Looking at Keishera James, you can tell that there is something about her. Sitting in class, she speaks with an energy, a confident air and an enthusiasm for learning. But going to a transit-oriented college like Baruch, it is difficult to get to know the life under those first impressions. Fortunately, this time I was able to learn about the exciting life of one of Baruch’s most accomplished artists.
James, who was born in Jamaica, exudes the diva presence of singers who came before her like Tina Turner and Whitney Houston, who are two of her idols. However, her raspy alto voice is reminiscent of singers like Anita Baker and Tracy Chapman, one of the artists who helped James to overcome her past fear of her own voice.
“One of major inspirations to become a songwriter was Tracy Chapman because of the way she writes… she didn’t look like the ordinary pop star but her delivery was so powerful and her subject matters were something you could relate to, or if you could not relate, you could picture it…”
And James’ music is similar in that it is a great mixture of soulful, sensual, honest emotion with a laid-back and cool flow harkening back to Quiet Storm soul and R&B music of the late 70s to early 90s. The hint of her Jamaican accent coming through her songs also provides a distinct vocal touch.
On her own since 16, James’ voice and songs have taken her to several places, like London, Paris and of course, New York City, and she will be taking a semester off from school to go to Berlin to continue her career. However, the road to becoming a star has not always been easy. “It’s a hard road to travel because because there are a lot of talented people, especially in New York City. Every other person is a star…” James even wrote a song about it, called “Wanna Be a Rockstar,” in which she sings, “Everybody wanna be a rockstar/don’t nobody have to work for it/some wanna be an overnight superstar/but you and me we have to work for it.”
James continued that there are also a lot of fickle people who do not keep promises and it is hard to find the key people who will recognize you, but she believes in persistence, taking initiative and having encouraging friends. These three things have helped her to have a number of memorable moments, such as a hit song in Europe with Shaggy called “It Feels Right,” and opening for rapper Common in front of a crowd of 25,000 at the Fort Greene Festival in Brooklyn.
Other memorable moments from her career was dancing with David Beckham at a night club (“he was very polite, very nice”), meeting with Ahmet Ertugun before he died, and interviewing De La Soul and Anthony B. During the past two years, she has gone back to school, first at the New York City College of Technology and now at Baruch, which she attended to prove she could get in and is majoring now in Liberal Arts. However, it seems that this interview has influenced her to do an ad-hoc major in music and journalism.
Royalty Network, who signed James in 2007 to their music publishing company had these words to say about her then, “Keishera’s on her way to proving her ability to stand out as a writer and artist. Since her recent introduction to the business, she’s already appeared alongside Shaggy, and #1 Reggae act in France, Lord Kossity. ….while this star-in-the-making hopes to open minds with her unique vocals and reggae-soul fusion, ultimately, she just wants to make good music.”
In an interview with The Grio, singer and producer Teddy Riley commented on how some of the recent R&B music lacked substance, but now it’s starting to come back. Mary J. Blige made a similar comment in an MTV interview last year. James wants to bring as Blige says that “healing power” back to R&B music.
Planning on creating a style of her own, taking soul and infusing it with a little of rock and reggae, James will be releasing three singles, “Rockstar,” “Say What’s On Your Mind,” and “Think of Me,” soon. Asked how she describes her music, James responded, “Passionate! …My music is my salvation… music has transformed any situation…sometimes it’s just hard; fear sets in when you are a musician and you are creative a lot, and it helps to quiet the mind from all the chatter, doubts and fears…music is a remedy for anything.”
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