The reasons for N'Dea Davenport's jaw-dropping exodus from the superbad funk practitioners the Brand New Heavies at the apex of international stardom are multilayered – an "onion," she calls it. Inherently, Davenport wanted to mature away from the judgmental guise of an industry slowly suffocating her individuality. So she left for self-preservation.
But after 13 years, the need for soul preservation – both personally and professionally – has pushed Davenport to return to the Brand New Heavies. So kill the notions she was on some diva trip after big things started popping for the band.
"Our success happened so fast. After I left the band, I just wanted to breathe, ride a bicycle, play with my dogs, meet some nice people that don't know what the hell I do. Sometimes it's best to step away, learn, grow and develop your own craft," says Davenport, whose sultry vocals propelled worldwide Heavies' hits such as "Never Stop," "Dream on Dreamer" and "Sometimes." Such classics helped the Heavies usher in an era of jazzy funk fusion, known as acid jazz, that commanded the charts and dance floors for much of the '90s.
But consumers often forget artists have lives when the music stops. Aware that her departure seemed all kinds of crazy from the outside looking in, she offers her detractors a very poignant response. "Sometimes people aren't ready to grow when you are. Collaborating with yourself is very vital to becoming a full human being," replies the Atlanta native, who longed for the comforts of Southern living.
Her post-Heavies holistic development program included leaving London to return to Atlanta, recording a self-titled solo disc, serving as a Goodwill ambassador to Cuba, and rocking crowds as a DJ and drummer.
She also cheated death. As an ash-covered victim of Sept. 11, Davenport watched the tragedy unfold just blocks away from her New York digs. With a renewed lease on life, Davenport is dead-set on demystifying what many consider her enigmatic persona.
"I'm not a mystery; I'm a gypsy. I move from place to place. I am a simple woman making it like everybody else. I just wanna leave something for others to jam to when I'm gone," she says.
But jamming to your own groove presents a challenge in itself when you're a genre-bending black female who rips everything from hip-hop beats to jazzy loops and funky bridges with an array of artists including Mos Def, Guru, Daniel Lanois and DJ Krush. It's hard to digest in a bottom-line music business that forces artists to mirror preconceived notions of black identity.
"Being typecast is like going to pick cotton," Davenport says. "Maybe that fuels my fire. Because I'm a black woman, am I supposed to be doing a specific type of music? I'm an artist, period. I do good music people enjoy ... and it should be left at that."
And good music is what fed-up consumers can expect from her much-anticipated reunion with the Brand New Heavies. Loaded with midtempo grooves, Get Used To It defies musical boundaries and adds balance to a music culture on the verge of self-destruction.
"Everybody is in fear. The economic situation forces corporations to be under so much pressure they won't think outside of what they already know. The mistake they make is hitting us over the head with the same 20 artists. We are burnt out and folks want balance," says the frontwoman, who hopes the return of the original Brand New Heavies – which Siedah Garrett fronted for a spell in Davenport's absence – can help save the musical day.
"My faith is in the public. We are needed now more than ever. And completing our unfinished business is a blessing."
The new album is really about looking back to the future. "This project is focused on getting back with your instruments and actually entertaining in a live capacity. We are bringing the live band back to prominence."
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