Jamelia: 'Don't call me a celebrity'
The British R&B star Jamelia took time out to have children and now returns with her best album yet.
Friday 22 September 2006
Our meeting place - an unassuming West End hotel - sums up Jamelia Davis' character. The Birmingham-raised artist's regular London hideaway reminds us she is not a star. She'd rather be known for her music.
Her third album, Walk with Me, is her strongest, with Jamelia's voice better placed to take on a wider range of styles. It should be easy, then, to build upon the success of 2004's Thank You, which catapulted her to stardom.
However, since her second album, Jamelia has produced her second child, Tiani. Not that this should be a problem, since she took time out after her debut record to bring up her first daughter, Teja. A two-year gap between albums suggests Jamelia is hungry to return to the fray. "As much as I love being a mother, I have missed being a part of the industry." Ever since she signed to Parlophone at 15 on the strength of self-penned a cappellas, the label has been supportive of her decisions to take breaks. That includes the hiatus between her 1999 debut, Drama, and its impressive follow up.
It is symptomatic of her wariness of celeb culture - "I just like going out and feeding the ducks," she says - that the father of her second child is Darren Byfield. He is a footballer, but only for Millwall. She praises him as being ambitious, but it is clear that he is supportive of her career path too.
Times were very different during the lead up to Thank You, when Jamelia was unsure about her artistic direction. She had been promoted as an R&B artist, but she enjoyed other kinds of music. Jamelia reminds us that the album was repackaged with new tracks that reflected her open mind.
First came "See it in a Boy's Eyes", co-written with labelmate Chris Martin, then her version of Sam Brown's 1980s hit "Stop", the theme to the second Bridget Jones film. "I was finding myself as an artist in the public eye. It's only now I've got the confidence to be as creative as I want," she says.
It is strange, though, to think of Come with Me as anything other than an R&B album. Jamelia has a wide variety of influences, thanks, in part, to the awards ceremonies she has attended. She cites Busted, Arctic Monkeys and The Kooks, though glosses over the fact that many stars cited her as one to watch, chiefly Elton John and Bono.
The first single, "Somebody Like You", is an ode to Byfield, though its poppy style also shows an artist not afraid to spread her wings. Even more ear-catching is "No More", her strongest song to date, which makes free use of The Stranglers' "Golden Brown".
Jamelia is happy not to take complete credit for the album. "When I first tried to write, I was five months pregnant and every song was either rubbish or insincere. I thought I needed to write another Thank You, but I was so sickeningly happy, I couldn't write anything with any strong emotion. It was all songs about Darren. I even wrote one that went, "He Shoots, He Scores". You're not going to hear that any time soon."
The most personal track is "Go", about encouraging someone to follow their heart and take a risky decision. It was inspired by her mum fretting over whether or not to emigrate to Jamaica.
And what about Jamelia's transatlantic prospects? She bats away any idea that she is the one UK R&B solo artist that could make it in the US. So enjoy Jamelia's time in the spotlight before she she goes off to feed the ducks.
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