A MELODIC CULTURE SHOCK
When I first listened, that voice of hers entered my ears and immediately found it’s way into my bones–it changed me. I couldn’t help but wonder where is this old soul with a funky new twist coming from?! She’s more than an amazingly melodic songstress, she’s an educator, motivator and artist. TreZure Empire is just that–an empire. Her music boasts more than a woman scorned, crooning over whatever ails her; it encompasses a worldly knowledge as well as a thirst for culture. She pulls influences from Lena Horne to Arabic love poems. She doesn’t research cultures to keep it all to herself, she shares this with our future–children. She educates them on Afro-Cuban dance and music and artists like Sam Cooke, Celia Cruz and Curtis Mayfield–all for the sake of literacy. If TreZure’s not the coolest teacher ever, I don’t know who is! TreZure Empire is making her mark in the world with her music and passion for all things culture. That’s exactly the amount of love you’ll hear in her music–the same music that has changed me from the core. Music is more than a dope beat and some cool lyrics, it’s love, it’s culture, it’s TreZure’s journey.
Tell me about your initial interest in music.
I’ve always been into music, I just didn’t know I wanted to make it my profession until college. I was an Ethnomusicology–it’s the study of different cultures in music and how they use music–and African American Studies major. That’s when my professional interest came along. I started teaching. I teach Diaspora Music History. In the course of all that development, I was singing jazz because I had been doing that since high school. I did jazz performances throughout the tri-state for work. Everything was just work. I needed to work. [laughs] I started doing what I could–teaching, performing jazz & all that good stuff. People started hearing about me. Two years ago I recorded one of my first songs that I had produced & that got around really fast that summer. After that, a lot of work started to come in.
Listening to your music, I was getting a lot of Brittany Bosco, Muhsinah and those eclectic, funky and soulful vibes. What do you call your sound? Do you feel you fit in anywhere?
I distinguish my music as Alternative Soul. I do think I fit in. The traditional Soul and R&B genres are not going to sustain all of us. We have more diversity in our music. For a long time, black music has been really pigeon-holed into these categories. Because I deal in so much multicultural music, I feel I fit in a lot of places; Certain songs and certain people more so than others. I wouldn’t say I fit in to one space yet, I’ve just been fitting in well wherever I’m at. I hope that sustains.
It’s obvious that you don’t want to fit in because you pull from so many different cultures, but it’s a double-edged sword because you need to fit in to make sales. How do you feel you’re able to walk that line?
It’s all about knowing your market. My music fits in much more in the context of Europe than the States, where everyone here feeds off of cloning. That’s not how things work in Europe, Asia, and South America. Latin music is so multi-genred, but in America, people would put it in one category. If you go to Brazil, there’s like 45 categories of Brazilian and Portuguese music. It all depends on where you’re going and who your focus is. In terms of sales, Europe is a place I need to be and focus on because they are looking for that eclectic and new music. It’s not foreign in that context. All in all, there’s good tendencies and New York intonations that help me here as well. Even though I do music that is not typical to my environment, my voice is very familiar. I can go in the Bronx and sing at a small venue; they may not ever listen to music like mine, but they will like it and be glad that they heard it. That’s always nice. That’s how I know this is really worth doing because I’m not focused on being obscure. I just so happen to be.
Are you signed?
I’m unsigned. Right now, I’m working on my first album. It’s very different and I know that. I want it to be accessible. I’m taking my time with it. It comes out in October. I want this first album to be independent. I feel if you’re going to do something new and you don’t really have a precedent, you need to take full responsibility for what happens. Once you’re with a label and you decide to be responsible for other peoples’ needs, you have to be responsible for other peoples’ needs. I have to make sure what I’m doing is getting in the right hands. These are things I know probably better than the labels because the music I deal with is foreign to American labels. I am interested in getting serious sales for my first independent album. There won’t be any free downloads, but there will be samples released. The album will sell on iTunes.
Who have you worked with for the album?
I’m working with Tecla Esposito , she’s an amazing singer, keyboardist and she’s crazy on the synths. She’s been around, playing for Gordon Voidwell. She’s an amazing woman. Johnell Lawrence from Philly plays electric violin/viola. She’s my one-woman string section and can play anything. Kassa Overall will also be the main drummer on my album.
When you decided to commit yourself to a career as a vocalist, how long ago was that?
It was a year ago that I committed full-on to this being my lifestyle and what I need to sustain myself. The end of ’08 was my first really big performance that I did with Charles Anthony at South Paw. The next November, I opened for Talib Kweli at South Paw. It went form nobody knew me to three openings in 2009. I opened for Idol Warship and Omar in April of 2009 at Santos. February, I opened for Van Hunt at Harlem Stage. There was a wonderful audience of people that have never seen me and [it was] my first sold out show. Van Hunt was very supportive, liked my music and I was like, “Wow!” Bilal came out and he is one of my all time favorites. It was a serious moment in my career. I’m grateful for everything, but I don’t let myself get caught up in how big or small a show is. I’ll deliver regardless. I had my own dressing room and everything! [laughs]
You said to me earlier that this isn’t a dream, this is a job. Explain that.
This is a skill, not a dream. This is not for dreamers. When you’re dreaming, you’re letting somebody else take control. If you wanted to design shoes, you’d have to learn that process of how that goes down. You would have to be a master of that task. That’s really what it means. I’m starting to see this is my job, not my dream. It’s just like any other small business. I let myself imagine as much as possible. I think about how that happens–how do I make that possible? I don’t just want to be famous. I want to be famous for a reason. It has to come out of the clouds at some point for you to determine your success. Otherwise you may think something is success that’s not. The best part of what’s happening in this independent market is that we all have to dream. It’s simply about doing it. There’s a lot of people with no talent and a lot of career right now. That’s what I mean when I say it’s a dream, but you just have to do your work. It’s not a sad thing to dream. We all deserve time to dream, but we can’t think that dreams are going to come true. Work is going to come true.
Who is your musical Holy Grail?
That’s almost impossible. I would say, I have a Holy Court. Fela is the main one on my court. Fela is where I learned to fuse all of these different diaspora influences. I don’t want to make Afro Beat music. He was very clear about Latin American percussion traditions, British pop music, American soul music and Nigerian and other West African traditions–and even South African vocal traditions. I think about him a lot when composing or writing because I like to make sure I figure out how to gracefully fuse my influences without making mish mosh madness. One thing about Afro Beat that I don’t hear enough of is graceful when you consider how many different styles of music go into it. It’s really high energy and pumped, but very graceful. It’s not hard. Nina Simone is a serious influence of mine because she reminds me that beauty isn’t always pretty. She can sing about things that are very painful–I don’t pull her out any day of the week because she can bring you there–but she reminds me it’s ok to write about serious things. My mind, as a writer, is usually serious and concerned. I used to be very scared about that and I think it slowed me down a bit because I felt I was preachy. Life is serious, so my content ends up being a little more serious. Bob Marley reminds me to stay cool tempered. He reminds me to keep those major tones in and to think melodically about what I’m saying and not just verbally. Michael reminds me to smile, that music is supposed to make everybody smile and you should be smiling when you’re singing. Lena Horne reminds me that this is my job because she was always quick to say it’s her work, she’s glad, but it’s a job.
In music today, I feel there’s limited subject matter. A lot of R&B talk about love and sex in all forms and variations. Usually with women vocalists, a lot of the songs are about having a broken heart, not being able to live without him and the like. Do you feel your subject matter is fresh?
I’m definitely approaching love songs and relationship commentary with different perspectives than it hurts, it’s hard. It does hurt and it is hard. I don’t expect anything you work for to be easy. I don’t trip over love being hard. One thing I think it’s hard for people to do songs like that because they’re not considering music and what is happening melodically. I don’t write a whole lot of love songs, but I am very proud of my love songs. One in particular that some people know that’s going to be on my album is, “What Made Love.” It was my response to all of this negative discussion of love. It was my way of reminding myself of beautiful examples of people that didn’t need to cheat, people that didn’t need to disregard each other, people that didn’t need to hurt each other, people who did hurt each other and worked it out, love that wasn’t frivolous. That was my reaction, just talking about something pleasant that is love and makes you feel that love. Also, I’m writing another song right now and it almost feels like an opera–not in its vocals, but in its structure. It’s a duet for a baritone vocal and myself. It feels like an Arab poem, the way I’ve written this song. I literally wrote it and started to bawl. I have never heard someone sing this love so much that it defied being about a person. Love is so beautiful; we should come up with ways to talk about it, beyond the reactionary aspects of it. We live in a world where we should find ways to bring forth these conversations without being melodramatic. It’s all about music and the music you choose.
When it’s all said and done, what do you want people to think about you?
I want people to remember TreZure as TreZure Empire–she was the one that sang in all those languages, right? She was the one that taught the kids to sing in all those languages, right? I would like people to say that I left and made four albums in Brazil, then came back, we didn’t know what to do with her, then she went to Japan and they figured it out. TreZure did what she had to do to get to people’s ears. I hope people get to know me as an educator. I enjoy talking about music history. I enjoy giving different types of performance spaces.
What do you mean by giving different types of performance spaces?
I’m going to be starting an event in the fall that will be in my house or several houses. It’s very much in the style of Andalusian music–Northern African music traditions where people sit around with some drinks–and music is just being performed for that room and people are free to dance and work on their vocal structure and music. It’s like a jam session, but I’m trying to make organic living space music happen. I already do ring shouts. They’re early tradition African American music before Christianity when African slaves were learning English, they made high rhythm songs that are inspirational songs. For example, there’s one called “You Have the Right To the Tree of Life,” the words are, “Run Mary, run. Run, Martha, run. Run, Mary. I say you have the right to the tree of life.” These are the first African American songs. I feel it’s important that we know that. I will teach you that on this block, in school, wherever.
In July, we’re releasing an EP and videos are going to be released in August. That will be my sharing until October when the album comes out. It’s called The Shivers. It’s all about music that will give you the shivers. That’s where I’m at. I’m just happy to be in a creative space right now, studying Arabic vocals.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on http://www.myspace.com/TreZureEmpire and on Twitter @TreZureEmpire. If you want to find my older work, my former name is TreZure the Empress because that is how I was regarded. Everyone was calling me the Empress, but because I’m building my own and making my own way, I am an Empire, not an Empress. That’s where it’s at right now, building my space on the internet for everyone to find me.