UKâ€™s new R&B sensation, David Mensah continues to rise after his song â€˜Food of Loveâ€™ was released through Universal Music in 2008. â€˜Food of Loveâ€™ was his contribution to a compilation album called â€œA Change is Gonna Comeâ€ which was recorded to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
Born to a Ghanaian father and a British mother, David draws from an eclectic mix of influences from all over the world when it comes to his music. He has been called the UK version of Avant while others draw comparisons to John Legend. Then again, some people have even mentioned Luther Vandross in their description of the music that he makes. â€œI never really go in to the studio with a set brief, I prefer to keep an open mind and let the song happen organically. However to someone who has never heard my music I would say that it is soulful R&B with elements of Jazzâ€, he says.
Not too long ago, â€˜My Dayâ€™, the first single from his upcoming album was released amidst amazing responses. In the first week it went straight to number 1 on an independent UK music chart from Textatrack. The song attracted great interest from some of the UKâ€™s leading Djâ€™s, climbing to the number 10 spot on the Solar Radio Sweet Rhythm Chart and number 11 on the Starpoint Radio Official UK Soul Chart.
His debut album â€œMusic is the Food of Loveâ€ was released on VME records on August 31. The 14-track album is simply what the title suggests it to be, a true embodiment of music that touches the soul and relaxes the mind. It opens with â€˜Weâ€™re Gonna Take You Backâ€™ a throwback intro that is reminiscent of soul, funk and jazz that has shaped â€˜blackâ€™ music over the years. It delightfully rises through to the end where he signs off with a techno mix of â€˜My Dayâ€™.
Jamati Online caught up with him earlier in 2007 to find out about his journey then. With work on his debut album complete, we caught up with him again to find out more about his album and the creative process behind it.
Jamati: What inspired your new album?
I am inspired by all kinds of things from the people around me and situations I have been through to my observations about life in general. I prefer to write about subjects that mean something to me. You could say that my album is like a journey through my mind. It could be a situation I have been through as in my song â€œFriends with Benefitsâ€ or maybe an observation I have made about the world around me as in the song â€œMy Dayâ€œ. â€œMy Dayâ€ is all about how we interact with each other. I was sitting waiting for a tube in London and thinking how people donâ€™t interact with each other, no good morning, no smile, no acknowledgement and it struck me how much better it would be if we just learned to smile at one another and the song came from that.
Jamati: What can we expect from the album?
I am very excited about my debut album. Most of the production is from Wayne Brown. I also worked with US Billboard chart topping producer, Coptic, as well as renowned Danish producer, Jimmy Antony, who most recently worked with soul legend, Gregory Abbott. It was amazing to get to work with three different producers on the project because they all managed to get something different from me. I wrote the majority of the songs myself but also recorded a song penned by Wayne Brown and 3-time Grammy nominee, Jonathan Butler, as well as the classic soul cut â€œWhatever It Takesâ€, co-written by Junior Giscombe and Wayne Brown. Even though the album doesnâ€™t come out until 31st August I have been very lucky in that the radio response has been fantastic. Both â€œFood of Loveâ€ and â€œMy Dayâ€ have been represented in the soul charts here in the UK and played on radio all over the world. It is amazing to think that my music has reached places I have never even been to.
Jamati: What influences your music generally?
I have always been around music and I think that definitely manifests itself in the music I make. Growing up my Dad was a soul Dj, he had so many records that he almost needed another house just to keep them in. My mum was more of a reggae fan and in the 80â€™s there always seemed to be a reggae version of the soul songs that came out. And I canâ€™t forget the highlife music that my Grandmother would play.
Jamati: How long have you been performing?
I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I didnâ€™t really take it too seriously at firstâ€“I just loved the feeling of expressing myself through music. I sang in the school choir and joined a gospel singing class run by Patrick Jean-Paul-Dean whose fantastic reputation as a Gospel singer earned him a MOBO Award nomination for Best Gospel. I think it was at that point that I really started to develop and learn to express myself even more. It was with this new confidence that I joined an R&B boy group called Dark Roses. We did loads of shows with very big audiences so you could say I was thrown in the deep end and it was a case of sink or swim. I loved traveling all over the UK with the group and learned so much about performing and the music business.
Jamati: How did you get your lucky break?
I donâ€™t really believe in lucky breaks as such. I have worked very hard and I am very pleased that it is all starting to pay off now. One of the big turning points for me was meeting world renowned producer Wayne Brown. I feel very lucky to have found a special chemistry with Wayne Brown because it led to me recording my debut album â€œMusic is the Food of Loveâ€œ. I heard a song he produced for Teish Oâ€™Day on the radio and just so happened to be with one of my friends who works for a music channel at the time. I said to my friend that if I could work with the producer who made her song then I would start recording again, at this point I had assumed the production was American and that this meeting would never happen.
A few days later I got a surprise email from my friend with the producerâ€™s details and gave him a call. We set up a meeting and I donâ€™t mind admitting that I was very nervous having been out of the game for a little while. It was very daunting working with Wayne because he has worked with Earth Wind and Fire, George Michael, Lulu, Stevie Winwood, Jonathan Butler, Ruby Turner, Billy Ocean and Junior Giscombe to mention a few. I had expected to play him some of my music and take it from there but within minutes of me being there he walked over to his piano and started playing then asked me to just jam with him. As soon as he started playing the music in me took over and I knew there was something special. It is hard to explain but his playing just inspired me so much that the singing was the most natural thing in the world and the nerves quickly went away. After we recorded out first song together and people started to hear it doors started to open for me.
Jamati: How was this transition for you and how much creative input do you have?
I am blessed with VME Records because I still have loads of creative license and I am always consulted on things. For a long time I was out there on my own so it is a big transition to go from working on your own to working with a whole team. I think the main thing is that they buy into me as an artist rather than trying to change me. While I was making my album I was approached by some big labels who had got to know about me on the grapevine but I found they wanted to take me and make me something I am not. Not sure if it was brave or foolish but I decided to stick to my guns and stay true to the music I love. In fact I know it was brave and not foolish because I am very proud of the work I have done. I got into this game because I love music and not to chase fame so it really wouldnâ€™t make sense to start making music that I donâ€™t feel is me.
Jamati: Whatâ€™s your view on contemporary African music generally?
I think it is an exciting time for African music. In this age of the internet you no longer have to go on a mission to hunt the music down. Just sitting at your computer you can be completely plugged in to the music scene in Africa. I think the added exposure that artists are getting is leading to even more innovation and barrier breaking music.
Jamati: You have worked on some Africa centred projects; are working on any such projects currently?
I recorded a song called â€œClose to My Rootsâ€ with Memphis Bleek. The song was recorded for a project put together by Coptic, one of the producers on my album. The project will explore the hottest sounds from Mama Africa, set against a backdrop of the biggest joints coming from the top echelons of USA Hip-Hop. The innovative blend of acoustic African sounds and Hip Hop drums will present Hip Hop and R&B royalty from both continents bringing a fresh perspective to records that established African music on the world stage such as â€˜Been Such a Long Time Goneâ€˜, by Hugh Masekela, â€˜Fefe Naa Efeâ€™, by Fela, and â€˜Pata Pataâ€™, by Mariam Makeba. Confirmed appearances on the album will come from the unique talents of premiere artists like Memphis Bleek, Black Moon, Smiff N Weston, Dead Prez, R&B artist Rell, and African super stars such as Grammy Award nominated AngÃ©lique Kidjo.
As you can imagine I was very keen to get on this project not only because it meant joining a line up of top artists from both Africa and the USA but even more so for the opportunities it may bring to travel to Ghana and fulfill that dream.
Jamati: Any plans of performing in Ghana?
I would love to perform in Ghana. On a personal level it would mean that I finally get a chance to see the place my Grandmother has painted in my mind with her stories, food and photos. On a professional level it would be an opportunity to connect with a music scene that is growing faster than most other places in the world. A place where innovation is happening. With projects like the African Express and Wilberforce 200 I pray the opportunity comes up sooner rather than later.
Jamati: What have been your highlights so far?
Singing at the Commonwealth games was a huge honor and is a memory that will always stay with me. To look out at a sea of people and sing my songs is a buzz that is impossible to top for me. Recently my music has taken me abroad to do perform. In the last few months I have travelled to Norway, Germany, and the USA. There is lots more travel on the horizon and I canâ€™t wait to take the show all over the world. Other highlights are the people I have got to meet and perform with particularly Jimmy Cliff, Beverly Knight and Alexandra Oâ€™Neal. I grew up listening to all of their music so had to pinch myself to check I wasnâ€™t dreaming.
Jamati: What is yet to come from David Mensah?
I hope to keep making music that I can be proud of and keep doing shows. As I said before I am not really hunting fame as such. I just love making music and sharing it with people who share my passion for music. Creatively I have so many ideas that I want to get out so I hope to keep getting the wonderful support that I have to continue on this journey. I have just got back from the USA where I was doing shows to promote the album and I have also been to Norway and Germany this year. I am pleased to say I had a fantastic response. There are lots more in the pipeline and dates will be announced soon on my website. On the recording front I am working on collaborations with some pretty major artists. I canâ€™t go into more detail on that at the moment but I am sure you will hear in time.
Interview by: Ameyaw Debrah from Jamati.com