Natalie “The Floacist” Steward, one-half of seven-time Grammy nominated Neo-Soul sensation Floetry returns with her sophomore release Floetry Re: Birth, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Floetry with some help from friends Raheem DeVaughn, South
African singers Thandiswa Mazwai and Demi Mseleku amongst others.
The slam champion poet, singer, songwriter and producer took the music world by storm in 2002 when she graced the R&B scene as part of the gold-selling duo Floetry, along with childhood friend and collaborator Marsha Ambrosius. The duo’s soulfully original sound and style yielded such smash hits as Floetic, Say Yes and Getting Late. Their unique sensual soul and poetic delivery garnered a worldwide following, more so when they left their South London home to spread their wings Philadelphia, at the time a hub for the neo-classic soul movement.
Stewart’s latest album Floetry Re: Birth is the culmination of many influences uniting to create one powerful musical statement. We caught up with her for an exclusive chat about the album, her music roots and how her fall-out with former band-mate Marsha Ambrosius has impacted her musical path and professional evolution.
You’ve recently released your second solo album after your split from Floetry with Marsha Ambrosius . How has your journey been since the separation?
I didn’t split from Floetry. Floetry is what I do. I, The Floacist, am a poet, who creates poetic delivery with musical intent, a genre of music called Floetry. Marsha left the group in 2006 to pursue a solo career, unfortunately she told a lie stating that I had left the group, so the media ran with that. That is one of a few mistruths that I have had to deal with over the years, along with boycotts from media outlets that previously aired my group but to date have refused to air any of my video content, whilst supporting Marsha healthily. Since Marsha left there has been a lot to do behind the scenes, legalities, unwrapping the red tape that had built up over the years of major label and bloated ego management involvement. I had to rescue the brand from misuse and I had to rescue myself from being sacrificed. So the journey has been one of ownership and independence. My creative partner of 14 years, Nolan Weekes is the head of FREE SUM Music Company, our production house where we have produced my solo albums and solo music videos. Creative control is priceless, so the journey has been very productive. In many ways it has brought me to a new beginning, and it is a blessing to be at a beginning with 10 years behind me.
Are you still friends with Marsha?
I have known Marsha since I was 11 years old. Marsha and I haven’t spoken since 2007. At this point, we represent two completely different paths in creativity. I couldn’t do many of the things that Marsha is prepared to do for the sake of fame and ‘success’. I took a stance six years ago when both management and label were attempting to corrupt Floetry to make it more mainstream. I was asked to ‘dumb my lyrics down’. They wanted to use Floetry to become another vessel to heighten anger and miscommunication amongst our listeners, young, black women mainly. I take these things very seriously, and I have had to walk the path that my stance has led me down. It has been character building and spirit refining, and I don’t regret a moment of it, especially as I understand and accept myself more.
You share a special friendship with South African singer Thandiswa Mazwai. Tell us how it came about?
I came to South Africa to do a show in 2006 and met Thandiswa briefly backstage after my set. I’m very lucky to have connected with the most outstanding vocalist I have ever had the pleasure to create with. I didn’t see her again until 2011 when I attended a show in honor of Miriam Makeba at the Hackney Empire in London, featuring Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela and Thandiswa. This time I was sure to align our connection!
Roots of Love was actually recorded both in the UK and South Africa. I look forward to performing it live. In truth, I would love to make an entire album with Thandiswa. I think it would be a healing to a people, too long separated and far too used to experiencing life as if we are walking completely different paths.
A lot of people say that the Neo-Soul movement is over, so where does your style fit in music today?
The genre of Neo-Soul has unfortunately been sacrificed, for no reason other than it represented positive energy and vibrations. It was a genre that represented strength, natural beauty, cultural awareness, union and identity. Marsha released a mixtape called Neo Soul is Dead in 2007, a clear signal of her desire to sacrifice what had given her entry into the music industry for the promise of greater fame and recognition. Obviously, she wasn’t the only person tempted to turn their backs on the genre. I am quite honored to be associated with the Neo Soul movement. The ‘period’ of Soul will never be over, no matter what games industries and recording artists play. That’s like trying to say that Jazz is over. Real music is never denied, real artists just have to adjust their idea of the prize.
In another interview you mentioned that you consider Sade to be the godmother of Neo-Soul. How has she influenced you?
Growing up in London in the 80’s Sade was everywhere! When the band released Lovers Rock in 2000 I took that title as a shout out to a movement that only a few know, but for those who do, it is a very special part of our lives. Lovers Rock was a powerful Black British Reggae Soul genre that thrived in the 80s, in a way that hasn’t been repeated by the Black British community. Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black is the closest I have heard to a Lovers Rock album since. The West Indian culture’s influence on English music and culture has been witnessed through the Ska era, the development of the Punk era and the sounds of artists such as Sting/Police, Eric Clapton and Maddness to name but a few. The impact of Black British bands and artists of the 80s on the shaping of what was to become the Neo Soul movement is more often than not understated. Yes, I see Sade as the godmother of Neo Soul, absolutely, and there are other Black British founding icons of the Neo Soul genre in Loose Ends, Soul II Soul, Caron Wheeler, Mica Paris and Omar. Floetry ultimately followed in the footsteps of those who came before it in the ongoing yet under-developed relationship between US and UK soul.
Who were your biggest musical influences during your childhood?
Reggae music is my gospel music. A good steady spiritual diet of The Wailers, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, John Holt, Alton Ellis, Gregory Issacs, Dennis Brown, Eek-A-Mouse, Yellow Man, The Ladies of Lovers Rock; Louisa Marks, Janet Kay, Carol Thompson, Soul II Soul, Caron Wheeler, Sade, and a little touch of Nat King Cole and Luther Vandross! When I moved to London in the mid 80s, there was a lot of good music playing everywhere!
Any chance of seeing you perform in South Africa soon?
I have been visualizing myself in South Africa performing Children of the Sun and Roots of Love sharing the stage with my sistrens, Demi Mseleku and the magnificent
Thandiswa Mazwai. When I return I hope to be spending time in South Africa, and of course I look forward to performing too…but more than anything, I look forward to being there!