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home interviews BEVERLY KNIGHT  
No one else in the UK r 'n b scene has the broad appeal that Beverley Knight has. You are as likely to hear her on Radio 2, as you are 1Xtra. With her December 2002 tour looming and a collaboration with Wyclef about to drop, we were lucky enough to get to talk to her on the phone. I kicked things off by asking Beverley about her recent work for Christian Aid.

"I was supposed to go to Jamaica but then we had to cancel Jamaica because they announced their elections. Being of Jamaican origin, I know how that can be. It becomes quite a violent and unstable place. So, literally, I would have put my life in danger, particularly the areas where I was going to be working out there. I would have been in the heart of where a lot of the problems would have been.

So, they sent me to Brazil instead, which I'm glad they did because it was life-changing. Christian Aid have to partners in Brazil, one's called CESE and the other's called GAPA. CESE work with trying to eradicate poverty in the poorest areas, you know - community problems and community issues. GAPA work with raising self-esteem in local communities with the intention of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. I'd done a lot of that kind of work already. It was hard to see the sort of conditions that people are forced to live in and the prejudices that people living with HIV have to endure, way worse than anything I've seen here. At the same time, I met some people who are truly remarkable. It was great."

What have you been up to since then?

"I went to Dubai and did some gigs in the Middle East and then I actually took a six day holiday. Wow! My first proper holiday in six years. I don't mind, it's cool - but I needed it!"

Your next single is 'Shape Of You' with Wyclef. Has he remixes the song or have you two worked together?

"We recorded a whole new track and called it 'Shape Of You'. It's just got the same title. There's a whole new energy to the track. Melody, lyric, everything new. We'll have both versions out there. It was great working with him."

He's worked with all sorts, hasn't he? There's been Fugees, Brian Harvey, Steven Seagal, Bono, the list goes on.

"He is bizarre like that. He's worked with some out there people, Tom Jones being the most recent example. His new single, in fact. I think Wyclef produced it."

Why has the single 's release been put back to January?

"It was coming out before Christmas, but then as Christmas singles go it's Popstars the Rivals competing with Popstars the Rivals, Fame Academy or Will or Gareth or Darius or Cliff Richard! It's all started so early that we were like 'Let's not even get into this'."

On your last album, 'Who I Am' you worked with legendary Philadelphia producer James Poyser, probably best known for his work with Philadelphia acts like The Roots, Jill Scott and Common. How did that come about?

"I know a friend of his, Che, who works with Lauren Hill and also worked on my album. Che introduced the two of us. We got talking and he was really into my music and really wanted to work with me. I discovered that he was born in Sheffield, left Sheffield when he was eight, comes back home lots. He may be attached to the whole Philadelphia posse but he's actually a Sheffield man. Like me, he's got Jamaican background. So, it's really nice to discover that about him. It made sense because his sounds actually very influenced by Britain. It became very comfortable working with him."

You also worked with hot UK producer C-Swing

"I'm working with him now on a new album. I love working with C-Swing, Colin as I call him. He's the greatest guy, so talented."

Did you hear the stuff he did with The Beta Band on their last album?

"I was there when he was working on a lot of the demos. We were on the phone to each other a hell of a lot because he was working down near Brighton with the guys, and he played me stuff down the phone. I was like 'God, this is out there! This is great! It's great to work with someone like Colin because he's so eclectic and so am I. It just makes sense."

So you're working towards the next album, any names attached to it yet?

"It's kind of early days. What I usually do is get songs written then look at people either to produce or collaborate with. I will tell you, though, that the guys behind Outkast's album, Stankonia - a guy called Earthtone 3, I'll be working with at some point in the New Year. Also, Organised Noise, I hope, who were behind TLC's 'Waterfall'."

What was it like meeting Nelson Mandela?

"Amazing experience. What a guy. His energy for somebody's is in is eighties is amazing. I was invited by the South African High Commission to meet him after a concert we did last year to celebrate South Africa. It was to celebrate 7 years of freedom in South Africa and I got to meet him there. Last Saturday, I also met him again when I attended, and once again sang in his honour, a charity dinner for the Nelson Mandela children fund was doing with the Princess Diana memorial fund. That was really special."

You also got to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Mohamed Ali

"Yes I did! That was last year, as well. He came over to promote a computer game and his people had organised a surprise birthday party for him. They asked me if I'd sing and I did! It was great to meet the man himself."

Tell me about your website

"I've got a lot of stuff on the website. We've got 'Meet The Band' as well which is one of the things I love. It's not all about me and what I'm doing, I want people to get into my band because they're fantastic. The message board, as well, where people write to each other and to me, I love all that. They've got all kinds of things, like my hairstyles. David Bowie's got a great website, one of the best ones out there and the Prince one's great."

Did you catch Prince on his recent tour?

"I was in New York shooting a video. I tried to move the whole video shoot just to go see the concert, that's how major a fan I am of Prince. I couldn't, so I went to Paris and saw him there. We met twice about three years ago. To me, he was very chatty and we talked a long time. He really studies you when he looks at you. His eyes are as big as mine and I've got some big old eyes. He really looks at you, so we were both looking at each other. We talked about music and he talked about the people he loves and he's really into my album. I adore him."

Do you think the two of you would ever work together?

"That would be my dream."

What did you listen to when you were growing up?

"I listened to Sam Cooke, he was the first voice that made me think 'Oh my God, I want to be like that.'. I also loved Aretha Franklin. Most of voices that stayed with me were gospel-base, powerful, emotive voices. As I got older, radio took its toll. So it became Wham and Duran Duran to Annie Lennox (solo and with Eurythmics), Chaka Khan, Marvin, right across the board. I started to get into Sly Stone, the rockier kind of soul music, Funkadelic, Parliment."

Who do you like from today's artists?

"I particularly like Jill Scott, who I think's great. India Arie. From over here, I really like The Streets - I really think what he's doing is just so original and funky. I also have a lot of time for Ms.Dynamite, she's exploded onto the mainstream this year and that's good. The list goes on! The new Red Hot Chilli Peppers album is great."

What's the oddest thing in your record collection? Any Status Quo?

"Worse than that, I have Paul McCartney's 'The Frog Chorus'. I've still got it somewhere, I don't know where but I've still got it. I was only young, that's my excuse!"

Interview by Simon Netherwood
Big thanks to Warren at Infected.

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