Natalie Cole in Abu Dhabi

Natalie Cole talks to Time Out about musical heritage and the Abu Dhabi Festival Discuss this article

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We are indeed blessed, here in the capital, as singing sensation Natalie Cole will be appearing live in concert for the very first time in the UAE as part of the forthcoming Abu Dhabi Festival. So, singing refrains from Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable, we pounced upon the opportunity to speak to her in person.

You grew up in a very musically rich environment, can you tell us how that shaped you as a person and as a musician?
Well my upbringing was very musical of course, with my dad being in the business, but also my mother was a singer too. My siblings and I were pretty educated when it came to different kinds of music styles and we were all big fans of my dad of course. Because of that we got to meet a lot of people at his level, like Sammy Davis Junior and Frank Sinatra and Ella, all the greats. That was a great experience for me as I was growing up. I would say they were my first musical influences.

In 20 years from now those legends, and even newer greats like Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan, will still be famous names. As someone who’s known some of them very closely, how do you feel about the musicians we’ve got today? Do you think they have the same staying power?
Ummm... a few do. [Laughs] First of all it’s a whole different world. And I find that Americans in particular are very fickle when it comes to being fans of artists. They don’t stay with an artist. As soon as something new comes along they jump to that, you know? I don’t find the general American population very consistent. And I think that the quality of some of our singers is so-so. I think that if you’ve never seen ten you’ll take a four, and I’m seein’ a lot of fours and fives, these days. I’m not seeing anything so spectacular that it’s gonna go down in history. It’s a very challenging time right now, musically, for a singer.

Also, most of the music is pretty much mass produced now isn’t it?
Right. Very much so. And everyone’s trying to be like everybody else. I think one of the few artists that have come out in the past couple of years is Adele – she seems to have her own style, you know? She seems to wanna be in it for all the right reasons. I think if she keeps her head down and focuses on her passion, then she might just be the forerunner of these singers and artists.

Definitely, she has a really powerful voice. And how about your passion? How has it been having a musical career under the shadow of a legend like Nat King Cole?
It was very interesting, because I really did not want to be a singer when I was growing up, I wanted to be a doctor.

Really? It’s usually the other way around with most kids!
Yeah. [Chuckles] I went to university for that and you know how they say when things happen, it’s meant to happen. There was a friend of mine who was a wonderful singer in college, got sick one day and asked me, ‘Well, can’t you sing?’ [Laughs] And I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I can sing a little bit.’ And he said, ‘Well I need you to rehearse my band.’ And he had an issue with his throat so he couldn’t do it, so I did it. And we rehearsed in a room inside of a building on campus where I went to school, which was the University of Massachusetts. And people started coming up, stopping in, sitting down, listening, and the next thing we knew the room was packed! And I’m like, ‘Oh my friend is gonna be so upset with me!’ And that’s really how it started, you know. It was just so funny because I remember when I applied for a summer job off campus, as a waitress at this real hottie type club. And the guy there said to me, ‘Well, don’t you sing?’ And I said, ‘Yeah a little.’ And he said, ‘Well we’re gonna hire you as a singer.’

Ok, so the universe was trying to tell you something.
Exactly! [Laughs] The universe has been trying to tell me!

Your posthumous duet of Unforgettable with your father has been unforgettable. How did you feel when you first recorded it?
We didn’t know what kind of impact the song would have. But not just the song itself, but the technique that we used in order to incorporate dad’s voice was something very new and different. It kinda freaked everybody out at first but then people started copying the style. Next thing I know, they put out the Frank Sinatra duet record and used tracks of his even after he passed. So it became a style to use. But I think that the sentimental value of Unforgettable is really what gave it its strength. Because it was a beautiful tribute from a daughter to her parent. It started off as being something that women particularly liked. If you were a daddy’s girl it was perfect. And then it became even more global and people started using that song for different things and the guys started getting into it as well. It just started a whole movement, which I’m very proud of.

Has Natalie Cole got any new projects on the horizon?
Well we’re working on an international project. I’m getting ready to go into the studio with Omara Portuondo, who is very popular in Havana. She’s 80 years old and she’s still so full of energy and her voice is very warm very rich. She’s like the Cuban Cilia Cruse. I met her last summer here in Los Angeles and she asked me to sing a song with her. So I’m gonna do that and I’m hoping to put together a Latin project of my own within the year.

Ooh, this is something we’re looking forward to.
It definitely is! You know I’ve done the R’n’B, I’ve done the jazz and I thought that it’d be nice to move forward in a more international way. So I’m starting off by singing with this wonderful lady.
Natalie Cole will be performing on April 4 from 8pm at the Emirates Palace Auditorium. Tickets are from Dhs295 to Dhs495 and are available from (02 690 9000).

By Elest Ali
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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