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Name: Adam Bernard
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Jordana de Lovely Has Smooth Sounds For A Rough City
Thursday, February 27, 2014

When jazz/soul vocalist Jordana de Lovely moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn in 2003 she wanted to immerse herself in the music scene. She had no idea she’d end up in the midst of a group of talented griots from Mali, who’d ask her to perform with them.

The opportunity happened while de Lovely was hanging out at a now defunct club in Williamsburg named Zebulon. It was there that she met Baye Kouyate, a musician from Mali who plays the talking drum. After getting to know each other, Kouyate invited de Lovely to sing for, and subsequently with, his group.

“I went to his house in Jamaica, Queens,” de Lovely remembers, “and I learned a bunch of songs from Mali. We performed a few times at Zebulon. I would just kind of get up there and sing, and he had this whole band, and it was all guys from Africa, from Mali. It was all just like I got thrown in with the big boys, basically. These are traditional griot musicians, who are trained, and it’s a pretty big deal if you’re a griot musician from Mali, and you play the kora, or you play the talking drum.”

Soon after her sessions with Kouyate and his band, de Lovely found herself working, and touring, with jazz/hip-hop vocalist Jose James.

Her time on tour with James took her all over the world, which allowed her to have some unique cultural experiences. While in Madrid she saw the Guernica. During her time in Tokyo she spent an entire night listening to British electronic music artist Goldie spin dubstep. In Munich she visited a nightclub in an abandoned subway station. “You kind of went down into the tunnel,” she explains. “Imagine going down the escalator, and then all of a sudden you’re in this lobby, and it opens up to this club with no sign. In the club there are abandoned cars. People can get in the car and hang out. There was this crazy German woman playing bass and singing. There were projected movies. It was out of control. I’d never seen anything like that.”

Once back home in Brooklyn, de Lovely was ready to branch out and be a solo artist. Recently, she released the first taste of her solo work, a smooth, jazzy single titled “Between Our Words.” She describes the song, saying, “What inspired me is that wonderful moment right before something incredible is gonna happen. For example, the moment before your first kiss, or the first time you’re touched by somebody that you’re in love with, or you’re attracted to, and that tension that’s there, and also that incredible excitement, and then release when it happens.”

The song features Yacouba Sissoko on the kora. de Lovely, and producer Siba Giba, were originally using a sample, but wanted a kora player for the video. When they found Sissoko, it turned out his cousin was the original artist they’d sampled, and Sissoko and de Lovely remembered each other from the time they performed together with Kouyate’s band. Their connection turned out to be so good that de Lovely decided to have Sissoko rerecord the kora part, so he could put his own stamp on the song.


While de Lovely’s life has had a string of incredible moments, it hasn’t been without some equally difficult times, including back to back injuries that nearly caused her to give up on New York City, and move back to San Francisco.

In just her second year in the city she seriously injured her knee, tearing her meniscus, and bruising her kneecap, plunging her into medical debt. Once healthy, de Lovely was hit by a motorcycle while riding her bicycle in Fort Greene, in an accident she says she still hasn’t completely told her parents about.

According to de Lovely, the motorcycle hit her front tire, but, “If I had gone a little bit faster he would have hit me straight on.” There was something else adding to the insanity of that day, as de Lovely remembers, “Rosie Perez was there walking her dogs. She’s like ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ She’s screaming, and freaking out.”

Seeing what was left of de Lovely’s vintage 1930s bicycle, Perez offered to hold it for her while the ambulance took de Lovely to the hospital. “She was like ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna take your bike. I want you to call me. Don’t worry, I got it, I’ll keep it safe for you.’”

The two exchanged information, and de Lovely thanked her. Two days later de Lovely gave Perez a call, and left her a voicemail. “I’m like ‘Rosie Perez, this is Jordana, I just want to thank you so much for getting my bike. Please let me know when I can come pick it up.” There was no response. She called again a few days later, but it was to no avail. “I never heard from her. She stole my bike,” de Lovely says, now able to laugh about it.

After getting a second bike stolen, this one not by anyone remotely famous, de Lovely has ditched the two wheelers as a mode of transportation.

While she’s given up on bikes as a way of getting around the city, the music of Jordana de Lovely has the ability to inspire people to travel to the bedroom. Although she says she didn’t outright intend to create what some might define as baby making music, she’s quick to add, “If that’s what people are inspired to do after they hear my music then that’s OK with me.”


Interview originally ran on Arena.com.

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