There is a philosophical movement where idealism and realism are synthesized into a unique style of music that is 'Floetic.' It is a fusion of R&B music, poetry, and character-driven stories and melodies. And what better time, as this is the Age of Aquarius, this is also the Age of FLOETRY. 'Poetic delivery with musical intent' has become the mantra of vocalist-songwriter Marsha Ambrosius (AKA Songstress) and poet-songwriter Natalie Stewart (AKA Floacist). The London duo's name FLOETRY was inspired by a fan, who appreciated the performance art of Natalie's poetry flowing to the grooves of Marsha's melodious voice.
They are entertainers first; they will quickly remind you. They seem grounded, even—though they have a hot CD titled Floetry/Floetic, toured with India Aria, performed on Soul Train, and not to mention the infinite amount of songs they've written for artists such as Glenn Lewis, Jill Scott, Justin Timberlake, Bilal, and 'Butterflies,' the second single off Michael Jackson's Invincible album. Recently, they were nominated for three Grammy nominations (the Grammys happened after our deadline).
Natalie and Marsha met through their love of basketball at the NBA three-on-three tournaments every summer, and they attended the Brits Performing Arts School.
Although they departed for separate colleges and worked on independent projects, they eventually reunited. This reunification led the pair to London's underground poetry circuit to perfect their craft as poets, writers, and singers, which ultimately provided the voyage to the USA, where they met their manager, J. Erving (Julius Erving's son), A Touch of Jazz Productions helped create their CD, which is overseen by Jeffrey 'Jassy Jeff' Townes, and of course the record deal with Dreamworks Records.
'A Little Something in the Morning'
I titled my phone interview with Floetry 'A little something in the morning' in respect to the impromptu poem Natalie performed for me. At the end of it, she told me it was 'A little something in the morning.' (Thanks Nat, I'm still waiting Marsh.)
My early-morning phone interview with the ladies softly awakened my senses as they spoke honestly and sometimes idealistically of love, fear, culture, the music industry, and the movement called Floetry. Both of the ladies still had that morning gurgle in their voice, but provided lucid answers in heavy British accents.
Natalie's smoky-cool voice poured through the phone like we were old friends sitting somewhere burning incense, drinking green tea, and speaking about the revolution. Clearly, she is the more talkative of the two, as Marsh interjected points when necessary; she had to conserve her voice for the evening concert.
In-depth Q&A w/FLOETRY
HANA: So, you two are just coming back to the states from London. Did you have a chance to enjoy the holidays?
MARSH: It was a fantastic Christmas and New Year, just being back home. I was in Liverpool (England) for awhile.
NAT: We enjoyed ourselves until the 7th of January, when we found out about the Grammy nominations. Then we knew we had to come back.
HANA: I know you were excited, right?
NAT: Yes, it's a great tool, hearing that we got three Grammy nominations. We were just hyped to get back on the road.
HANA: Tell me a bit about your backgrounds and your families' journey to London, and what it meant to be Black in London.
MARSH: The transition from Liverpool to London in '82 for my family was just a job situation, more opportunity to be a decent family unit and earn a decent income to support myself and my brother. London has everything; it's like a small island of planet earth. It has every culture, religion, race, creed, and color. It wasn't different for me.
NAT: My parents are both Jamaican. My mother came to London when she was very young, and my father when he was 12. The difference is that we were going back to London. I'd never lived in London before, but my parents had lived there before they joined the British army. Being Black in the army is a very interesting world. We (siblings) were the only Black children in three levels of school. The only thing that remained constant was our Jamaican heritage.
HANA: What is Floetry as a duo, and what are some of the individual differences?
NAT: As a duo, we fit perfectly like two pieces of a puzzle. There's no competition. We just share in our art. I can just concentrate on my thing, and Marsh can concentrate on her thing, and not worry about other members of the group. We're real perfectionists and together it's harmonious.
HANA: Is there ever a time when you two are not in sync?
MARSH: Even if it was a miscommunication or disagreement, it's still a conversation. We're always in sync.
HANA: The journey to the U.S. seems so destined in that everything fell nicely into place. Did you two ever have to work odd jobs or stay with people while you were here?
MARSH: Fortunately, I've always had a job. As soon as I left college, I had a publishing deal. I was writing on the side so when Floetry got together, that was our financial backbone. The two-week holiday turned into meeting the right people, and having doors open.
NAT: We move with God. Our whole journey has had to do with faith. Too many people nowadays live through fear. What if this doesn't happen? What if it goes wrong? They actually end up not doing anything, not even seeing if it could've gone right. Some people tell us that we dream too big, but I don't think they could possibly say that now because we always believed in each other and ourselves. There is no such thing as failure when you walk with God.
HANA: Has it been hard to assert yourselves as young female artists in this male-dominated music industry?
MARSH: Yeah, you have to stand your ground. If you believe in who you are, then no one will be able to change you.
NAT: You have to stand on ground. That's life. Marsh and I are ballers (basketball players), and that's a male-dominated field. I think that one of the worst mistakes women make in this industry is that they try to be too cute all the time. They make themselves into the objects that they're gonna' hang themselves with being because a lot people won't take them seriously.
HANA: But have you ever had any outside pressures to lift up your skirts, show more cleavage, drape a platinum Floetry medallion around the neck, or be the butterscotch chocolate duo?
MARSH: We don't get outside influences as far as what we want to portray. I'm a grown woman. I'm 25. No one's gonna' tell me what to wear, or what not to wear. That's my decision.
NAT: We don't ask. A lot of people get in this industry and are so eager to please that they ask a lot of damaging people questions that will damage their movement. We came in and delivered music. A lot of those things don't get back to us because we have an incredible manager.
HANA: Do you feel supported with your manager, record label, and the like?
NAT: To be honest with you the most important thing is the support and understanding of your manager. After that, everything else is a battle but you can fight it properly. When you fight those battles properly then they become less battles. For us, it's about having the right team.
HANA: Marsh, your singing evokes that old-school R&B feeling when people had card parties in the basement while Al Green played on vinyl. Your songs are intelligent, fun, and most of all sexy. Who inspires lyrics like 'Butterflies,' 'Getting Late,' and 'Say Yes?'
MARSH: All songs have emotion for me. And the inspiration is derived from my mother holding those parties with the red light in the basement and the cards, and me thinking I was so grown that I could sing Rufus and Chaka Khan. That's my genre. That's where I'm at. My mother and father had me listening to every type of music.
HANA: So, it's a mood and not a specific relationship or person who has inspired those songs?
MARSH: Well, you go through your personal things and that usually helps. It's a story that's been building. We've all had butterflies. I had butterflies with the guy who set behind me in school. You didn't really know how to express it the way you want to now, but there's a whole bunch if feelings being thrown in the fire.
NAT: First and foremost, Floetry are entertainers, we're performers. Our music is all character based. Whatever the song is about, we play that character.
HANA: Nat, do you identify with being a rapper, emcee, or poet?
NAT: I'm a poet whose persona when I'm working with music is called the Floacist (pronounced like lyricist), which is rhyming a bit, but being instrumental.
HANA: And what do you think of the state of popular hip-hop with it's focus on materialism and embrace of the N-Word?
NAT: It's the money that it's going through. I don't think it's simply the artists' fault. Hip-hop is the biggest thing in the world. But I don't think it can stay like this, in the same way that I don't think the consciousness of people can stay like this. It's all just a movement. Hip hop is so much bigger than Total Request Live. Hip hop is a big movement, which is blossoming in many different ways.
HANA: Have you all seen the uglier side of the music business yet? I've seen a lot of new and established artists become disenchanted with the business side of the industry.
NAT: As long as we're performing, we're cool. We keep our underground circuit going. Our art is non-stop. I think the only way you get disillusioned is if you start believing the hype, and forget the artist you are.
HANA: But don't you feel the pressures of sales, critiques, promotions, and such, it's big business, right?
NAT: We don't feel like that. We're all we've got man. Nobody makes a decision that makes us succeed. They could be part of this movement, but this movement is ultimately defined by where God thinks we need to go.
HANA: You two describe yourselves as soul mates, what does that mean for you? Were you all destined to be Floetry, best friends, do you two share a flat in London?
MARSH: Soul mates for us is that we were destined to be regardless of what that was going to entail. The very first open mic spot we did together was a joint called 'Fantasize,' and we had people in tears. I felt that was something we had to do. That's the reason why we were able to get a free flight to Atlanta and get the right phone call to go to Philadelphia.
NAT: The Soul mate thing is when you meet someone who you know is in the same movie with you.
HANA: Janet Jackson remade a classic Rod Stewart song called 'Tonight's the Night,' the chorus is 'Tonight's the night, it's gonna' be alright, 'cause I love you girl, ain't nobody gonna' stop us now.' Janet didn't change the lyrics much and she said it was because her mother loved the song, and also she knew that she has a fan base of women who could relate to that song. Would Floetry ever write a song for their large following of lesbian fans?
NAT: It's interesting, they don't feel like we're ignoring them. We have a very big homosexual following across the board. It's all about the honesty in the sense of the music. We can all relate to the feeling. People can embrace the truth and honesty of everything. SO, I kindda' feel like that's already fulfilled.
MARSH: It's pure and honest with love across the board. It's never one definite target or area we're trying to hit.
HANA: What is your process for writing?
MARSH: The process initially is the conversation and the content of what we want to deal with.
NAT: The conversation part is the biggest part of our process. We don't need a specific setting or time. It can just happen.
HANA: What are some next projects, and what does 2003 hold for Floetry?
NAT: There's always something. I'm writing a poetry book right now. I'm exhibiting my paintings this spring. I can't wait to see what happens with the Grammys. More of the same and whatever comes with that.
As I retire for bed after endless hours of transcribing interview notes, I set the compact system and 'Say Yes' plays softly in the bedroom. Damn, that's a hot song. I giggled for a moment remembering the Rufus and Chaka Khan LP's my mother used to play before she went to bed. 'All you gotta' do is say yes.' That sentence says it all. Although it speaks of a yearning new love, it also feels like an 'Everlasting Love,' the type Chaka used to sing about in the 1970s.
Where the hell is my red light?
(C) Hana Anderson 2003