Read our exclusive interview with singer-songwriter Kwanza Jones, whose third studio album, ‘Supercharged,’ is set to hit stores in February 2011. Jones, a seasoned traveler and instrumentalist, discusses with us, among other things, what it was like meeting Quincy Jones, getting her start in the music industry at the famed Apollo Theater and where she gets her inspirations for her songs.
Shockya (SY): While you were a student at Princeton, you met Quincy Jones, which lead you to become interested in music as a profession. What was it about him that pushed you towards singing?
Kwanza Jones (KJ): His words. We were talking about music and my interest in it and he said to me “I know you’ll achieve because your heart is in the right place.” He also told me to “create an identifiable sound.” I figured he’s been around long enough to know. So I listened.
SY: Shortly after meeting Quincy, you performed on “Showtime at the Apollo” at the Apollo Theater. What was that experience like?
KJ: Performing at the Apollo was like being thrown into the ocean and knowing you either sink or swim. The audience at Showtime at the Apollo can be harsh. If they don’t like what you’re doing, you can be booed and kicked off stage. From that experience I learned that liking to sing isn’t enough. People want to be entertained, so you better be prepared to bring it. I definitely brought it and I won!
SY: Your third studio album, ‘Supercharged,’ is scheduled to be released in February 2011. How would you describe the sound of it?
KJ: ‘Supercharged’ is like an energy drink for your ears. Vocally it’s raw and passionate. Musically it’s synth and guitar driven. Your head will bob, your feet will move and your attitude will adjust. I’m going for a fun, danceable sound in this album. For a sneak preview, you can check out my new single
“Think Again” at www.kwanzajones.com. It just charted at #2 in the Billboard Breakout for Hot Dance Club Play charts. It’s also available on Amazon and iTunes.
SY: On the album, you worked with several producers, who’ve worked with such musicians as Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson and India.Arie. What was it like to work with producers who’ve worked with such diversified singers?
KJ: It was a no-brainer. I learned a few production secrets, which is always fun. It’s also great working with people that can help push you beyond your comfort zone.
SY: You also play several instruments, including the piano, flute, violin and guitar. Do you play any on ‘Supercharged?’
KJ: Yep. I played guitar on a couple tracks and also keys.
SY: You are also a songwriter. Where do you get your inspiration for your songs?
KJ: A lot of my life is in my music. I’ll write about things I’m going through or friends are going though. I’ve had people ask my advice on relationships. Sometimes I’ll put the answers in a song. That’s why people say my songs are conversation starters.
SY: You are also an avid traveler, having visited such places as Morocco, Greece, Brazil and Egypt. Do your travels have an impact on your writing and singing?
KJ: Almost always. Sometimes the influence is direct, like when I wrote a song a day while climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (the world’s tallest free-standing mountain). Those songs made up my second album Naked 2: universal fire. Other times the impact is more indirect like realizing that no matter where in the world you live you go through the same things from love to loss to dreams and fears.
SY: Who are some of your musical influences?
KJ: Tina Turner for her energy, Beyonce and Shakira for their showmanship and Nina Simone for her versatility.
SY: You also have a law degree, and considered becoming an entertainment lawyer. Does your law background help you succeed as a singer?
KJ: I don’t know if it helps me succeed as a singer but it definitely helps me navigate the business side of music. For me, music isn’t a short term passing phase it’s a career. My law degree was a necessity – and the fact that both my parents were lawyers sort of influenced things too.
SY: You have joined other female celebrities, including Halle Berry, Beyonce and Mary J. Blige, to work on the “Girls Are Not for Sale” campaign. The organization works to prevent the sex trafficking of young women. Why did you decide to take part in the campaign?
KJ: When I was young, I was almost taken. I was pulled into a car and had to fight to get away. I’ve thought about what would have happened had I not gotten away. GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Service), the organization behind the campaign, gives girls a fighting chance. I’m up for anything that helps females become more fearless.
Written by: Karen Benardello