From 1997 to 2011, Marva King sang with The New Power Generation and Prince. Prince helped to develop Marva’s bodacious image and sound; their friendship continued until his sudden death. We talked between shows for her new album, ‘Soulicious’, about the challenges for women performing Prince’s music and his advice on pushing the boundaries of gender & genre.
DG: Your new album, Soulicious, swerves through a palette of sounds, from driving guitar and finger cymbals in the sexy ‘Superbubblicious’ to drum n’ bass in ‘Body’. How hard is it for a black songstress to break the typical, sweet-and-smooth vocal tones and conventions of Rn’B?
I’ve always been one to push those boundaries. Prince commended me for that, during a time when I was getting much repercussion for it.
In the past 25 years it was virtually impossible to exceed the boundaries of RnB, Soul & Disco. I am ecstatic to witness a change – currently, all nationalities and colors are displaying that past limits determining an Artist’s genre no longer apply.
In today’s world, black singers are doing Pop, Rock, EDM, RnB, Soul & even Country and combinations of genres. Black artists were the creators of so many genres of music, that it’s hard for me to look back and accept that we were stripped of the credit and allowance to continue to perform it for a living.
DG: Tell us what you learnt from Prince about performance. I was there in October 2016 when you sang ‘Kiss’ at his family’s Official Tribute to the grieving crowds, alongside Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan, in Minneapolis. Famously stripped of a bassline, its naked, panting vocals are hardly ideal for filling a stadium. Given the emotional pitch of that night, how did you do it? What are the challenges for women singing Prince’s music?
I learned everything about effective live performance from Prince. He demanded that I, like he, would think outside the box and be spontaneous while onstage, vocally and physically. He deserves credit for whatever I’m transforming into as a performer. The Official Tribute performance was truly tricky. We had so much to cover in little time. However I was happy to see the fans connect to one of their favorite Prince tunes, that night. It was an honour and a pleasure to do that event. I believe it was healing for all of us who attended.
What are the challenges for women singing Prince’s music? The fact that there are extreme highs and lows in vocal register and melodically is a challenge and testament to Prince’s skills. I have a multi-octave vocal range so it is probably more comfortable for me than most male or female singers. Also, his music requires some agility onstage as well. That’s a bit challenging. You can get quite winded!
DG: Prince was both masculine and feminine, in image and sound. You also skip from an African look to futuristic psychedelic and a dirty falsetto to golden soul. What did you learn from Prince about owning or challenging your gender?
Prince definitely exuded androgyny. He was very effective in gaining favor from “all” who tuned in to him and what he chose to serve us. He was brilliant to do so. He showed us no discrimination of sexes, colors, races, styles and more. I will always admire Prince for his bold statements and stances. He encouraged me to be as bold and daring. Looking at some of my pics in the cyber world and listening to some of my lyrics, one can probably attest to the effectiveness of his influence. Here’s a loin-cloth outfit he chose for me and gave me as a gift:
DG:Wow, that’s pretty sexy… reminds me of some of his African ornaments at Paisley Park. When did he give it to you – was it a mischievous reference to his Afro-centrism, which became yet more apparent, after ‘The Rainbow Children’. What image did Prince want for female performers and why is Africa important for dance artists?
Sly Stone’s “Thank you for letting me be myself”, James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, Aretha Franklin “Rock Steady” and Parliament “Give up the funk” are Badd A$@! songs to get your dance on, to this day!!
Fast forwarding, Prince of 1979- 1990s never stopped dominating the club and radio scenes. “Erotic City”, “I Would die 4 U”, “I Wanna be Your Lover”, and many more have left a serious impression on me as one who loves to dance! I could go on, from the 60’s to date, acknowledging the hot dance songs of each decade. Another time.
Marva King was in conversation with Soma Ghosh.