Lalah Hathaway’s Musical Genius

You know everybody doesn’t have to write the ghetto or what is going on and everything is everything. Would it be nice to get off the bootie for one minute? I’m just bored now, I’ve gone through all the stages of being mesmerized by the bootie, looking at the bootie and needing to work out, all of that. But now I’d really to see some kids with instruments. That’s one of my rules, I have this site on and if your profile picture has an instrument, I accept you right away.

As the Coretta Scott King memorial service flashed on CNN, the Black Star News’s Janna Zinzi sat down with a piece of musical history, Lalah Hathaway. As the oldest offspring of legendary father Donny Hathaway and mother, classically trained vocalist Eulualah, music runs in the veins of this rhythm and blues songstress.  She shares what inspires her, her exploration into different musical genres and where music is going is this worldly state of flux. She explains her sincere appreciation for live music as art; experience it for yourself and join Ms. Hathaway on a musical journey on Saturday, February 18 at 8 p.m, at the North Fork Theater at Westbury with special guest Eric Benet.   

BSN: When did you know that music was your passion?
LH: I never knew, I always knew, I just knew. I didn’t have an epiphany, I didn’t have a day where I decided, “Oh, music!â€?  It was just always part of my life, in some aspect of my life or another, it was always there. It’s been a constant in my life since I was one or two years old.

BSN: Let’s talk about your parent’s influence bringing music into your life and how their influence has affected your music today and throughout your career.
LH: Gosh. Obviously my parents have been a large influence on me personally and professionally. Uh, I don’t know it’s so hard, its like how could I not—its one of those questions when someone starts to ask, I can feel the answer but its hard to put into words.  It’s just like you grow up with your parents and they take you to, for instance, a church and you grow up with that as your religion. Then people say, ‘Well how did your religion influence you?’ But it’s like that’s how you grew up, that’s what you grew up in and so it’s entirely natural. I can’t really explain it any other way than that.  I really don’t know, I can’t say that—sometimes it feels so natural for me that if I wasn’t a child of my parents I’d still be where I am. You know?  It’s impossible to say.

BSN: I understand. Where do you draw inspiration from for your music?
LH: A lot of places. A lot of times it’s the weather. I live in LA where it tends to be kind of hot and I go somewhere and there’s snow on the ground or its raining in here in LA cause our winters like our rainy season. I’m really inspired by weather. I love the concept of inspiration because it can come from anywhere, a garbage can, a Hershey’s kiss which I’m about to break into and eat right now. You know, cleaning up your house or another record or people or a hat, it can come from anywhere so I just try to feel and try to be in touch with it, you know? It doesn’t happen all that much.

BSN:  You have an upcoming tour with Eric Benet. How did you two join together to collaborate?
LH: This will be the first round of dates coming up. I’ve known Eric for a little bit but we’ve known each other a while now but we’ve never really played music together though. I’m really interested to see how it goes.  I think we have a lot of the same demographic, if you will, so it should be interesting and I’m looking forward to it. 

BSN: What is your favorite thing about performing?
LH: I would say the immediacy, the urgency of it, the feedback of it. The spontaneity of it all. I really do like being able to look in a group of people and know exactly what they want right then and being able to give that to them. I don’t know there’s almost something about the conversation that’s happening between the musicians that I feel is almost freakish..its almost like.. I think there’s something to me about the conversation that goes on between the musicians that I find almost like extraterrestrial so I really dig the kind of magic that happens literally when people communicate without words. 

BSN: Wow, beautiful. Who are some artists that you’ve loved to work with? Who are some artists would like to collaborate with?
LH: Yeah, I’m doing some work with Rahsaan Patterson. I love him, that’s my brother. I love Marus Miller and Joe Sample. I love being able to jump into that world, you know what I mean. I would love to work with The Neptunes. I really would love to, just to see, you know what I’m saying?  I think that as a musician, people think that I’m such a serious musician, that I don’t like beats or I don’t like to dance or that I don’t like Hip-Hop…which in some cases is true. But what I’d really like to do is really explore those kinds of producers just to see what you get.  I’m a musician and I’d wanna do everything I can. I want to make a Christmas record of all strings and bongos, I want to make a Hip-Hop record, I want to make a trance record, trip-hop, you know ambient stuff. So there’s a lot of different things I want to try. Unfortunately if you are not on the lips of everybody right now it’s hard to get those folks to work with you, cause it’s just cost prohibitive. You know Pharell is not doing a track for $11 and that’s all I have right now.  [Laughs]. So unfortunately it’s one of those things. The good thing about being a musician though is that is that the world is full of great musicians. So even if you can’t get with the hot a-list producers, there’s always great musicians to work with that can do the same thing and actually know what it is they’re doing. So I look forward to that, I look forward working with as many people as I can. I’m kinda in a self-discovery mode. You know, trying to figure out what it is I’m doing.

BSN: What are you listening to right now? What’s in your CD player right now?
LH: Actually the new Jazzanova which my friend sent me from the Netherlands, can’t get here. I have a Terence Blanchand record I’m listening to. I’m listening to my Estero records. I’m missing Shirley Horne really bad so I’m listening to that. I really love this new KiKi Sheard remix record. 

BSN: Cool. What are you working on now album-wise? Music-wise?
LH: I’m working on deciding what in the hell kinda record I wanna make! Because I can make any kind of record and I have made so many different kinds of records with people that sometimes it’s hard to decide what direction I wanna go in. And I have to keep in mind that as an artist that really the making records part is kinda like the bonus card of it.  I should always be writing and always working anyway. And if I got box soft in mind or doing country with appeal feel guitar or I’m making a blues record, I mean all that stuff is valid.  Just because you don’t make a record out of it doesn’t mean that it’s not valid.  I’m trying to figure out what kind of record I want to do and who I want to work with.  So that I can ask the Lord to bring them and have them do it for $11 cause that’s what I have. [Laughs].  I’m producing this thing for an Earth, Wind and Fire tribute.

BSN: That should be fun. So what instruments do you play?
LH: I play piano, just piano.

BSN: That’s cool, I used to take lessons and I really wish I had stuck with it to be honest.
LH: I know what you mean, I’m not good. Because I’m a musician it’s clear to me because every time I sit down with Frank Lacombe or Herbie Hancock or any number of people that just sit down and play, I think ‘Dangit!’ Because I think who knows where I could be now!  It’s nothing that you can’t try and do now cause the whole point is to enjoy it and do it but I know what you mean. 

BSN: You’re right.  What do you think about the current state of black music right now and your place in it?
LH: I don’t know, I think that black music is kinda at a stand still right now and I don’t think it’s just black music. I think it’s culture and film and TV and education. I think that everything right now is kinda in a state of flux. Everything is at an all time high level of mediocrity as far as I’m concerned. There’s nothing that I’m like woo!  I wanna go on tour and take some comedians because there’s not a lot of people musically that I can down with that aren’t already out there doing it.  I
was trying to think the other day like who–when I go on tour sometimes I like to do a cover on the show, and one tour I did “Hey Yaâ€? and one time I did a Faith Evans song, you know I like to try different stuff.  So I was trying to think what’s a good R&B song that’s out right now that I could cover and girl, we couldn’t think of nothing that didn’t have a rap in it or—it was hard to come up with.  There’s no singing, you know songs.  So that way I’m frustrated with the state of Rhythm and Blues music, it’s not rhythmic or bluesy.

I don’t think there is a lot of substance in the music and I don’t need it to be preachin’. You know everybody doesn’t have to write the ghetto or what is going on and everything is everything. Would it be nice to get off the bootie for one minute? I’m just bored now, I’ve gone through all the stages of being mesmerized by the bootie, looking at the bootie and needing to work out, all of that. But now I’d really to see some kids with instruments. That’s one of my rules, I have this site on and if your profile picture has an instrument, I accept you right away.  [Laughs].

You could be talking about Satan, I don’t care, but have a drum set, you know, come in. I think the state of Blackness is at a stand still. Just particularly watching Coretta Scott King’s memorial today, you know I’m old enough to still be really proud and remember that. Unfortunately I don’t think—I don’t know, I feel old even thinking about it. But I don’t think the kids today, I don’t think that there’s a lot that they’ll have. When I was little, there was so much to listen to on the radio. Not just black music but just music. And I had so many choices about what to listen to and there’s so many songs, you know? Now that you know I have xm satellite radio and something like “So Fineâ€? is on, it’s over!  It’s a wrap. That’s my roller skating music, that takes me back to my dorm room, you know what I mean? That’s the record I used to put on when I got my hair braided.  I don’t think that there’s a lot of that left for kids unfortunately.

BSN: I used to love listening to the radio when I was little and I always wanted to have a show. Then I understood how playlists work.
LH:  I used to want to have a radio show too.  Because the radio, that’s where you got music when I was growing up.  Its depressing, I try not to dwell on it because it will make you crazy.  Its depressing to think that’s all the people have nowadays is the radio.  I’m not making videos, I’m not shaking my bootie really successfully on camera, I’m not selling Pepsi or Proactive.  And so luckily I’ve got the Internet but it’s a drag because you’re forced to find all these ways to get the music with people.  There’s the internet, so in one way it opens it up in one way and closes down in the other way. 

BSN: I always like to think that real talent shines through.
LH: Let’s hope you’re right; let’s hope your right. We love to go out in play; to me not a lot of acts are doing that anymore. The world is kinda in a situation where a lot of people don’t have the disposable income to go out and see live music like they want to.  So let’s hope that between the Internet and the people wanting to have joy—cause it is. But to me it’s really necessary to enjoy music and art. Like when you go to Finland and The Netherlands, you can go to these huge festivals for the people that are free you can go and watch Herbie Hancock play music for free because they recognize that it’s really important to people. It’s important for their lives and their culture and their society to have arts. It’d be nice if we can get there.   

BSN: I love live shows.  I can go see an artist I’ve never heard of and if they put on a good live show, then I’m an instant fan.
LH: Oh yeah, absolutely.  It’s one of those things where and I don’t even find it often but I work with a lot of people and most of what we do is live music so I know that it’s kinda of a dying art to see something live and not have to wonder ‘Is this person really singing? What’s going on right there?’ But I’m having a lot of fun right now and being able to tour and finding other like-minded people that wanna be on the road all year long, like Rahsaan or Mint Condition or Angie Stone, you know what I mean. All of us, we just love it. You know, Dave Hollister. We are out here, you just gotta find us.

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