Interview By: Lele Symone
Her voice? Ethereal. Her pen game? Immaculate. And her success? Inevitable.
With two back-to-back concert tours, a number one debut CD and a resume that reads like a “Who’s Who of Soul and Hip-Hop,” Marsha Ambrosius is having a stellar year. As one half of the London, England-hailing duo, Floetry, Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart and Marsha “The Songstress” Ambrosius wrote the lyrics and sang the songs that won fans the world over, creating modern classics like “Say Yes,” “If I Was a Bird” and “It’s Getting Late.” When Natalie broke out in 2006, fans missed the duo, but knew that bigger and better things were on the horizon for Marsha. And if listening to Late Nights & Early Mornings gives any indication, The Big Time has definitely arrived.
“I wasn’t anxious because I’ve always had a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude,” says the friendly and frank performer by phone. “There’s no difference in me being Marsha Ambrosius the artist, or Marsha Ambrosius who’s the daughter of, sister of or auntie of. The only difference is you see me on an album cover and I’ve got a microphone in my hand.”
According to Marsha, being a solo artist was always the goal. “I’ve had an 11 year career in the US, but I’ve had a publishing deal since 1997. I’d already written ‘Butterflies,’ ‘If I Was a Bird,’ and all of the other songs I’d had on deck.”
Her collaborating with the King of Pop was, to her, divine intervention: “Michael happened to have heard a demo of the song about a boy that worked at McDonald’s in London, England—I had a crush on him and he gave me butterflies. He asked to record it and…it was just crazy.”
Marsha shares that the late icon was “the coolest, most humble down-to Mars guy that I’ll ever know” and that they spent plenty of time being silly. “Michael’s studio engineer, Bruce Swedien, always called me ‘the singing heffa,’” she laughs, “and Michael—who would be cracking up—would say ‘Bruce, could you not call her a cow please?’”
The plan was to recreate the magic with a new song, “I Want You to Stay,” recording it as a duet while he appeared in London, but it never came to pass. Like millions of other MJ fans, Marsha vividly remembers how the news “devastated” her.
“I was at home on the internet, checking e-mails and the Myspace, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I was getting text messages asking me if the news was true. When it finally came out that he passed, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t do anything. I remember going into the bathroom to wash my face, looking in the mirror and seeing the butterfly tattoo that I got on my arm when we first worked together…. and I fell out. It was horrible. I couldn’t perform ‘Butterflies’ without crying for at least six months. I choke up a little bit even now, but I know he’s in a much better place: I had a dream about him not too long ago, we were both getting our hair did and it was so funny. You know when you dream of someone, how you can just feel their energy and you wake up with a smile on your face? It’s like he never left. I took that as a sign that he’s okay.”
Another subject that affects her deeply is homophobia, hence the provocative, yet poignant “Far Away” video, which depicts two gay lovers torn apart by violence, public scorn and eventually, suicide. Marsha’s decision to spotlight the issue drew both compliments and condemnation. “Since I’m as heterosexual as they come, I got very different responses: the gay community was thankful, but then others said, ‘why did it take a straight woman to say that?’ Making a video about a boyfriend who broke my heart….that’s been done a million times already. It happened to a friend of mine and I wanted to show what real people are going through. I used to respond to a lot of the negative comments that were posted about the video on YouTube, asking them ‘why are you investing so much energy into hating something that has nothing to do with you? Another person’s sexuality doesn’t even concern you.’ And a lot of people saw the light.”
Speaking of changes, Ms. Ambrosius has undergone a sort of personal transformation herself, re-embracing her natural hair and getting back into the gym to reclaim her athletic figure. When asked for her secrets, Marsha spills them willingly, sharing Joico as one of her go-to products (“their shampoo and conditioner work great”) and that faking it—as in human hair extensions—is where it’s at.
“I grew out my relaxer, and in doing so, my comfort zone became my ‘fro. I wanted to add a bit of body, length, texture and color, so I started to add blonde and brown sew-ins (extensions). I realized that they were my friends because I don’t process or apply heat to my own hair. I’ve been big and curly for over a year now, and it’s been invigorating,” she laughs. Her advice for getting or keeping the coif fly? Leave chemicals and hair dye alone. “Sew in the color; you don’t have worry about breakage and you can change it if you don’t like it. Trust me on this, sew-ins are your friends. Use human hair, the textured kind, and don’t relax yours.”
As for her weight loss, Marsha said that it was about her health, not image: “I was comfortable with who I was and there was never an issue that I was considered overweight. But later, I felt that if I picked up a basketball and became out of breath after just a few jump-shots, that wasn’t me. I drink diet sodas now, fresh juices that I squeeze myself, eat brown rice instead of white rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, baked or grilled chicken instead of fried chicken, and the fat-free bleu cheese dressing instead of the full-fat one on my wings like I like em,’” she chuckles. “The food will be there tomorrow. When you’re looking at those three cupcakes, leave the other two alone and have just one. Don’t think you have to deprive yourself.”