Hailing from Liverpool, Marsha Ambrosius has succeeded in conquering America as a successful R&B/Soul singer, after making the move over ten years ago. With six Grammy nominations under her belt, the ex-Floetry member has worked with the cream of the Urban scene, including Nas, Alicia Keys and Michael Jackson, who she not only sang with but also penned lyrics for. With the release of her long awaited debut solo album this month, the singer, song writer and producer speaks to Anna Nathanson for The Wrap Up about her journey so far…
You have been in America for a long time now; do you still feel British?
I work in America and have a visa but I still have a British passport and I’m very much a Scouser. I try and come home as much as possible; for holidays, birthdays; whenever I can really.
Do you think you would’ve been as successful if you’d stayed in the UK?
I had a free trip to America and that’s how that worked out. I wasn’t necessarily attempting to make a career or make a mark in the U.S. It really was because my friend was playing Basketball in New Jersey and had a taped cassette of mine performing at the Jazz Café. It just so happened that I met the right people at the right time. I was just taking advantage of the opportunity. So I couldn’t tell you whether if I’d stayed in England it would have worked out. I don’t think Michael Jackson would have heard my song as I wouldn’t have been in the studio that day, so there are all these little things to take into consideration, but I was just rolling with it and have been ever since.
What do you think about the recent growth of the UK Urban music scene?
I still think it’s very very small in comparison to where I thought it would’ve been by now, and I think in the UK there can only ever be one successful R&B singer or one successful rapper, and in America there are countless R&B singers and rappers. I think there are many talented people out there doing their thing but it’s a size difference and you have to be out there proving points, and doing what you do that much harder to make your mark in the UK. I’m thankful that it’s building a little bit, slowly but surely.
Do you think American audiences are more receptive to more traditional forms of R&B and Soul?
You have to roll with whatever’s current in England and that’s why I think that a lot of UK R&B acts tend to lean towards a Dance, Electronic Pop or an R&B Pop type sound instead of just being soulful, and it just is what it is. I managed to break out in the U.S. making music I was passionate about.
There seems to be more white commercially successful UK Soul singers in recent times, such as Adele and Amy Winehouse – why do you think this is?
I have no idea. At the end of the day, talent is talent and it should be recognised; it’s colourless and if I hear it and it sounds good, then that’s undeniable. But like I said in terms of Urban music in the UK, it’s hard to get your foot in the door, but you have to keep kicking it down.
Did you ever check out the remake of “Say Yes” by Ill Blu and Shanique?
I haven’t but I heard about it! It’s lovely; it’s such a complement, for a song that’s ten years old to me, to come back the way it did and for people to put it out in a different format.
Do you still speak to ex-Floetry member Natalie?
No I haven’t spoken to her since she left the group in 2007.
So you don’t know what she’s up to and whether she’s still making music?
No. It’s not that we outgrew each other but more like we realised who we were, and that we’re two completely different people, so it just wasn’t what it was.
You worked with Michael Jackson and wrote his hit single “Butterflies”; what impact did his death have on you?
The same that it had on the world, but I could say that I got to know him outside of just being the icon and the legend that everyone else got to see; I spent time with him. It’s still quite surreal but I’m thankful that I got to do what was on the end of my “to do” list at the beginning of my career, and to have someone as famous as that work with someone he hadn’t heard of before and be that humble. He taught me a lot about the industry, and how to achieve longevity.
You’ve worked with many other artists, what other major highlights stick out for you?
There have just been too many people to name. For example Justin Timberlake winning a Grammy for “Best Male Vocal” for “Cry My A River”, with my vocals all over the song. Working with people like Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, The Game, Busta Rhymes; I could name drop for days but when I look at my Wikipedia I still can’t believe that I’ve worked with all of those people.
Your recent video for “Far Away” has a very hard-hitting anti-bullying message, particularly against homophobic bullying. Was it hard making the video considering that it was based on real life experiences?
It was a real life experience in that I was a friend of someone who couldn’t break out of their depression. It was hard making it but I’m just thankful that I can get that story told and have it benefit other people.
Do you think it’s harder for black gay people, in particular men, and what are your thoughts on the concept of “down low brothers” in Hip Hop?
In terms of down low brothers in Hip Hop I think it’s something that people should talk about, I mean, it’s 2011. If you can’t be honest and upfront about who you are then you’re taking a backwards step. With the “Far Away” video I did it exactly how I wanted it, straight to the point. It’s difficult anyway but to add on being black and gay, it probably is harder.
How would you describe the vibe of your new album?
Well it’s really sensual but sincere all at the same time. It takes you on a journey and it’s almost like a classical piece of music taking you through nearly every genre, but with a “Marsha Ambrosius twist” to it. It’s very soulful, seductive and honest. If I were to name my favourite track I’d be naming the entire album! You can’t listen to one song without hearing the other, so it’s one of those albums that you just have to listen to from start to finish.
By Anna Nathanson