Jazz Monthly: Yeah, why not
Leila: So I made peace with it. (Laughs.)
Jazz Monthly: Well, I’m so glad you did and I’m sure all of your fans are glad that you did, and I’m talking to all the fans out there right now. You’ve gotta check out her DVD “Leila Live In Concert” and if you want to see dancing, you must see Leila do her thing.
Leila: Oh gosh, I really appreciate that, but then you put on Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance and you see the level of mastery and I realize I’m certainly not in any way considering myself a dancer, but I do think I have like a dancer’s spirit within.
Jazz Monthly: Oh yes.
Leila: Bleeding to evolve.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, in fact, in your live performances, the dancing is such an integral part of it. I mean, if the dancing wasn’t there, I’d cry because it’s just such a great complement to all the great music on stage and all the wonderful things that are happening and the characters.
Jazz Monthly: The whole production is just magnificent.
Leila: Thank you, thank you. Referring to the live show, it was always a goal of mine to…well, I can’t say it was always a goal. I think it was like an inner yearning, but I didn’t quite know what it was until I really stopped to think about what I wanted to express. I had always sort of felt the need to write about unity and to express myself through different rhythms, and that’s why the CD has a lot of the different rhythms, the undertones, from flamenco to a little bit of salsa to a little bit of the samba rhythm. All of that came naturally from within and alongside lyrics that talk about that unity, which is what “Circle” talks about. And then when I thought about doing the live shows when we were first conceptualizing it and putting it together, I said to Bobbi [Tammaro aka Funkee Boy], “I really want to embody what the music is saying, musically I want to embody visually.
I really feel like I need to have dancers from different countries and different cultures. I want the stage show to be visual and be beautiful and be like a journey through different countries.” And so that’s why the show has a segment that pays tribute to belly dancing, Middle Eastern dance, there’s African, there’s Brazilian rhythms, there’s a little bit of flamenco. It came from wanting to have something beautiful to see, but also it made sense with the music, the concept. I think it was just a complement.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, and for those that haven’t seen your show, there’s some African rhythms, some African dancers, there’s Caribbean grooves and there’s South of the Border, you name it.
Leila: It’s a stew.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, but it’s so well choreographed and I love the innocence of what happens and then here comes the bang. It is so cool, and I have to mention Bobbi Tammaro.
Jazz Monthly: Because he’s just an incredible producer, just a great music mind, period.
Leila: Right, mm-hmm.
Jazz Monthly: And I love what he does with your music and producing and with your live performances. He’s just an incredible guy.
Leila: Well, what makes him great, I mean, aside from his own creativity, because he has a creative voice and his own vision and his own way of, you know, obviously, with his own CD “Rise” you can see that, but what I’ve noticed is that whenever he’s worked with people, he’s never taken them out of who they are so he’s been able to produce and write music for country artists and R&B and different genres, and with me, he’s been able to give me my space as a creative person and I’ve never felt like I was being preached or told to do something or pigeonholed.
So it was allowed to just be what it is and he sort of just added his own flavor and that’s why the CD sounds a little eclectic, and I’m not saying it’s so off the beaten path, but it has rhythms and differences and nuances that I was able to express because he’s so open, and so when I said to him “As soon as we go into the live shows I’d like to do this, I’d like to have an African breakdown and a Capoeira artist from Brazil” and at first he looked at me like I had two heads on my shoulders, but he got it right away and he said “Well, that’ll be fun.” I mean, it was a lot of work to put together, certainly, but it’s so rewarding to have somebody that gets it.
Jazz Monthly: It reminds me of a Vegas production.
Jazz Monthly: I mean, that show could do so well in Vegas, I thought. I was like “Wow, I feel like I’m at the Venetian or something,” you know?
Leila: People have said that, you know, people have said that. I think that’s due largely in part to the costumes.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, everything’s so authentic and it’s great.
Leila: That’s just part of the visual component that I wanted to bring because aside from taking people on a journey and watching the different dances and the different rhythms. I wanted them to see the beauty of the different cultures when you look at a Middle Eastern outfit and a belly dance outfit, and you look at some of the African outfits—this took me seven months, actually, to put together, to find outfits. I had ordered things from around the world, and the necklaces we use in the African section are hand beaded, they’re Masai warrior necklaces and wedding necklaces, and there are ceremonial shields, and I think I just wanted people to not only appreciate the rhythms and appreciate the music, but also appreciate the beauty, the artistry of the different cultures.
Jazz Monthly: That’s great. Well, the other thing I wanted to mention was…. you talk so much about your musical journey or journeys and I think that’s a beautiful thing. Don’t you think that as an artist, each time you produce new music that it’s an exciting time….for many reasons?
Jazz Monthly: And in particular, if not for anyone else, for yourself, do you feel that you get to see a different side of you or another side, another facet of Leila that perhaps you did not know or perhaps something that is enlightening about yourself?
Leila: You know, it’s funny you used the word “enlightening” because that really strikes a chord right now recently, because I think that music…well, any kind of art, whether it’s dance or the fine arts or music, I really believe it’s like a connection to spirit. My personal belief is that there isn’t a job or career that’s less spiritual than any other. I mean, it’s all worthy, it all has merit and purpose for being here. There’s something, though, about the creative fields that it’s almost meditative. You almost have to tune into something deep within and it’s, first of all, a way to express yourself if there’s emotions that you’ve bottled up, but beyond that, you’re sometimes tuning into something where you feel like it’s almost taking over and it’s coming through you but it’s not from you. I don’t know if that sounds a little strange.
Jazz Monthly: I think I know what you’re saying.
Leila: But there’s been times when I’ve written songs that I can say I’ve clearly been influenced by something I saw or read or something I experienced, but there’s other times when I feel like the song almost wrote itself, like it was something that I was feeling and I’m not sure why I felt it and I just sort of brainstormed and I ended up with something that I felt was profound. And so to get back to your question about enlightening, that process is very enlightening and you can discover maybe it’s facets of yourself you didn’t know or maybe it’s just your ability to tune in and put a voice to something, and that you see someone who, let’s say as an example, is going through something that’s very hard in their life and to tune into that emotion and to be able to write a song about that almost feels like you’re giving that person a voice or a current event. So it’s such a process and it’s so different every time and I do definitely learn as I go and I think it develops deeper.
Jazz Monthly: Mm-hmm, and it starts with you perhaps, but once that music goes out to everyone else, can you imagine how it touches others?
Leila: Oh, that’s the ultimate, that is the ultimate goal.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, so it’s a beautiful thing with music and I’m so happy that you did this record because I think it’s a very beautiful and well written album, in particular, that I feel like it reaches people and I think it touches them in a positive way, which is seriously cool.
Leila: Thank you, thank you. And it’s funny because I’m already six songs into my next one. (Both laugh.) And now I can look back at the one we’re discussing right now, which is Of Life, and I can truly say—in fact, I had talked to Bobbi about this a couple days ago—there are still the songs off of that first CD that still hold profound meaning for me today and they still make me feel connected and I still feel a sense of excitement when I hear them. I know sometimes you can get, you know, what is the word? You can become tired of something that you’ve heard over and over and over again, overwhelmed, but there are some of those songs on that CD that I still feel like when I hear them I get right back to that place when I first wrote them. There’s that instant connection.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, that’s strength in the music, you know?
Leila: Well, I think I just feel like it was a moment in time when I wrote them, it was special in that moment, and I feel—maybe every artist feels this way, that their newer material is stronger. I definitely think some of the songs I’m writing now are even stronger or they’re even more profound for me, but it’s nice to be able to go back to some of the other songs and still feel a connection.