Navasha Daya - Rebirthed Above Ground (2013)

Navasha Daya
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As the front woman for the Baltimore-based band, Fertile Ground, Navasha Daya arrived early at the forefront of the independent soul and nu-jazz music scene in 1998 alongside fellow early indie pioneers N’Dambi, Jazzhole, Peven Everett, and Eric Roberson, dominating the early part of the 20th century indie soul/funk/nu-jazz scene(s). Daya and her then husband, producer/composer/musician James Collins, led the rest of the Fertile Ground members to over 200,000 in unit sales over five independently produced and distributed albums (including their remix project and the updated re-issue of their debut) and toured the globe, garnering an international fan base. The demise, or rather the implosion, of Fertile Ground and the public divorce of its spiritual and creative leadership led to wide spread speculation as to whether the formally trained Navasha Daya would go it alone as a solo artist.

As the front woman for the Baltimore-based band, Fertile Ground, Navasha Daya arrived early at the forefront of the independent soul and nu-jazz music scene in 1998 alongside fellow early indie pioneers N’Dambi, Jazzhole, Peven Everett, and Eric Roberson, dominating the early part of the 20th century indie soul/funk/nu-jazz scene(s). Daya and her then husband, producer/composer/musician James Collins, led the rest of the Fertile Ground members to over 200,000 in unit sales over five independently produced and distributed albums (including their remix project and the updated re-issue of their debut) and toured the globe, garnering an international fan base. The demise, or rather the implosion, of Fertile Ground and the public divorce of its spiritual and creative leadership led to wide spread speculation as to whether the formally trained Navasha Daya would go it alone as a solo artist. After a prolonged absence, Daya’s sultry brand of earthy, sophisticated jazz and soul is back on Rebirthed Above Ground, an EP that Fertile Ground fans and newcomers alike should enjoy.

The Cleveland-born and -bred chanteuse best known for rocking African gowns, bare feet and feather headdresses in concert as a kind of New Age Diaspora Earth Mother had the difficult task of crafting a new project that satisfies nearly 15 years of Fertile Ground fans while still marking Daya’s own independent voice. With Collins having publicly received much of the credit for the compositions and productions of Fertile Ground, the sole writer/producer/composer of Rebirthed Above Ground makes sure to quietly demonstrate on “Galactic Soul” that the Fertile Ground sound was not solely the development of her ex-husband (or the band’s other men). The mid-tempo groove is straight out of the latter year FG playbook in jazzy soul melody, harmony, and metaphorical lyrical references to the metaphysical. As “Galactic Soul” plays one can just hear the granola crunching, the incense lighting, and the backpack being thrown over the shoulder, so strongly does the tune evokes a particular time and specific experience in Black East Coast culture at the turn of the new century. Near the EP’s closer, she does it again, with the original “Sweet Kiss” mining the sophisticated straight-ahead jazz ballad of the Fertile Ground debut, Field Songs. Together these songs, flawlessly engineered by Steve Wright, leave little doubt to Daya’s heretofore largely unsung contribution to that cult band’s musical legacy as more than just a talented singer. Her legendary cousin, the late Gil Scott-Heron, would be proud.

Having made her point, on the rest of the five-song project, Daya plays. As a title, Rebirthed Above Ground is a promise fulfilled. A light-hearted Daya delivers a sumptuous lullaby to the new love in her life, showcasing the creamy smoothness of her tone and the perfection of her vocal accuracy on the stripped “Prelude to a Kiss.” With the urban adult contemporary atmospherics of “Iwapele” (Iwa Pele, literally means good character and is part of the belief that good character is destiny and destiny is good character), Daya drops kernels of spiritual lessons from Ifa Principles (Yoruba) and encourages listeners into “moving from control/into acceptance/ be gentle/gentle,” with the calls for gentleness being as much for oneself as to others when facing the trials and insecurity of life. On the country rock of “Life Windows,” alongside a kick-ass electric guitar, Daya celebrates the mental clarity and spiritual peace that comes with joyously living through her spiritual path.

The hybrid of country and rock was one you’d never have expected to hear on Fertile Ground and Daya sounds right at home kicking down that door, blossoming on the unabashed glow that bursts from the deliciously layered jam session. It is the sound of a woman and an artist who is liberated, free from whatever came before and excited about the future in front of her. It’s an infectious enthusiasm and we are made believers. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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