The Floacist Flows Solo With New Album

Rap and R&B have been musical bedfellows for decades. But British duo, Floetry, created hits that blended soul music and spoken word poetry. At the height of their success in 2007, Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Steward parted ways. Now Stewart, known as The Floacist, is back with a new project. Host Michel Martin speaks with Stewart about her first solo album, titled The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul .

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we continue our musical journey across the African diaspora. Next we travel to England to meet an artist who after a successful musical partnership has gone solo. She was one half of the pivotal neo-soul group Floetry, that created a string of hits almost a decade ago, including this song, "Say Yes."

(Soundbite of song, "Say Yes")

FLOETRY (Music Group): (Singing) All you got to do is say - all you got to do is say yes. Don't deny what you feel, let me undress you, babe. Open up your mind and just rest. I'm about to let you know you make me so...

MARTIN: That was "Say Yes" from the group's debut album, titled "Floetic." But in 2006 the women of Floetry parted ways. Now, after a nearly four-year break, the founder of the group, Natalie Stewart, who was known as the Floacist, is back with a solo project. It's titled "The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul." And Natalie Stewart, the Floacist, is with us now from London. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. NATALIE STEWART (Musician): Oh, thank you for having me. It's lovely to sit down and listen to all of that, you know. Just took me through pages of me own book.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, how does that feel?

Ms. STEWART: It's lovely. It's lovely to hear your own external objective, because, you know, I'm in here, aren't I? You know, as we all are, living our day to day part, so it's nice to hear it spoken. And it's a very peaceful articulation you gave, and I like it. It's nice.

MARTIN: What made this the right time to come forward with this project, this solo project?

Ms. STEWART: I suppose the fact that it happened, you know. It's that there's an illusion for artists who believe that, you know, because you make a product, for the rest of your life you will now be putting out albums or making films or dancing or playing sport or whatever the artistry is, you know. With regards to what made this the right time - oh, I suppose many things, you know, many things indeed. One of them being that it was time for myself and my company, Free Sum Music, which I actually run with myself and my husband, and it was time for us to partner up with Shanakee Entertainment and just make a project that was art-based and peace-filled and share it.

MARTIN: You wrote all the songs on this album, or all the pieces, all the tracks.

Ms. STEWART: Yes.

MARTIN: You wrote all of them. And you've always been a writer. That sort of begs the question of when is it time send it out to everyone else. Because I would imagine that you've been writing all this time. Am I right about that?

Ms. STEWART: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Ms. STEWART: Oh, yeah. I write much more than songs. You know, I write shopping lists. I write, you know, things to do and movies and scripts and ideas and write my dreams down in journals and so many different forms of writing. Writing is such a huge part of my existence and the way that I understand and process things.

So with regard to this record, I mean like I said, there are things that there are more things that occur. Sometimes we can become isolated into the journey of the artist. But there are many things that have to come together in order for something to happen. So you know, yeah, it's about me. It's about what I had to say at the time or I had to write. But it's also about the many things - you know, you can't force the vortex open and you have to be joined and, you know, invited in. So that's how and when this record (unintelligible) you know, into the shops.

MARTIN: Let's play, let's play a hook then. I think let us play a little piece, it won't be enough, but just enough to give people a taste of...

Ms. STEWART: Indeed.

MARTIN: ..."The Stand." Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "The Stand")

THE FLOACIST: (Singing) What you gonna do, what you gonna do? You'll just have to choose, choose, where you wanna go, where you wanna go? What is there to lose, yeah. How you gonna move, how you gonna move? If you won't stay, stay, how you gonna flow if you're in your way?

Tell me, why do you delay? Why do you delay? And what you got to say? It's gonna be okay. Stand up, you better stand up.

MARTIN: That kind of speaks to what we were talking about, which is, you know, when is it time to get the vortex to open, as you put it. I was wondering whether there was an organizing principle or a foundational idea that you were working with in putting this together.

Ms. STEWART: Oh, yes, indeed. You know, art is so a part of my life, you know, whether with a deal or not. You know, my husband and I are both poets, writers. And I would say part of the piece has been that it hasn't just been focused on getting another record out but in processing the experience that had gone before and deciding how one wants to go forward and, you know, things that one has to learn. You got to learn. You know, you got to stop(ph), you got to live and do different things. So yes, there was a process, and the process was just to continue the journey of the Floetic(ph) ethos of music, which is the ethos that I create under, which is poetic delivery of musical intent, and that's the concept that everything grew from, the origin.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Natalie Stewart, also known as The Floacist. We're talking about her new album. It's a solo project. It's called "The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul."

I did want to ask about, just briefly, about the parting of the ways with your former creative partner, Marsha Ambrosius, with whom you were Floetry. Now, you've both in interviews have been very professional about the whole thing. But a creative relationship is so intense. It can be so intense. And I did want to ask if there was any sadness, fear, anxiety attached to moving in different directions. Even if it's for perfectly reasonable creative reasons, people want to do different things. They just have different ways that they want to express themselves at a different stage of their careers. But is it strange in a way to be working without her at this point?

Ms. STEWART: Oh, well, I think there's two parts to your question. Were there certain feelings at the time of recognizing that the cycle was completed? Absolutely. I think that's a part of the learning, part of the appreciation and the growth. Is it strange not to be working with her? Well, actually, no. I would think that Marsha is actually the major change. I still work with all the people that I've worked with in this journey of coming up.

You know, we started a journey on poetry and how you can bring together the merge the worlds of poetry and music without losing the authenticity of either. So it doesn't feel strange to me because that journey has remained. And funnily(ph) enough, I suppose the ending of the cycle of Floetry, with regards to Natalie and Marsha, didn't end the journey of myself and the poetry art, you know, the Floetic part(ph).

MARTIN: And finally, I wanted to ask, what it's interesting that your message and your style - and the album has gotten terrific reviews, by the way. That has to be gratifying. I don't know how you feel about reviews. A lot of artists say they don't read them at all.

Ms. STEWART: I do.

MARTIN: But particularly given that there's a lot sexuality in modern music right now, as of course you know, a lot of very raw things, and there's also kind of a style in popular music of really over-the-top theatricality. And so the fact that your work comes out and is still appreciated I think is probably gratifying to you. But I am wondering whether you're worried about still having a place, given the direction that a lot of music was going, that people would receive your work as you hoped.

Ms. STEWART: No, I didn't worry, because like I said, this wasn't being created necessarily from the same place. As when I was younger, you know, and I have a beautiful audience - you know, the Floetry audience is just exquisite. We've had such a lovely journey together. So you know, you can try and stay in this business, you know, try and stay relevant. But that can be quite a mist to enter. Instead, I think the way you remain relevant is you make sure you have as much normal living as possible because that will let you have content and things to talk about that people can relate to and feel that they want to join in with and collect and be a part of.

You know, being an artist and having the longevity of a career means that you have to grow as a person, and it's not just given. You have to grow. When you walk into the light, you have to look into those mirrors, both the dark and the light, and not everybody can handle it. But before I think I would speak more about everybody. But I'm really happy to say that I've kind of grown into just being the difference that I want to see and allowing that to speak for itself.

The sexuality thing is funny, considering that's how we all get on the planet. But we all seem to be so funny about sexuality as a community, considering that's where we all come from. It's strange. It's strange.

MARTIN: What's next for you?

Ms. STEWART: Next? Tour, getting on the road, which is, you know, the next stage of everything. And then there's much more. There's literature. There are scripts. There are children's book series. There's a affirmation book. There's - and there's everything else that comes, you know? There's - you have to have plan in order to improvise and it's a journey, not a destination, so there's much to do, and a large part of that is living.

MARTIN: Natalie Stewart - she's known as The Floacist - is a poet, author, songwriter, performer, as she told us. Her new solo album, "The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul," is out now.

As we reluctantly say goodbye to her, we're going to hear little bit more from the album "Alright Then." And Natalie Stewart is with us from the BBC studios in London.

Natalie, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. STEWART: Thank you. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me. Be safe.

(Soundbite of song, "Alright Then")

THE FLOACIST: (Singing) Alright friend. What's the point in letting you get you down? You know what's going on now. You know.

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