Lady Alma and Swift Technique | still from video
Lady Alma and the answer of love
No matter what question you ask Lady Alma, Philly’s first lady of nu-soul, the answer winds up being “love.” The relationship to her mother, her music, her collaborations, her past and her present. Love. Love. And more love. Her newest record, “Landlord” with Swift Technique, her latest album-anthology Twilight, with Los Angeles house producer Mark de Clive-Lowe – these are but a recent part of her collaborative history that includes stints with King Britt, 4Hero, Yukihiro Fukutomi and the crew at Black Lily at the 5 Spot.
No matter who she works with or what the style, it all boils down to the sound of Alma, brooding, but joyous, prayerful and sensual. Even through the pain of losing her mother, there is joy and hope to be found in her sorrow.
Checking in with Alma on this the week of her next big showcases – Jan 30 at World Café Live, in advance of her vocal master class workshop at the Boom Room, February 19 and the Thom Joyner Soul Cruise March 28 through April 5 – was a pleasure.
The Key: The last time we spoke you were working side-by-side with Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and getting ready to leave for South Korea.
Lady Alma: Yes. We were heading there for a progressive kabuki dance project, one emerging with a few different styles of music than the traditional sound of kabuki. It was a great experience. I love to constantly learn. That was definitely something for the books.
TK: Is that the point of your collaborations with particular people – to learn? To experience new things? Is that how you chose them?
LA: Now, here is the funny thing – I don’t choose them, They choose me. I’m not trying to pretentious, and all-you-know. I am simply always honored and thrilled that people think of me, because these artists – these people – are great in their own right. I am often surprised when some of these people put in a request for me. What do they want from me? They must already know because these are some pretty dope concepts I get to work on.
TK: Do you have to know in advance what you can bring to a given project or is it more organic than that? More “just see what happens?”
LA: Definitely more organic. You need to expand and open your horizons, and I like for things to happen spontaneously and organically. They are right bringing me in. [laughs] Planning doesn’t always work. Too much of our lives are based on planning – you come from work, you plan your evening. You wake up – you plan your day. What if you just wake – a gift from the creator in that she allows us to wake up every morning – and you just do. Let things happen. Sometimes that’s when something c=great occurs.
TK: Agreed. Art isn’t best when all is planned out. We have talked about this in the past, so this is not so uncomfortable: you put music aside for many years to tend for your mom who was ill. She passed in 2016. Do you feel as if your mother’s spirit inhabited what you do?
LA: My time away was meant for me to grow up, to mature. I think that taking care of my mom made me more sensitive to society, whether it is to our elders, our children, or ourselves. All of that time being away helped me for when I came back. It’s always pressing to be an artist. You’re constantly being judged. People assume a lot about you. The time with my mother helped me to deal with that, and be more patient, lead me to be more understanding. When I came back, I was more understanding and patient with people, and was able to convey that I needed that from people. That helped me in my time away…I was prepared.
TK: Was there ever a thought that you wouldn’t come back to making music?
LA: Yes. Because I really thought I was taking care of my mom for the rest of her life – which I did – and that I would have been doing as much for longer than I did. Ten years is a long time when you consider a career, but to me that time was a drop in the bucket. Not long at all. I enjoyed taking care of her, I really did. It was tiring and stressful, but, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the exact same way. I love my mother.
TK: How did learning patience affect who you are as a singer?
LA: Truthfully and honestly, I am hard on myself as an artist. If I am at my best, I am giving my best – to myself and those who choose to spend money and spend time with me. I became more fair.
TK: When did you record “Peace You’ll Find?” It is a particularly poignant song?
LA: I wasn’t playing out, traveling or touring when I was caring for my mother, but, I was recording. That was 2016, I was playing with a lot of sad times, hurtful times, dealing with my mom and watching her health just disintegrate in front of my eyes. It was therapy for me. I didn’t want to call people or talk to people about what was going on here, about how heavy I was feeling I didn’t want to talk about it all.
TK: But, you were able to convey that pain in song, while showing off something joyful, pleading with people to find the good within.
LA: Yeah, it was. See, my mother was a minister. She was the people’s minister. I witnessed this – she really cared for people. She wanted them to know about God’s love. It was sad to watch someone who gave of them self deteriorate. I needed to find peace. I wanted to find peace. I wanted her to find peace.
TK: During this time, a gentleman in South Africa put up a video of him lip synching your “Let it Fall,” and it became a viral vid windfall. How did you catch wind of this?
LA: The DJ, General de Kok, was filming the gentleman lip synching the song. The next day after they filmed that party, the DJ contacted me through Instagram, and showed me the video. I was still grieving, and it was ‘whatever.’ Once I got a chance, however, to really look at that video, it took over my emotions. It brought about a whole new resurgence for that song.
TK: Why do you think that song continues to mean so much, to live on beyond most of your other songs?
LA: He was connecting to a vibe while the song was playing when he was in the hospital. The last thing he heard while he was drifting was the line “trouble don’t last all day.” That helped him. The people who are now hearing it – be it on iHeart Radio or Radio One – people are getting it, and they’re being soothed. Trouble won’t last. Be it people with cancer in hospitals, going through divorce at home or being jailed in prison, people can leave their troubles and never go back. I get these testimonies all the time. I didn’t write this song to heal the world. I wrote it when my mom first got sick and I was making the decision to stay with her. Before she got sick, I think she was afraid that I might not be there for her in her time of trouble. I wanted to let her know that I would be there for her, even though, at first, I was afraid that I wasn’t up for the task, that I might fail her. All of that was on my mind, coming to that fork in the road, when I wrote and recorded that song. You know, I was once told my problem was that I couldn’t write hits. That was never what I set out to do. I wanted to write classics that would touch everyone and stay touching.
TK: It’s a song that people can relate to. Is that where your writing from the present and future will go toward?
LA: The world is in turmoil just as it was when I started. I’m writing about peace and I. writing about love. Peace, love and understanding is what I want in my life and desire for everyone else – too much hatred is being pushed around. I have low tolerance for it. Some songs will be fun, but, my imprint on this world will be about peace and love and I will not stop. That’s all any one if ever going to get from me.
TK: What can you say about “Landlord,” and hooking up with the Swift Technique guys?
LA: Oh my goodness, that is where we get into the fun, but still related to something crucial. Andy Hurwitz had the idea of bring me together with Swift Technique the same way that Sharon Jones hooked up with the Dap-Kings. This song? I pay rent and this song is all about that condition, paying somebody else just to have someplace to dwell. The whole band, I love those guys, and I see a lot of future work between us. Thanks to them for writing such a great, befitting song for Alma to sing. And the video was fun. I should be doing more cartoons and voice overs.
TK: And we’re in the video together.
LA: You like that, don’t you?
Lady Alma plays World Cafe Live on Thursday, January 30th with Vertical Current; tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.