Home' Rhythms Magazine : RHYTHMS JULY AUGUST 2019 Contents 40
When American singer and model N’Dambi
put out independent albums just to get
her voice heard, she was surprised at how
widely she became known, and acclaimed.
Back then she was a back-up vocalist to
gospel singer Erykah Badu. But she wanted
to breakaway from the gospel genre, that
as the daughter of two Baptist Ministers,
she had been raised on. She wanted to try
other types of music and mostly funded the
“I was trying to get people to hear what I
was doing and the only way I knew was to
put it out that way,” she says.
N’Dambi is speaking by phone from Dallas,
Texas, where she grew up and is based,
ahead of her first Australian tour. She
performs at Melbourne’s Bird’s Basement
jazz club this month.
“I was only expecting to be putting music
out and hopefully a few people would hear
it but it was quite a surprise when more than
a few people heard it. Sometimes, I would
be out to other countries–at that time I
think I was still performing with Erykah –
when I put out my first album and people
would bring out the CD and show it to me.
I was so surprised that that many people
knew about the music,” she says.
Between 1999 and 2005, she released three
albums as she moved into the cross-genre
field of music, Little Lost Girl Blues, came
first, followed by the live and jazzy Turnin’
Up and Consignin’. A Weird Kind of Wonderful
was released only in Japan.
“There were some songs that I tried and
experimented on that were different to
what I had done before.”
An A&R man from the famous soul label,
Stax, heard her. “They actually liked what I
was doing,” she says. She was signed and in
2009, she recorded the Grammy nominated
album Pink Elephant.
Although she resumed her career as an
independent artist, Stax this year included
her in a compilation of its famous women
artists released on Spotify to mark
International Women’s Day. It included
artists such as Carla Thomas and the Staple
Singers. “I really appreciate it because I
have a lot of admiration and respect and
love for the women of Stax who came
before me,” she says.
She has since been asked to record and
tour with a range of diverse artists including
fellow Texans, the innovative jazz influenced
“The band in itself were all a group of guys
at the University of North Texas and some
of the guys in that group were people I
grew up with so when they were ready to
make their album, they considered me,” she
recounts. The album was Family Dinner, Vol.
1, released in 2013.
“It was really great, just doing some music
in an area that I really, really like which is
this jazz area. Jazz has such range and I
really love it for that.”
To work with, the band was “very easy, very
even keel, fun, open to suggestions and
they gave great suggestions for me as well.
They wanted me to put my personality on
it and they wanted it to be songs that felt
comfortable and good for me.”
N’Dambi was invited to tour with the band
performing in countries such as Indonesia
and Singapore. Her performance on the
album also earned her the title of Best Jazz
Performance from SESAC (the American
performance rights agency) in 2014.
Other collaborations include jazz trumpeter
Nicholas Payton, featuring on his 2011
album, Bitches; British acid jazz group,
Down to the Bone; Southern hip-hop artist
Lecrae; pop singer Ariana Grande; and
most recently with soul-jazz and hip-hop
funk innovator, the virtuoso trombonist
Jeff Bradshaw. Her latest recording is the
“electro-pop, futuristic, R n’ B, soul” based
Air Castle released digitally with a vinyl
version to follow.
N’Dambi’s real name is Chonita but her god-
brother crowned her N’Dambi (pronounced
En-darm-bee), a Congolese name that
means most beautiful. Modeling, her
other career, is another form of creative
expression. Describing her approach to
singing, D’Dambi who has a rich contralto
voice, says: “I don’t have one particular
genre that I feel like I have to stay in. I like
the challenge of trying to colour outside
the lines and do different kinds of music
and I like the idea of trying to fit my voice
in different music styles.” She performs
with her own band that includes a backing
N’Dambi perfoms at Bird’s Basement from
Wednesday July 10 to Sunday July 14.
N’Dambi sang with
Erykah Badu but wanted to
try other types of music
and was signed by Stax.
By Andra Jackson
The iconic guitarist and his phenomenal band with Spanish singer Buika
Produced by Rick Rubin
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