Ade and Fela), and she sounds a bit like Sade as channeled by Tracy Chapman. There's a sturdy strength beneath the afore mentioned vulnerability. That might all sound incredibly hackneyed but it's actually quite lovely. The music soothes. It can function simply as chill background fare but it's more than able to stand up to scrutiny. I'm really loving "Life is Real." Check it out...

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