FEATURED: Amalia Part I – “New Jack Teen”
Posted on March 4, 2011
Written by Mikael Lopez / Photos by Martin Rinman
Amalia has been singing her vocal chords off since childhood, sometimes with nu jazz troupe Sekoya, sometimes collaborating with producers like Atjazz, Altered Natives and Opolopo. Now her long overdue album Art Slave is finally coming out and we had a talk with her to help you understand a little about why it sounds the way it does.
Part one: “How I was raised by a vinyl junkie and became a new jack teenager!”
“I pretty much started listening to music right away as soon as I was born. My dad was a big vinyl junkie so he would collect records and us kids became part of his digging adventures. We would all go out together on weekends and hunt the thrift stores and bookstores or garage sales. My dad’s responsible for why I love music so much.”
Because of her dad’s addiction to offstream music, Amalia was exposed to a wider range of sounds than most other children. Blues. Jazz like Miles Davis. Soul (“I remember him playing me Stevie Wonder all the time”). Fusion like Mahavishnu Orchestra. 70s and 80s funk in the form of Sly & The Family Stone, Funkadelic or Bootsy Collins.
“He didn’t force feed me, I was just surrounded by so much music. I just listened to everything that my dad was playing.”
Amalia – All the Funk I Need (Album Preview)
In those days it was all about dancing and “wiggin’ out” to the music for little Amalia and her brother, likely to one of the two first vinyl records her father bought her. Madonna’s Like a Virgin and Chaka Khan I Feel For You (both released in 1984).
“He bought me Madonna because I asked for it, I just thought it was a good hook. Of course I was more influenced and more excited by Chaka Khan, ’cause that was just so much more intellectual stimulation. The production behind it, Arif Mardin and all the guys she was working with, just blew me away.”
But it was the sound of the commercial R&B from late eighties and early nineties, sometimes called new jack swing, that would become the true soundtrack to the future artist’s life.
“When Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative came out that was huge, that was when I was like “I’ve found me, the music I like!” It was like my anthem. I started choosing what music I preferred and the 90s were like the epitome of that, discovering what I wanted to hear, not just the music my dad influenced me with. I had to find that equilibrium of ‘this is my upbringing, this is what I’m influenced by and this is popular music.'”
Amalia – Freeze That! (Album Preview)
Amalia has lived in Vancouver in Canada most of her life and often visited her relatives in L.A. who introduced her to the likes of Guy, Janet Jackson, MC Hammer, Johnny Gill, En Vogue and TLC. Most of the artists were at some point produced by the go-to-guys of that era, Teddy Riley (the “creator” of the new jack swing sound and later co-producer on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album) or the team of Jam & Lewis (the men behind Janet Jackson’s defining Rhythm Nation album), names Amalia mentions frequently during our conversation.
“That’s the music that spoke to me in popular music, as well as the Prince songs of course. Everybody thinks 70s soul is the best, but 80s funk and 90s soul and all the new jack swing is my thing. A lot of people don’t like it, don’t know why, but I love it! Like Heavy D & The Boyz’ Now That We Found Love, that song frickin’ blew my world.”
Amalia – Life’s a Dance [Nu Opo Swing Mix] (Album Preview)
“I think I got more into underground music as I got older because commercial music was fading out for me. There was Eric Benet, Olu, Davina and all these underground, rising soul artists, but most of the time I wasn’t hearing the music I wanted to hear anymore, so I just searched elsewhere.”
The access to music in the age of internet, to be able to choose from all genres and all decades, has made it easier than ever to find music for every taste. But Amalia wonders if it hasn’t made people more spoiled and lazy instead of making them more musically adventurous.
“I was in American Apparel the other day and they dropped an Aaliyah tune, like One in a Million, and I freaked out. They’re like “Huh?” and I’m like “You don’t know who this is? How can you not know?” It was painful for me that they didn’t know what this music was, ’cause it was so huge for me.”
(Read the second part of Amalias interview here)
Amalia just released her debut album Art Slave on Tokyo Dawn Records, where the sounds of the past, present and future coalesce in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. She also has a track on compilation The Boogie (Tokyo Dawn Records) and appears on both AD Bourke’s Mirage EP(Citinite) and Opolopo’s new album Voltage Controlled Feelings (Tokyo Dawn Records). As a kid Amalia thought She-Ra was dope ’cause she had a sword.
(BONUS: Amalia thinks you might not have heard of…)
“An amazing song from her 4 U album. I’m obsessed with the song to this day. It gives me so much power when I hear it.”
“Canadian one hit wonder.”
“People will laugh ’cause they might see it as trashy commercial music, but I think this is quite a gem. I love this track.”