By Adam Burgess
Born and raised in Cameroon, Andy Allo eventually made her way to America where she worked several jobs as an actress, model and musician. In 2010, she was given the offer of a lifetime: a spot in Prince’s band, the New Power Generation, alongside world-class musicians such as Maceo Parker and John Blackwell. Since meeting The Purple One, she has gone on to record a brand new album, Superconductor, which will be released in the fall of 2012.
I caught up with Andy as she gears up to unveil her new record and debut material alongside Prince himself at a three-night residency in the heart of Chicago.
Your new album, Superconductor, is currently in the works – this must be an exciting time for you right now!
You know, it’s been a surreal, exciting, yet educational journey. In a year and a half I have been able to tour the world, learn about and play funk, and make some beautiful music with some of the world’s most phenomenal musicians. Superconductor is a record, I hope, that everyone listens to at least once…maybe more.
Why the title Superconductor? What does that word mean to you?
I’ve been learning a lot about superconductivity and the energy that connects everything in the universe. We, as beings, are energy conduits and every time someone or something enters our lives, whether momentarily or for a while, there is movement in that energy. That’s how I feel about music and this album in particular, that when people hear it, there will be transference of energy. The human spirit is quite powerful, and if studied, you find that we are all capable of being superconductors.
What can we expect from you this time around?
Good music that’s got soul! I came in with some lyrics, melodies, and chords on the guitar, and Prince arranged them into perfection, an absolute pièce de résistance. All the compositions were recorded on analog using live instruments with musicians playing those instruments. The beautiful thing about recording onto tape is that it adds such depth and distinction to the sound. That’s just one of the great things about this collection of songs.
Tell us about some of the tracks. Have any singles been chosen yet?
Hmm… “People Pleaser.” That’s all I have to say. Are you one?
And when are you going to take the new music on the road?
Immediately! I’m looking forward to debuting the new music in my hometown, Sacramento.
You were born and raised in Cameroon. Were you surrounded by music at home?
I was born into music. In Cameroon, I grew up surrounded by a wide array of music, from Dolly Parton to Miriam Makeba. I’m grateful for my international heritage and upbringing because it opened my ears to different sounds. That’s the sad thing about American music today, especially on the radio – it’s so one-dimensional. No one is taking risks, or at least those who are are not celebrated or promoted. I’m sure you’ve heard the chant, “mamase mamasa ma makossa.” That came from Cameroon saxophonist Manu Dibango. I find it fascinating how many times that song has been re-sampled in Western music culture.
You’ve previously worked as an actress, model and now as a musician. Why the changes? When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve always been a singer-songwriter at heart. As an artist, you use various mediums to express yourself and create art. When I’m on stage, I feel at home. I remember being a toddler and dancing in front of at least 30 friends and family. I love and live for the stage.
You’ve named artists like Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill and Nina Simone as influences before. What artists are inspiring you at the moment?
I was exposed to many, many, many great artists and musicians while on the road with Prince & The NPG. Too many to name but I will say that Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone’s use of melodies and words to convey a message have enhanced the way I write. There is a lot to be learned from those that have paved the way for artists today in a myriad of ways.
In 2010 you joined the New Power Generation as a backing vocalist and guitarist for Prince. How did you land that gig and what was that experience like?
It all happened relatively fast, but I credit the Africa Channel for placing me in the right place at the right time. They introduced me to Prince and after we jammed a couple times, the journey began and it continues. I’m very blessed to call Prince a friend and mentor.
What has been the biggest thing you have learned from working with Prince?
I am a beast in ping-pong! (laughs)
Prince and Maceo Parker are two of the primary collaborators on the new album. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s been such an honor to work with exceptional musicians. Through being a part of the New Power Generation, I had to the chance to meet and share the stage with Maceo Parker. Prince and Maceo have both taught me so much when it comes to phrasing and the “space in between”…. We were in the studio recording “People Pleaser” with Maceo and Trombone Shorty, who is also featured on this record, and watching them go back and forth doing these incredible melodic riffs was… historical. There are no other words to describe it. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
There have been so many changes in the music industry over the last decade. Every year a new model for releasing music seems to be born. As an independent artist, how do you feel about this?
It’s refreshing being independent, and it leaves room to think of new ways to release and market music. Gone are the days where we were confined to the ways of old mechanisms and routine. This is a great time for musicians and artists. We have an opportunity to be innovative and fearless. Think of all that we could do if we, as a collective, came together and changed the way music was made, recorded and shared. What kind of musical world do you want to live in? Go and create it! Better yet, let’s do it together.
How are you going to approach the promotion of this album?
I could tell ya, but you’ll have to wait and see. One word: revolutionary.
Finally, in your opinion, what constitutes musical art?
Musically speaking… Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think musical art is in the ear of the listener. The wonderful thing about music is that no matter what genre or style, there’s someone out there who relates to it. Music, I can say without a doubt, is universal. There is always that one song that instantly takes you out of body, makes you cry, smile, laugh, or dance. That cannot be said about anything else… Well…maybe except food!
For more Andy Allo, check out these links: