|A Girl Name King is the title of Jamaican singer, Diana King’s current album. Like her peers Sade and Maxwell, King took extensive time off between albums. Her new sound has a radiant patina of maturity, gained from a number of personal battles including multiple sclerosis (MS), but also experiencing artistic freedom. King decided to control the way, in which her music is released and self-produced the album.
Although she does not have to use her music as her voice, she has chosen too. We talked about her music, her MS diagnosis, and her recent coming out to the public.
|Interview by: Victor Yates|
Victor Yates: What is the significance behind the spelling of AgirLnaMeKING?
Diana King: There is no real significance. It’s just a fun way of spelling it. It takes many people a minute to get it, then they’re like, “Oh! A Girl Name King.”
Victor Yates: Thirteen tracks are on the new album.What song on AgirLnaMeKING do you think should be playing on the radio right now?
Diana King: Each one. They are all different, with a mixture of genres, seasoned with Reggae. I think they are all worthy of radio play.
Victor Yates: There was about an eight-year gap between Respect and AgirLnaMeKING?
Diana King: Has it? I didn’t notice. I don’t think about things like that. These are the things that can make an artist drink vodka for breakfast. Respect was done with my longtime co-producer, Andy Marvel, who I’d been working with since my first recording with Sony and my current album was done primarily by me.
Victor Yates: You’ve become Pro-tools certified, invested in a home recording studio, and started producing your own music. Would you recommend that to new artists starting out in the business?
Diana King: It’s easier to do that now than before, and if new artists desire that and they can, they should. But everyone’s journey is different. It became a dream when I realized that I might not own my previously recorded music, because of the deals I made when I started out. I didn’t intend on doing it alone, but that’s how it happened. One of the best feelings is owning one hundred percent of work, especially for an artist, because apart from investments, it is your intellectual property and that is your pension.
Victor Yates: When you’re in the studio, how do you know when you’ve found the right sound?
Diana King: In everything I always go with my vibes, whether working alone or with others. Sometimes I don’t have the right sound for a part, but I love the imperfection of things. When I’m done I never fix anything like an off note from strings or vocals. I love it like that. My band/engineers will tease me about it, but I don’t care. It’s my art, which is real and not meant to be perfection.
Victor Yates: Has having your own label allowed your sound to mature?
Diana King: In general I have matured, as you should with age and life experiences. I am still in the learning phase with my label; it’s only a year old. I am the only artist for now, the guinea pig. It’s not easy wearing all these different hats, but I can only get better at it, on the musical side and the business side, from the knowledge I’m gaining.
Victor Yates: During your career you have been signed to Madonna’s record label Maverick and Work/Sony Music. Who was the better boss?
Diana King: I spent more time with Sony and I gained a lot of visibility there. I had gained industry knowledge by the time I got to Maverick. I am always grateful to them both.
Victor Yates: While you were at Maverick, Me’shell Ndegeocello was your label mate. That would have been an amazing collaboration. Did you two ever meet?
Diana King: I did meet her, and she’s lovely. It’s a collab I would welcome, because I admire her and her music.
Victor Yates: You performed recently at the Out Music Awards. When you first started out performing professionally did you ever imagine that you would perform at a music award show honoring out LGBT artists?
Diana King: I actually did imagine that in my mind. Things may take a long time, but I believe everything eventually falls into place. The Out Music Awards will be my first LGBT event and it sure beats watching it on TV.
Victor Yates: Recently there was a beating of a gay student by staff members at a Jamaican university for being gay. How does it feel to live in Jamaica as an out person and what is life like for out LGBT Jamaicans?
Diana King: I spend a lot of time overseas, so I was not there when it happened. This beating, as they all do, affected me deeply. I even wrote a song, Do U Kno How It Feelz and posted it on Facebook. It’s never easy living in this way, having to hide or down play who you really are, but Jamaican LGBT people learn how to fall in for our own survival. But what kind of life is that? Always having to look over your back, because you never know when or where it might happen to you.
Victor Yates: Jamaica is labeled as an extremely anti-LGBT place. Is that a fair label?
Diana King: I believe it is. The Bible is taken literally when it comes to that. But whenever I say it, I get tongue lashings. Many Jamaicans believe that as long as they do not participate in a beating or a killing or bullying, that they are tolerant. But I believe being silent and doing nothing when you witness such acts is just as bad or even worse than the acts themselves. Denying homophobia doesn’t make it a lie. But it’s so deep that even some homosexuals are homophobic. Even gay friends were saying the students should not have been doing that (being caught having sex). What!
Victor Yates: You came out this past June via Facebook in a statement saying, “I answer now, not because it is anyone’s business, but because it feels right with my soul.” What changed within your life to make that public statement?
Diana King: I don’t believe it was any one thing. It was many things: love, anger, and a burst of courage. Everything aligned at that one moment in time. Mostly it was my deep desire to be totally authentic and honor myself.
Victor Yates: Has your life changed since coming out publicly?
Diana King: Yes, for the better and worse. But as an eternal optimist I prefer to dwell on the positive. I feel empowered, because I have freed myself. So now when I am loved, the right people love me for the right reasons.
Victor Yates: Did your family and friends know before you released the statement?
Diana King: Everyone important to me has always known from my lips. I did not inform them before I came out, but I did speak to my youngest (son), who is fifteen, the day before I did it, because we had never talked about it. I am always worried about my children, knowing that whatever I do or say can affect their lives and you cannot be selfish as a parent. But he was like, “Mom, please! I knew that. Plus one of my teachers just got married to her lover in N.Y. I love you no matter what.” And I was like big eyed. That was the icing on the cake and in many ways the permission I needed.
Victor Yates: That’s an amazing story and I’m sure will help other LGBT parent’s. Now you have a face tattoo. What does it mean to you?
Diana King: Its meaning changes with time, but they all have to do with the phrase, ‘Love yourself, live yourself.’ It’s a personal mantra that I have told myself for years. It is not an easy feat. It’s a daily challenge to love and be yourself in a world constantly telling you that you are not enough. It takes great courage and mental strength.
Victor Yates: Was getting the tattoo part of your growth as an artist?
Diana King: As a person first, you have to F.L.Y. (First Love Yourself), because nothing works for too long if you don’t first love yourself. I am an artist as well, but that is one of the many roles that I have. I got this tattoo when I did my second album, Think Like A Girl in 1998 and the song, “Love Yourself” I wrote it for my little sister who was in an abusive relationship. After recording and listening to it over and over, I realized then I had more personal work to do as well. The tattoo was the start.
Victor Yates: Some of the lyrics from that song are, “You’re just a step away, from being free of pain.” How powerful that those words came from a real life situation. You were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and went into therapy. In therapy you wrote music and the more you wrote, the more you felt better. By the time you were done with therapy, you had written and produced about one hundred songs. What was that whole experience like?
Diana King: Music was and still is my therapy. I have not taken any prescription drugs to date for MS. It was maddening and beautiful all at the same time. Sometimes I was bawling like a baby and other times just laughing for no apparent reason like a crazy person. I learned so much about who I am, my mind and the power that it holds, and my body. I did get better with each song. I am walking and dancing, which I was told I might never do again. It was also supernatural, because I do not play any instruments, but I did play everything for the songs on AgirLnaMeKING. Ask me what key a song is in and I cannot tell you. I don’t question it. I just accept it as a magical, life-changing, and learning experience.
Victor Yates: Has that experience changed how you make or see music?
Diana King: Absolutely. This album is in no way claiming profound deepness, but it is my favorite because of how it came to be. I’m so proud of it and myself. I didn’t give up. I have always done music that makes listeners want to dance or listen or wonder, “What the hell is she saying,” because of my accent? My experiences, up to this point, have made me more aware that there is so much more out there that our eyes cannot see. That many things that seem important, are not. And though I have always felt this way, now more than ever, I want to do music and do things that make a difference and make a positive change in the world – not just for this time, but also for lifetimes. What good is fame and fortune, if it only impacts or improves your life or the lives of your loved ones? I want to do the stuff that makes a person feel whole and good in their soul, because those are the things that really shine.
Victor Yates: What would you like to leave our readers with?
Diana King: Do not be afraid to give up the you that you created or the you everyone else thinks that you are or should be. Be open to the unknown possibilities, beyond the limits you place on yourself. There is a power that comes with this that can take you higher and further than you could ever imagine, if you let it.