Samantha Siva – Identity
It’s no coincidence that Samantha Siva’s second album is titled ‘identity’, for the vibrant and self-defining release is far from the work of a producer’s puppet or the product of a musical assembly line. Culminating Siva’s unique cross-cultural and cosmopolitan background her adventurous spirit, and her passion and instinct for contemporary jazz, Identity, skillfully juxtaposes soulful urban contemporary grooves, with a defining strong jazz influence – creating an album that sets herself apart from many of the urban contemporary releases of the decade.
The British born artist, who is of Sri Lankan descent, has always had a very strong sense of her artistic vision, which she was unwilling to compromise – Remaining at the helm of all her productions Siva continues, “When I started this record, I had a definite idea of the musicians I wanted to work with me in interpreting my music Being a piano player myself; I have always admired certain piano players – so I was very particular about the pianists I wanted to have interpret my music when I approached David Benoit I was so honored that he agreed to be part of my project. .. his elegance and style lent itself perfectly to mood of the album.”
Other in-demand contemporary jazz musicians Siva enlisted to contribute to her vision were tenor saxophonist Richard Elliot New York based guitarist from Special EFX, Chieli Minucci, and R&B drummer Poogie Bell who tours and records with Erykah Badu. Included on the album art also straight ahead jazz stalwarts, Andy Ezrin (of New York Voices), James Genus and Clarence Penn She also attracted the support of seven time grammy winner AI Schmitt (Dianna Krall and Dee Dee Bridgewater, et al.) to help with the recording of the vocals. As a producer Siva went on to gain production endorsement from Yamaha and BASF Siva continues that “One of the biggest challenges I found as a producer of this album, was that I was bringing in so many different people artist and musicians with their own distinctive sounds – and I had to be make sure that at all times there was a constant thread tying the energy and emotion of the album together.”
It was in her native Manchester, England that Siva learned to appreciate a variety of music at an early age. Siva began studying classical piano as a child, and she was only seven when she was awarded a full scholarship to the Chethams School of Music and the opportunity to play for Prince Charles. But her classical training didn’t prevent her from absorbing everything from straight-ahead jazz, R&B and hip-hop to folk, rock, world music and new age. As a teen-ager, Siva considered pursu ing a career as a classical instrumentalist, but as time went on, singing became more important to her, and she realized that more popular music was her calling.
After playing piano in various restaurants around Manchester, Siva decided to travel around the world. She spent ten months in Sydney Australia, where she played keyboards in a local heavy metal band before moving to Los Angeles. In 1992, Siva decided to make New York her home, and it was in 1996 that she released her debut album, Rhythm of the Voices, on her own Genie label. David Nathan, a well respected R&B critic and contributor to Billboard, exalted the promising debut as “a tour-de-force that heralds the arrival of an artist with an innovative musical approach and a universal lyrical message that assure to have global appeal.”
The ambitious project, is very much a reflection of the British singer /composer /keyboardist’s thoughts, emotions, and outlook on life. “Identity” is a very self-defining body of work, both musically and spiritually,” asserts Siva who currently lives in New York’s Tribeca area. “When I recorded this album, I wanted it to reflect my outlook an life and who I am as a person – both inside and out.”
From the dusky, mellow yet poignant “Living Alone,” the soulful and melodic “If I Never” and the funky, energetic and inspiring “I Can’t Stop to the reflective, jazzy “Like A Child,” the new age-influenced “Millennium” ( Identity’s only instrumental) and the haunting “Wilderness,” Identity is an album that, for all its R&B/pop appeal, underscores Siva’s healthy passion for jazz. “I made a definite commitment when recording this album,” she notes, ” that jazz would be a defining ingredient of my sound. It’s one of the things that makes my music distinctive.”
The hypnotic “Lullaby,” in fact, combines urban contemporary/quietstorm rhythms with the type of modal piano groove one would have expected McCoy Tyner to provide on one of John Coltrane’s classic 1960s recordings, “Lullaby has to be my favorite song on this record,” Siva notes, ” and it was definitely the mast organic to record. With ‘Lullaby’ I wanted to bring together many musical elements, the jazz piano, the ethnic percussion and new age influence “David and I just built on each other’s ideas! it’s a very magical and timeless piece”
Although all of the songs were inspired by her own experiences, she was careful to provide lyrics that others could relate to. “Like A Child,” for example, describes a woman’s ability to see through a man’s charade as he tries to impress her with his wealth and lifestyle. On a related note, the sang “if I Never” communicates the irony, complexities and lack of communication that can so often exist in a new relationship. Siva asserts ” the songs are not about being angry or bitter – they are really about a woman being smart and symbolizes emotional strength and survival of a woman”.
Siva continues: Some of the songs have a sad undertone, but on the whole, it is a very positive, uplifting album because it’s about growth, healing and about teaming from your experiences. The album to me really symbolizes a “freedom of spirit” and is really about enjoying your life and survival. ‘Living Alone’ for example, is about finding strength in yourself. It’s really a celebration of one’s freedom, a song about relying on yourself to find meaning in your life. Similarly, Wilderness’ is about finding time for yourself, as busy and hectic as your life may be. The wilderness doesn’t have to be a remote area of Alaska; it can be anywhere. You can find your own wilderness, your own space, in mid?town Manhattan.”
Siva found herself leaning towards her English upbringing, as a source of inspiration for two of the songs on Identity: the passionate and evocative “Riding Horses” and the unconventional and exerting interpretation of the 16th Century British folk song “Scarborough Fair.” Recording the songs, Siva found herself thinking about the England of 300 and 400 years ago. Siva says: “I was reading a lot of anthropology from that era, for instance Lard McAuley which I know sounds like a funny thing to do – but it was really inspirational! “The concept of ‘Riding Horses’ came from 16th Century English folklore, and the song uses horses as a metaphor for love. If you read the poetry and literature from that time, the horse was considered a very powerful and majestic creature, a tot of battles were fought on horseback. So on ‘Riding Horses,’ I’m saying that love is a very powerful and majestic force, and I’m equating the arrival of love in your life with the way a soldier arrived on horseback in the 16th Century. It’s a very dramatic piece.”
Although Siva is understandably proud of her debut album, she is quick to say that she has grown a great deal as an artist since then and that Identity is the product of that growth. “The singers that I admire the most, such as Seal, George Michael and Sting, are singers who have well-defined artistic messages,” she stresses. “I really like artists who have their own unique message, and that’s what I strive for myself. With Identity, I feel that I have delivered an album that defines who I am as an artist and as a person. An album should reflect the changes you go through emotionally and spiritually, and 1 think this album reflects that.”
Transcending cultural and musical styles and perceptions, Siva’s Identity is a revealing and enticing body of work that is sure to time stamp her career, musicianship and personality.