Friday, January 22, 2021
Saturday, December 19, 2020
“Unfortunately, in the time of a recession or a pandemic, arts and entertainment are usually the first to go and the last to come back. However, during those times, it’s the arts and entertainment that keep us going. We fall back to those records we love; we fall back to the artists we love and the books we love to read. We start writing in our journals and we get very creative.” Kevin “Darkside” Smith, producer
Sakai Smith and Nikita Germaine are two renowned industry vocalists known as Les Femmes Fatales. For eight years, they toured and recorded with the Grammy-winning rock band, Train, most famous for the melodic track “Hey Soul Sister.”
When the COVID-19 crisis hit this spring and all tour dates stopped, the dynamic vocal duo sprung into action. They joined forces with acclaimed San Francisco based producer Kevin “Darkside” Smith (who is also Sakai’s husband) to create a unifying and healing anthem in the tradition of epic collaborations such as “We Are the World,” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” They linked up virtually with some music industry heavyweights including Train, Santana, Narada Michael Walden, Larry Batiste and more.
The melodic single “Is That Enough?” https://youtu.be/AwI9XJ-y9pc recently earned Les Femmes Fatales two National Black Music Awards for Best Song and Best Video. A portion of the proceeds from “Is That Enough?“ will go to COVID-19 relief efforts and to those in need.
The three creators recently sat down with Streetwise Radio for an in-depth discussion.
Streetwise Radio: Congratulations on your new single, “Is That Enough?” Tell us how the track came about.
Nikita Germaine: Well, I was home one night during the height of the pandemic and I I was watching CNN; I was really glued to the news. I was a little frustrated with the stuff I was seeing. I was a little pissed, actually because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—people not wearing masks and the leader of our country acting crazy and saying crazy stuff, and people in the hospital dying. I remembered getting up and going towards the back room and I just stopped in my tracks because of this melody. Words just started flowing out of my mouth. I kept singing it over and over, “It’s not enough to live, it’s not enough to cry…” that melody! I went back to the couch to sit down and got my phone. I started singing into my recorder and more words came. I started writing and before I knew it, I had a song. I got excited and I called Sakai because I wanted her to finish writing it with me. I sang what I had to her and to make a long story short, we finished the song. We let Darkside hear it and he liked it, so the three of us made some tweaks and changes and came up with the song, “Is That Enough?”
Sakai Smith: Nikita called me and said, Sakai, I’m on to something here, we’ve got to finish this song together. Of course, it was melodic and the message that she started and with lyrics was powerful. As a songwriter, I was excited to be a part of the song and to help finish the song with Nikita. The way the song came about was so effortless, the way it came through her. We are so connected with our creator. As songwriters, those are really precious moments, when you’re not really looking for anything, but something will touch you, either what’s going on in the world, or being in love, or different things will happen in the lives that inspire us. When something powerful comes to us, we know that it’s through our creator. The song was so timely, especially with everything going on.
There was more to come in terms of development and this grand idea of how we were going to get the song out to the world and have people from the music community become a part of it. Kevin was in the studio for six months putting this project together. He produced the video and the song. We are blessed to have this platform. We are so grateful that we’ve been listening and moving forward and trusting and letting go.
Nikita: Yes, because at the beginning, it was just going to be Sakai and I singing the song. We collectively decided to bring in some friends.
Streetwise Radio: Tell us who is singing with you on the track.
Nikita: We have about 60 plus people including Narada Michael Walden, Pat Monahan, the lead singer of Train, Jeanie Tracy, Larry Batiste, Ashling Cole, Dale Anthony from Faith Out Loud, Tony Lindsay, , Claytoven Richardson, and more!
Streetwise Radio: Kevin, what was it like producing this song?
Kevin Smith: I had the pleasure of pulling all this together and taking their inspiration and molding it into something that we could all feel and get into.
Streetwise Radio: Sakai and Nikita, before the pandemic hit, you were touring with Train. What’s it like touring with a top music act?
Sakai: It’s amazing being band members of Train. We joined the band during a summer tour in 2012. In 2013, they asked us to become official band members. We’ve been touring and traveling around the world. Literally, up until COVID, we were touring non-stop. With that kind of schedule, my husband and I actually reversed roles. Someone had to give our kids a situation that was grounded, and a home that felt like it was normal. I am so grateful for my husband supporting me as he has throughout my career. When I started touring witch Train, our twins were four going on five. Now they are 14!
Nikita: Being with Train has been a fabulous whirlwind. I remember, Sakai and I and another friend made a dream board, where we listed places where we wanted to go. I can literally say that I’ve checked off a lot of those places. Malaysia. Dubai. Singapore. Australia. I wish I could say Africa, but we haven’t gotten there yet (laughs). It’s been really exciting and a lot of fun. Sometimes I want to pinch myself, because I’m with my girl who was instrumental in bringing me in to Train. They were recording “Save Me, San Francisco” and Sakai and I sang backing vocals in the studio. Sakai reminded Pat Monahan who I was when they needed another background singer. Being with my girl Sakai is the cherry on top that makes touring with Train so fabulous. Our musical journey together has been wonderful.
Streetwise Radio: Kevin, what does it mean to you as a producer to receive a National Black Music Award for this project?
Kevin: It is a testament to understanding the pulse of what’s going on. The song is so timely, so getting it out and having it resonate; It just feels like we’re on the right path. It is really rewarding when the work you do is well received, and when you have a great song that touches people. We have our own studio, It’s called the Foundation. Because of the pandemic, only one person, Sakai, recorded the song in the studio. Everyone else recorded on various mediums and in various studios, so that was the challenge of this project.
Streetwise Radio: What’s the thing you are going to do when the pandemic ends?
Nikita: I want to look at my phone and my calendar and see the email that says ladies, we have some tour dates!
Sakai: Likewise. I’m also looking forward to enjoying some public family time out in nature, where we can go out and feel comfortable. The pandemic has given me a new perspective on creation. Recently, we were able to have a visit to Santa Cruz. We hit the beach for a whole day, it was so much fun. My family is my biggest supporter, so I'm looking forward to them coming to my shows.
Kevin: That is a loaded question that makes you reflect, but I would say, connect. I realize that we take that for granted. Connecting with family, going to a movie, going to a restaurant, connecting with people in my studio, connecting with the public. We just assumed that this part of life would always be there and when it was abruptly taken away like this; it was a real shock to the system. It makes you realize what you have and what you want. Our kids just started high school on Zoom and they are not able to connect with their friends, with their community. The ladies like performing; it’s their passion and their job, and they are so fortunate. The silver lining is that we have a strong family, both musical and personal and we are able to connect that way. There are some families who have struggled more so during the pandemic because they don’t get along.
Streetwise Radio: Tell us how we can support you, and other musicians during the pandemic.
Sakai: As music creators, we were greatly affected by the pandemic. It’s been such a blessing to find new ways to create during this time, as we did by bringing 60 people together on this song. We’re building this from the ground up. A lot of people are doing concerts at home. As creators, we need your support in various ways, whether it be concerts, supporting our music, going to our YouTube channel subscribing to our pages and supporting us on all of the music streaming platforms, and downloading and buying our songs. A lot of the money is supporting us during these times because our jobs came to a halt. This interview supports us. Some artists are doing concerts and asking for small donations. Any support that will help us get the word out is vital during this time,
Nikita: I’m piggybacking on what Sakai said about supporting us on social media, even when things get better. I’m hopeful that things will get better even though they may not be the same. Social media will be the new normal for real, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook. It has been tough for everybody. We started this group, Femmes Fatales, a while ago but we are bringing it back to the forefront. We will continue with Train, too; they are two different genres. We want people to get to know us even more. We want to be in people’s faces; we want to be in your living room. We want to be on television. We would love to be interviewed.
Kevin: Unfortunately in the time of a recession or a pandemic, arts and entertainment are usually the first to go and the last to come back. However, during those times, it’s the arts and entertainment that keep us going. We fall back to those records we love; we fall back to the artists we love and the books we love to read. We start writing in our journals and we get very creative. We saw during the pandemic, as Nikita was saying, that social media and the Internet became the norm. You saw people like DJ D-Nice in New York doing shows every weekend and he had 100,000 people online at one point. Questlove was doing shows virtually. We hope that once this changes, while the Internet is still there, that people continue to support the arts in all the new ways, not just the shows or the CDs but in all aspects. As artists, we often have a hard time saying “support us financially,” but that’s our job. There’s a lot of strength in the arts and it’s really what keeps us grounded in tough times.
Listen to Les Femmes Fatales new single, “Is That Enough?” now on Streetwise Radio.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Maxi Priest Celebrates the Blues Aesthetic with Vibrant New Album “United State of Mind”
By Shelah Moody
“The true testimony of ‘United State of Mind’ is that when the three of us came together, we came with the same intent of wanting to create something magical as a gift to the world and not put any kind of limitation on it as to genre. We wanted to put our abilities together and come up with something good and present it to the world.” -Maxi Priest
November 7, 2020, is a good day. A white minivan pulls up to Arizmendi bakery in the gentrified part of San Francisco’s Mission district. A woman waves a single pink rose through her sunroof and blasts Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” from her car stereo.
A small, socially distanced crowd of children, women, and men gathers outside the bakery and some are cheering and waving U.S. flags and throwing air high fives to whooping, honking motorists who hang U.S. flags from their windows.
It’s a catharsis and an impromptu celebration of the victory of Democratic Presidential nominees Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman and person of African/East Indian descent to hold the title of U.S. Vice President.
In the year of COVID-19, quarantine, police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, shutdowns, unemployment, isolation, fear, distrust, and general malaise, there is finally something to celebrate and potentially unite people across the U.S.
It is also a good day for British recording artist Maxi Priest, who is three hours ahead quarantining in Montego Bay, Jamaica. At the time of our Zoom interview, it is raining but warm, he says. It is a good day indeed for the son of Jamaican immigrants, who, like Kamala Harris, worked hard and went on to achieve great things. Today, Priest is not talking about politics; he is focused on bringing inspiration and hope to people through music.
Maxi Priest came of age during the seventies sound system culture in south London. Max Alfred Elliot, the second youngest of nine siblings, hailed from hard-working Jamaican parents; both of them died before he was 15.
Maxi Priest’s tenacity and silky tenor propelled his fame with his string of hits “Wild World” “Close to You,” “Housecall” (with Shabba Ranks), “Set the Night to Music” (with Roberta Flack), and “That Girl” (with Shaggy).
Though he has the pipes to sing pages from the phone book and turn them into a soul-stirring hymn, Priest became known for his sunny, crossover brand of reggae and lover’s rock. lt was no coincidence that Angela Basset and Taye Diggs shared their first dance in the movie version of Terry McMillan’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” to a Maxi Priest song, “Art of Seduction.”
In 2010, Maxi Priest became the first reggae artist to join Peabo Bryson and other leading R&B acts on the Colors of Christmas tour.
In 2020, Priest joined forces with British rock guitarist RobinTrower and producer/engineer Livingstone Browne to create his first-ever blues album, “United State of Mind.”
Why the blues? The Grammy-nominated artist tells all in the following interview.
Streetwise Radio: Congratulations on your new album, “United State of Mind!” Tell us how you are doing.
Maxi Priest: I’m doing awesome. I’m having a great time in Jamaica, chilling. I’m having a beautiful time. Obviously, a lot of us musicians are not able to travel. We can’t go and do what we love to do: perform for people around the world. Other than that, I’m good, healthwise I’m good; I’m awesome. We are having a wonderful time with this album and we’re just keeping it going.
Streetwise Radio: Now, back to “United State of Mind.” You rose to fame as a reggae artist. Why a blues album?
Maxi Priest: Because, as far as I’m concerned, I should be known as an artist. As an artist, you always start with a blank piece of paper or a blank sheet. For me, from day one, it’s always been about the music, the art, and my ability to sing. There’s no reason or any way that I’m going to limit that. I think that it is my duty to utilize my ability to its fullest. I have such a wide range of appreciation for different genres of music, but first and foremost is the art. That’s where my real passion is: the art of being able to sing; my ability to express myself and release myself through the art of singing. I never had any intention of limiting myself to anybody. I think it’s a way of keeping me down and also, keeping the next generation of people who come from a similar background as I come from, down. It is my duty to widen the playing field so that the next generation will find a better playing field.
Streetwise Radio: Talk about your two collaborators, Robin Trower and Livingstone Browne, and what they contributed to the album.
Maxi Priest: This album here is a journey that I’m taking my peeps on. I’ve had the honor and the utmost pleasure of working with a living legend, Robin Trower, and also my longtime friend and musical partner, producer Livingstone Browne. This album has been a true testimony to the term “united state of mind;” three artists who have a similar outlook, musically. Even though, before we met, Livingstone was apprehensive as to how it would work between me and Robin Trower. Robin also has worked with Livingstone Browne for some years now. Livingstone introduced me to Robin and we started to talk and I realized that he came from the same area of southeast London that I did. Since we met, we just hit it off. We said, hey, let’s just try something in the studio. The true testimony of “United State of Mind” is that when the three of us came together, we came with the same intent of wanting to create something magical as a gift to the world and not put any kind of limitation on it as to genre. We wanted to put our abilities together and come up with something good and present it to the world.
Streetwise Radio: During the virtual listening party for “United State of Mind,” you said that you have an affinity for the guitar, and during your live performances, you gravitate toward the guitar. Can you elaborate?
Maxi Priest: Oh yeah! When I’m on stage, I just like to vibe with my guitarists. The guitar is such an important instrument in music for me. When I’m on stage, the lead guitarist is someone to kick it with when needed. Also, you can kick the melodies on the microphone and the guitarist can answer back and compliment you. Sometimes changing a few colors inspires you to change melodies and bring something new to the table instead of singing the same consistent melody. On stage, my guitarist is like my right hand.
Streetwise Radio: Is the track: “On Fire Like Zsa Zsa” really about Zsa Zsa Gabor?
Maxi Priest: it is! I knew about Zsa Zsa Gabor before but never really paid that much attention to the situation. Robin and I were talking about creating a certain kind of song about a kind of mystery woman. And he said, Zsa Zsa. The lyrics started to flow from that point. “Who’s the fire like Zsa Zsa? For goodness sake heartbreaking’ mama/You got the world and then...The creatures got Diamond eyes/And a heart of cool.” (Laughs).
You know, for me, this whole album has been an inspiration and a motivation to move to another level; to just go out there and do my thing and use my ability to the max and not feel like I have to be trapped in a place that most media situations and people would like to put me in. As I said earlier, at this point in my life, I feel that it is important for me to push the boundaries as wide as possible and create a platform for generations to come.
Streetwise Radio: Tell us about a few tracks that you really love on the album.
Maxi Priest: The first that comes to mind is “Walking Wounded.” I thought about it the other day, after getting the news about all so many of our legends passing away, Toots Hibbert, Bunny Lee, Bob Andy, and Johnny Nash. I went to the album and pulled up “Walking Wounded” because that’s how I felt. On the day they announced Johnny Nash’s passing, I was like, wow. Here’s a massive legend. We tend to forget very easily the works that people like Johnny Nash have put into this wonderful industry of ours; and society.
Streetwise Radio: Did you know Johnny Nash or did you work with him?
Maxi Priest: No I didn’t. I think the closest that I got to him was meeting some of his family members at a Sunsplash gig in Montego Bay in the eighties.
Streetwise Radio: Perhaps one day, you can do a whole album tribute to Johnny Nash.
Maxi Priest: Bring it on! My doors are always open. This is my life, this is what I do, and I love what I do.
Streetwise Radio: I was listening to one of your interviews where you were talking about institutional racism in England and how Caribbean immigrants were told to go back home. You said that you could always find security at home embraced in your Jamaican family and Jamaican culture.
Maxi Priest: My parents—especially my mother—were very good at making us understand that we are just human beings. We’re all human beings. We have differences in cultural situations based on where we were born and how we were born, but overall, we are children of God. We’ve got to figure this out. Everything is not laid out on a plate. But if we leave our minds open and willing to understand, then we will finally understand. If you close your mind, there’s only one thing that’s gonna happen, you will find yourself comforting yourself in your own ignorance or misunderstanding.
Streetwise Radio: What’s the first thing that you are going to do when the pandemic ends?
Maxi Priest: I have no clue (laughs). Probably jump on a plane. I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere, I‘m not in a hurry to do anything other than what I do and what I love to do, and obviously, take care of my family and make sure everyone around me is good. I’ve got my mask, I walk with my mask and try to protect myself and protect everybody else around me. I deal with the moment. I deal with time. I deal with where I am today and let tomorrow unfold itself. I greet it with a smiling face and an optimistic, positive mind. I try to enjoy to the fullest my time here on earth.