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Arts & Culture » Music

Martha Wash: new music with love

by Cornelius Washington

Martha Wash
Martha Wash  

If anyone can get us through this virus, from a musical perspective, it's Martha Wash. Her new album, Love & Conflict, is the must-have album of the season.

Martha Wash is the voice everyone recognizes. She is the powerful vocalist behind such classic dance hits as "It's Raining Men," "Everybody Dance Now" and "Carry On." With the release of her new album, Love & Conflict, she adds to her legacy of music.

An early and continuing ally, Wash has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ causes and a champion in the fight against HIV/AIDS. She's played Pride celebrations and LGBTQ events for decades, and in 2012 she was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the AIDS Emergency Fund for her activism. The iconic singer shared her thoughts and opinions in an expanded interview.

Cornelius Washington: Your new album is a great journey for your listeners. It has a stripped-down, neo-Muscle Shoals sound, and the lyrics demand that we better ourselves. Was this the intention in creating the album?
Martha Wash: Well, with songwriters and producers Sami Basbous and Andrew David, we just started with one song, "Like Fire," and then decided to continue in that vein. It's another different sound for me, which I always like. It keeps me moving forward. The lyrics of the album invite us to look at ourselves (good or bad), as well as the outside world (good and bad) and how we want to deal with things.



Tell us the meaning behind the title, and about the cover art.
I knew that I wanted the word Love in the title, but was tossing around other words to go with it. We finally settled on Love & Conflict. If you listen, you will find the Love, or the Conflict or the Love and Conflict. Sami Basbous, who also happens to be a great artist, painted the cover art for the album. I think it came out great. I do have the painting, but haven't hung it up yet.

What song on the album do you want to have remixed, and by whom?
I would prefer not to have any of the songs remixed. I would rather keep it in this natural form. I don't believe all songs need to be remixed! Let's appreciate the original music without asking after the music has been released a week prior.


Martha Wash  

Let's discuss your most familiar musical genre. Why do you feel that dance music is still not as appreciated as other genres, despite its ability to empower, liberate and enlighten?
What you're saying is true. I really don't know though, but, I've always felt like it was treated as a stepchild in regards to the Grammys. One award for Best Remixer and I think for Best Song? Really? WTH? What happened to the vocalist or producer? Maybe I'm the one who's crazy, but some of those categories! Another thing that the Grammys and other music award entities should be looking into. That's all.

You've made stunning music videos that have stood the test of time, on a technical level. How do you choose your video directors and concepts?
My manager and I come up with ideas and then we reach out to a company that has directors. They present their concepts and we then mesh things together.

Now that your voice has had plenty of rest during quarantine, how has it changed?
I think I just have to make it stronger since I haven't sung for that long. I think I have to start doing my scales again, which I had stopped doing.

Many have used the quarantine to create musical bucket lists. What's on yours?
I don't have a bucket list for that, although I still want to do a gospel album.

Several months ago, the artist Lizzo was featured on the cover of American Vogue. What do you think of her and what career advice would you give her?
I think she's great, and she looked beautiful on the cover! I would just say, continue to be who you are. Stay true to yourself.



There's a new category of plus-sized models called 'curve models' and, of course, the woman on top is Black, named Precious Lee, who has worked with everyone, from Hilfiger to Versace. What grooming and styling tips would you share with her?
She's a beautiful young lady. I would dare say it would be the other way around. She could give me some tips! I'm just glad to see more curvy women (especially women of color) out there doing their thing. It's way past time! I remember as a teenager going into high-end department stores and asking why they didn't carry sizes past 12 or 14. It was, "We'll have to find out about that" or it was "We only cater to those sizes"!

I was having a discussion with Christine Royer, who was one of Halston's primary models, The Halsonettes. She mentioned how fabulous she thought your ensembles are. We agreed that Halston would have loved to dress you. We both want to know what do you love to wear on stage that travels well with you on tour.
Well, I would have loved that! I like to be as comfortable as possible on stage (sometimes that doesn't work out), but I like to wear lighter tops with pants; things that are easily steamed out, as opposed to heavier things that need to be pressed out.



You have one of the most naturally beautiful complexions in the industry. How do you maintain it? Have you discovered any new skincare products during quarantine?
No. I just use products that I've always used. Dove soap and Oil of Olay.

This past year has led many to confront various forms of bigotry, except LGBTQ racism and black/POC homophobia. Why do you believe that that is and what can be done about it?
Narrow minds, closed hearts, haters of people that don't look or think like them, that they think might threaten their tiny world. We have to keep demanding from people and the people that run this country that you may not like or agree with or don't like the color of a person's skin. Everyone has a right to liberty and equality in this country. If not, then we know that this country was built on a lie and the Constitution is a lie.

Despite decades of enduring work by artists like you to create awareness and prevention of HIV/STIs, how frustrating do you find the continued desire of gay and bisexual men to have unprotected sex, and not always on PreP?
I'll just say this; stop it! Stop being irresponsible. If not for you, then for your partner. Is that really so hard to do?


Let's discuss your brilliant YouTube program, "Ten Minutes with Martha Wash." Will you continue the show once the pandemic ends? What is your future guest wishlist?
We'd like to start shooting again sometime soon, depending on my schedule and how back to normal we can get. We've gotten good responses from the shows and even won a few awards for it. As far as guests are concerned, I'm not going to say. I keep that close to the vest.

On one of your episodes, comedian/actress Marsha Warfield discussed how very powerfully you, Ms. Izora Rhodes, and Sylvester represented vocally, culturally, and visually, helping people embrace themselves on every level. Did it surprise and inspire you, when the three of you worked together?
I don't think any of us thought that. We were just doing what we each loved to do only doing it together. We were glad to know that people loved us and supported our shows.

Let's discuss your magazine, FLOD (Fabulous Ladies of Disco). Who created the concept and who would you love to have as a future guest?
The concept came from a book titled First Ladies of Disco in which 32 women tell their stories from the days of disco until the present day. My manager and partner James Washington came up with the idea. We feature eclectic people that you may or may not know. We shine a light where sometimes people may not receive media coverage for their accomplishments.



The magazine and show's most moving subject was a man, the late, great dancer, choreographer and actor, Adolfo Gutierrez 'Shabba Doo' Quiñones. I just thank God that you were able to 'give him his roses' before he passed. How did you meet and what do you think is his contribution to dance and dance music culture?
He had been on my mind, I wondered where he was and what he was doing. So we reached out to him and he was gracious enough to say yes. I was very glad to see him and know he was doing so well after all these years. His contribution to dance is immense along with the others during their time in the 1970s. A lot of the steps you see now are his choreography from the past and present. He traveled the world teaching master classes. He was just a very sweet guy!

Did you ever resolve your issues with the late, great musician/producer/composer, David Cole (of C&C Music factory) before he passed? If so, what were your final words to each other?
Our issues were resolved with me recording on their second album and going on tour with them. David was supposed to meet us in London, but never made it due to illness. We had to cancel the tour and come home. I didn't have a chance to speak to him before he passed, but we had made up and moved on.



What are your future plans for your record company, Purple Rose Records?
It initially started out as just putting out my own music, but we gradually started to add singles from First Ladies of Disco (myself, Evelyn Champagne King, Linda Clifford & Norma Jean Wright) which have been on Billboard Top 10 Dance Chart, The Ritchie Family (Ice) as well as a single from Le'Rae (Renee Guillory Wearing from The Ritchie Family).

While we've recorded with heritage artists, we're also looking for young artists that have a different sound than what you hear every day, someone unique. Writers and producers we check for on music platforms and such. They can reach out to us at www.purpleroserecords.com

How did it feel to perform to thunderous applause from the most talented and discerning people on the planet at the Tony Awards? Did you get to hang out with any of them?
It was a thrill for me to be there, and so much fun to sing with the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (great show also). They were very gracious to me. I was very surprised, but appreciative of the audience's response as well!



With what hot composers, producers, and video directors do you want to work next?
I would love to work with Missy Elliott, Kandi Burruss, and Todrick Hall. I have always been a fan of their work.

In your past work, you created a mesmerizing version of Aerosmith's hit, 'Dream On.' What song do you want to remix next?
There are so many great songs that have been recorded over the decades, it's very hard to pinpoint one. Whatever the song is, I want to be able to do it just as good or even better than the original version.


In your work, you always tease the planet with your jazz scatting chops. Is there a jazz album in your future? If so, what jazz songs are you lusting to record?
No, I can't say that there is, although in my shows I used to do a tribute to ladies of jazz, blues, and R&B.

Once the pandemic lifts, where would you like to perform first and what would you wear and sing?
Probably a club in New York to promote the album and then on to other cities. Come find me to see what I'd wear!

As a woman, how does it feel to know that yours is one of music's most distinctive voices and that tons of hot, sweaty men worldwide flex, striptease and tantalize to the sound of your voice?
Wow! I've always hoped that people would enjoy the music that I provided for their lives and that my voice would indeed be distinctive.



Is there anything that you want to say to all of us at The Bay Area Reporter newspaper, as we celebrate our 50-year anniversary, and our appreciation of you as an ally for so many years, in season and out?
Just Happy 50th Birthday Bay Area Reporter! My, how time flies! Wishing you many more years of great service and contributions to the community at large.

www.purpleroserecords.com
www.flodmag.com
Martha Wash TV on YouTube
Official Martha Wash on YouTube


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