[MUSIC] Divine Brown: Aspire to Inspire
Every artist looks for ways to learn, grow, and be inspired through their journey, but to be one that aspires to foster that growth to others, it says something pretty amazing about you. In the many features we offer here at U.G. Digital, we aim to bring you artists who embody that spirit, and who work tirelessly to give back to the very culture they’ve worked so hard to be a part of. I’m clear that we’re fulfilling that mission with Divine Brown. Her spirit is like that of no other you’ll see or hear. Her work is truly amazing, so much that as an independent artists, she’s already been recognized with a Juno award, which as most know, is the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy award. Understand though, that while she’s grateful for that, it definitely hasn’t defined her path. That definition comes from the grind she’s put in, what she’s gotten back, and the many things she has yet to conquer. We had an amazing time taking about her journey thus far, why it’s so important for her to be that inspiration, what she took away from so many artists he’s loved and followed for so long, and so much more. It’s time for you to be amazed by this beautiful raw talent! Meet Divine Brown!
U.G. Digital Mag: I’ve been hearing so much about the power behind your voice that I said I really needed to catch up with you and talk before you become super huge out here and don’t want to talk to anyone anymore.
Divine Brown: [laughing] Well thank you…
U.G. Digital Mag: How have things gone, considering all the work you’ve put in, and how people are really catching on now?
Divine Brown: It’s really been a phenomenal period of growth for me, I would say over the past five years. I’ve been a recording artist here in Canada since 2005. I’ve won a Juno award, which is the equivalent of a Grammy. It’s amazing to be recognized. At the same time, I’ve always been frustrated with the idea of being heard outside of Canada, which has always been a major frustration, and it’s caused some tension between myself and labels here. It’s no fault of either side. I believe the infrastructure was significantly changing, and continues to change, in regard to how labels work. I think there’s a lot of power from the digital age that is not necessarily given over, but it creates a larger platform to be heard, and do things independently. Outreach is phenomenal.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where do you feel like you fall into it all when it comes to there being more opportunities for independent artists. Does it hurt you, or does it help you grow?
Divine Brown: It definitely helps me grow as an artist. It’s brand new territory however. That’s what makes it exciting. It’s like the mantra of stepping off the ledge to know your potential. You won’t know until you step off. You’ll never know until you allow yourself the courageousness to do that. I think that is the place I am at right now. I have grown from each of my frustrations that I’ve run into. I don’t think they are a negative thing. They are opportunities for me to learn. The only way to move higher is to learn from things like that, and the seemingly negative experiences. I have to use those opportunities to say ok, maybe I’ll do this differently next time. I will take this into my own hands now, and see where it takes me.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love the way you talk, especially talking about the digital age and how it affects you. I can tell from your conversations that you’re intensely involved. You have a lot of artists who claim to be independent, and claim to be moguls, but they don’t want to do the work that comes with it. They just want to say they are the boss, but they have no idea what it takes. They then get upset when the level of success doesn’t match their dreams. Your conversation shows you know what’s going on, and you’re truly working. Your name is something to be heard in your area. Why do you think it’s been so difficult for your music to make it outside of Canada?
Divine Brown: I think it’s a number of reasons, and we may not even have enough time. Some things that come up immediately is the outreach of some of the labels here. I wasn’t sure, for me anyway, having a few different experiences at different points. They don’t have the kind of relationships that they advertise with their worldwide counterparts. As far as I’m concerned, if you believe in something, you’re willing to hop on a plane to put it in someone’s face and not take no for an answer. It’s really that simple to me. There was a strange disconnect between when I went to another country and sing my song in a stripped down format, and they ask when I was putting something out. There was that, and then being told that people didn’t want this or that. That’s not the response I get in front of people. Once i threw my hands up and said I was not going to accept, it was time to chop off the things that didn’t work for me, and get into the idea of working with a digital company that had access to 250 countries around the world. Do it myself and look at what happened. I put out a project digitally called Crazy Love, and I’m releasing it again, and calling it Crazy Love Amplified. It’ll include some remixes to some of the songs. Last year when the album was put out, there was no marketing, PR, or anything to push the product. It was an indie situation between a subsidiary label. This was an indie label, and I was tied to another indie label, and it made me think how would it work without PR or marketing. So I thought, in hindsight, that it would not work. I can’t push something without PR or marketing behind me. That won’t help me either. That’s how I got to this place where I am now. I’m just taking matters into my own hands to see where I end up. When I’m given the opportunity to sing in front of audiences, I can win them over by giving them my gift, which is a divine one.
U.G. Digital Mag: Half the battle is knowing what you have, and owning it. It’s not about being conceited, but you have to know what you bring to the table. You can win over any audience with that. From what I’ve heard, it’s amazing. I love the fact that despite the situations you’ve been in and what may have happened along the way, you have taken matters into your own hands. You haven’t given up and you’re still here. That’s what makes you such a powerful artist. You’ve gotten the awards and accolades. You’ve been in so many stage plays, which requires so much. How are you able to balance that?
Divine Brown: Balance [laughing]. I have to laugh, because one will take precedence over the other at some point. Sometimes they go together, but recently, I did a production by the African American poet Suzan-Lori Parks, who is getting a lot of attention because for this piece. It’s so relevant in the way she wrote it that the images that come to your mind when you watch are relevant to thing happening right now. I was really blessed to be a part of that. The thing that was interesting about my part was that although it was called a narrative role, all I did was play guitar and sing. Now mind you, I did not know how to play a lick of guitar when I got this role. I had to learn how to play guitar to do this show.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s the type of thing that makes you amazing. You figured it out.
Divine Brown: When I tell people who came to see the production at Soul Pepper Theater in Toronto that I had to learn it, they’re shocked. They said it looked like I played for a long time. I had no idea what a C chord was. The day I started learning was the day Prince passed. I had gone to a gas station, and an attendant told me. I didn’t believe it at first. I eventually went back inside to see it on the news.
U.G. Digital Mag: So many people did not expect his death. Its the case with a lot of celebrities. You never know if to believe it because so many hoaxes happen. It even goes back to Michael Jackson. Many didn’t believe it at first.
Divine Brown: For me, it was like getting slapped in the face without a good morning or anything. A number of things went through my head. A number of people i know were touched by Prince, including one of the newest guitar players who played with him, named Donna Grantis. I played with her a number of times, so she was the first person I thought of. The second thing I thought was to call my musical director and see if she had heard. She asked if I still wanted to come in and I thought for a second. If Prince was standing there right now and I was about to get my first lesson, I think he was say I better get in there. So I went and started to learn my first few chords. I do play electric bass. I play by ear but it had been a while since I felt the inspiration to play. I’m so glad I learned, because now if I don’t play my bass at least once a day, it doesn’t feel right. That’s the thing for me, to challenge myself and step outside of the norm to enrich my experience. I’m not just a vocalist. I’m a musician. The next challenge for me is doing a musical called Passing Strange. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, or if you like plays.
U.G. Digital Mag: Actually, I love plays and musicals. My wife and I spend a lot of time seeing different productions in our free time.
Divine Brown: Nice. I can’t remember the name of the musician who wrote it, but I know Spike Lee took an interest in it. We start rehearsals next February, but the company does shows called Uncovered, where they cover a bunch of the performers from the shows. They’ll take two artists and have them perform. I’ll be doing two songs by Queen. Once is Another One Bites the Dust, and the other is Somebody to Love. There’s a video that I put up on my Facebook page. The challenge is that I elected to play bass and sing.
U.G. Digital Mag: Amazing songs though
Divine Brown: The baseline is easy. The melody is easy. Putting them together is a whole other thing. I get sweaty palms James. People are watching, and I haven’t played and sang in front of an audience in so long. It’s so fulfilling when you start to get it, and it will be even more fulfilling when I do it. That’s one thing about my character is to never allow myself to be lazy and take on challenges. This reinforced my love for the instrument. I take on the challenge because there’s an immense amount of growth.
U.G. Digital Mag: What are the ways you know that opportunities like this will foster that growth that you aspire for?
Divine Brown: It’s important that I find inspiration in everything. I get inspired when I watch people who are good at what they do. They’re good because they put the work in. The growth for me comes from taking those opportunities to take on challenges, and then talk about my journey and process. That will inspire others. A huge thing for me is being inspiring, and knowing that sharing stories like this, talking about learning guitar, and forcing myself to play a song, somebody out there sees they can do it. That kind of growth and sharing those stories, and putting myself in uncomfortable positions will help me when it comes to putting a new project together.
U.G. Digital Mag: Once of the things this makes people wonder is how do you find inspiration in the situations that may turn out to not be uninspiring to you, or those where you have the most struggle? You’ve endured a lot in the process, and it’s been things that would turn the average artist around. You’re winning, undoubtedly, but sometimes people are winning and they don’t realize it. What has kept you moving forward?
Divine Brown: It’s the love for what I do. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I absolutely adore music. I adore being on stage. I adore sharing my gift. It really is not about who loves me. For some people, it’s important to have their egos fed through that, but for me, and the heroes I look up to, it’s about sharing the gift, and that for me is heaven on earth.
U.G. Digital Mag: A lot of people strive for that, but never get there. I always say follow your passion and make a career out of it. I see that’s what you have done.
Divine Brown: Yea, I’ve known for a long time, and that seed was planted in my heart in the very beginning. The interesting thing is I’ve learned a lot along the way. I continue to learn about the aspects of what I do and having it included into the whole picture. I’m an artist’s artist. I know the administrative part sucks, but it has to be done. Within reason, I have to tread some uncomfortable waters to get to where I want to go and grow. I have to also be able to admit when I’ve reached the pinnacle of some arenas, and hand things over to someone I trust to finish it off. The key is working with people I trust. Through the course of management, it’s been interesting. A lot of managers don’t know what it truly takes to manage an artist. It’s one of the hardest and thankless jobs out there, but at the same time, it can be thankful if you love what you do and do it for the right reasons.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s the problem. Many managers aren’t doing it because they love it. They’re doing it because it’s a payday. There’s a lot of money in some cases. If you look at other careers, like healthcare, you and I know so many people don’t do it for the love, and because of that, the care suffers.
Divine Brown: Health is an interesting example to use. If you don’t love it, you can’t inspire the patients who need it the most. That much I understand. It doesn’t matter if you work in geriatrics or cancer. I caught that from you, and you speak 100% truth. You have the spirit where patients want to be around you. I get it. So the thing is, essentially I’m all about inspiring people through what I do musically. I’m so thankful because there’s been a tremendous growth for me in the past few years. I knew I had these abilities, but now it’s effortless. It comes from putting myself out there and in these uncomfortable positions.
U.G. Digital Mag: But that also happens when it’s organic and you’re not forcing. It’s almost inevitable that you will be successful.
Divine Brown: I totally agree. I feel blessed and I’m in a great place. I’m enjoying every waking moment of this journey.
U.G. Digital Mag: Your motto is aspire to inspire. Who have been the people to inspire you? So many people come to mind when I listen to you. People like Jill Scott, India Arie, and Jaquar Wright. I think you are in an elite class artistically.
Divine Brown: Wow. There’s so many. I love Jill Scott. I love her overall vibe.
U.G. Digital Mag: I thought of her when you said it wasn’t about whether people like you. She’s the same. It’s her heart, and her healing.
Divine Brown: Yea, and that’s the thing. I think attention is a by-product of what I do, but it’s not why. I also love Ledisi. She’s such a powerhouse.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love her too. It’s funny because a while back, right as she released her latest album, she was on the Tom Joyner show, and she was scatting with one of her songs. When I finally got the album, I was kind of sad that it didn’t sound the same way she did it on air, but it still was amazing though [laughing]. Her spirit is amazing. I interviewed her when she first came out as a new artist, and it was the same then.
Divine Brown: Right, I really do too. She’s a monster vocally. I really love people on the come up. Minnie Ripperton, Rachelle Ferrell, Lalah Hathaway, Chaka Khan … there’s just so many. My elders, like Maya Angelou, and powerful women like Oprah Winfrey, who started from nothing and built not even an empire but a conglomerate.
U.G. Digital Mag: You and I are inspired by many of the same people, but it speaks volumes to hear you say the people you did.
Divine Brown: The thing is, there’s so many artists that I draw different things from. Even now, someone I’m loving is Niki West. She’s an exciting young talent. She’s like a female Bootsy Collins. Her bass playing is incredible. Tho range of people I look up to is wide. The range of people who inspire me is wide. It’s not about a genre. It’s the feeling I get when I listen. Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and so on. The range is great. Earth Wind & Fire, Cameo, Confunkshun, Journey, there’s just so many.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s so great, and I see the influence. What’s next now? I know you’ll be doing the performance in November.
Divine Brown: The workshop in December for Passing Strange. In the interim, I’ll be working on my bass playing skills. I’ll probably pick up an acoustic guitar so I can use that as part of my songwriting arsenal. I’ll also be doing writing. The project I’m dropping early next year is Crazy Love Amplified. The song that will be available online is Love Alibi. It’s like a soulful house track, reminiscent of Martha Wash back in the day.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s funny how musical taste can change. Years ago I was not into any house music, whereas now, I love it.
Divine Brown: Yea. The whole EDM thing was banging for a little too long. It was like that was all you would hear all over radio. Now you still have some songs like that.
U.G. Digital Mag: When people think of you as an artist, how do you want to be remembered?
Divine Brown: I want to be seen as powerful, yet delicate. The biggest thing for me is versatility. I want to be seen and known as that. I want people to know there’s nothing wrong with being versatile.
U.G. Digital Mag: You can do Soul, Jazz, perform with Nelly Furtado, and you can mix it up and do whatever. You don’t just “pull it off”. They get nothing but versatility from you.
Divine Brown: What I love about being independent is I don’t have to have somebody in my ear all the time. People can have an opinion, but an opinion is just that. I got really tired of hearing “well wait a few years”, or “this doesn’t sound like the first album”. Why would it sound like the first album when I have an entirely new set of experiences?
U.G. Digital Mag: If it did, then that shows you haven’t grown.
Divine Brown: Right. That’s it. But then the artist gets labeled. True fans love it. They don’t care. It’s like D’Angelo. He put out Brown Sugar and Voodoo. Then you waited, and waited, and waited for the Black Vanguard. I’m a fan, so I love everything.
U.G. Digital Mag: I thought people were crazy because when Voodoo came out, I loved that album. I played it so much that people around me were sick of it.
Divine Brown: You played it like that because if was dope.
U.G. Digital Mag: Exactly. And when you look at Lauryn Hill. She’s grown so drastically, and people couldn’t keep up with it. She was here in Cleveland just a few days ago, and it was like, I’d be crazy not to go. I love to see that growth.
Divine Brown: That’s the thing. Those are the type of artists I love. The ones who show their growth. The artist that’s not afraid of challenges, and constantly looking for ways to challenge themselves. I’m a storyteller, and I own it wholeheartedly. I tell a story with my voice, with my body on stage, and the sound that comes out. Whatever is necessary to paint the picture the best way possible, that’s what it is.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where can everyone find you online?
Divine Brown: My website, www.divinebrown.com, I’m on Instagram under @divine_brown_music, and I’m on Twitter under @divinamarrom
U.G. Digital Mag: Words of encouragement and final comments. What words do you leave to those wanting to pursue this business?
Divine Brown: Don’t be afraid to step off the edge, meaning don’t be afraid to take chances. The chances help you align yourself with the people you need in your life and circle. That’s what gets you noticed.