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From mix tapes to late-night requests on the radio, we've all put our trust in song to say what we can't when face-to-face with those we fancy. It can be a wry messenger that teases or sweetly serenades.
But what is it about the song that enables us to express our love, heartache and sometimes downright debauched desires so succinctly? Three of Richmond's finest chanteuses suggest that a few key elements of song can easily ignite a spark and offer a little advice of their own on how to polish off your mojo.
"A song can be like an anonymous sender of flowers," soulstress Buttafly Vazquez says. "Because of shyness and the lack of poetic vocabulary, sometimes it's easier to let someone else do the work or at least segue into it."
That same comfort of anonymity also allows artists to express themselves honestly, even in front of a large crowd. "Large audiences don't have an intimate knowledge of you, so laying yourself out there bare is a little easier" says Laura Ann Boyd, singer for Brazilian bossa nova group Quatro na Bossa.
Whether it's the buttery vocals of a torch singer melting over sexy bass grooves or the pops in vinyl that resonate in a dimly lighted room, these things create a mood that embraces sex and sensuality. The sound of the song is its own language that transcends language and cultural boundaries.
Jazz singer Carol Covell says that as a human family, we all tie into song. "There are no language barriers when it comes to love," she says. "The roles of sex, love and sensuality are also played by the musical instrumentation used in a song. There's nothing sexier on a tune than a sax."
Boyd performs a majority of her songs in Portuguese. "While people are immediately drawn to the sensual Brazilian culture that the songs come from," she says, "it's something that the music contains in a more complex and compelling way."
The music itself is evocative regardless of the language. When she sings jazz standards in Brazil, she says the audiences there are equally engaged with the English songs.
Vazquez acknowledges that onstage the sound even engages her. "A lot of the way my music moves is very sensual," she says, "and I think people feel that when they see me [perform] live."
So with the mood set and words in place, what exactly is going on in the minds of musical mistresses when they're serenading their audiences? For some, it's memory; for others, it's straight-up sex.
Vazquez confesses to the latter: "I'm a very sexual person. If it's not a direct obvious sexual thought, it's a definite subconscious thing. Sex is empowering. Not the obvious term, but just the confident sexual energy and knowing you're sexy. It helps me onstage anyway."
For Boyd, the experience onstage is evocative. "I have to close my eyes when I sing it, because I think I am fueled by a sense of real vulnerability, which has a sexual component, I suppose," she says. "Sometimes I do imagine scenarios or draw from memories to conjure certain emotions. I try to concentrate on the song and let it speak for itself."
Above all else, the ladies agree that the experience has to be honest and raw. "You have to 'wear the song' to be able to sing about it," Covell says. "The audience can tell a phony."
Buttafly Vazquez Method of wooing:
Smoldering, original soul.When lyrics attack:
"I want some sugar in my bowl" by Nina Simone.And from the audience, woo pitched back:
"'I like your ass.' At least the guy was honest. He just had a little too much liquid courage to use discretion."When songstresses attack:
"First, we need soft lighting. A great perfume always does the trick nothing too spicy or overwhelming. Soft and fresh. Then, put on some great Brazilian tunes, Nina Simone or Elise Regina. Feed 'em a couple cocktails and make them comfortable. Can I say that or is that bad?"Sealing the deal:
"Someone has definitely won me over with music. After a show I was invited to this person's house who loved Gypsy and Brazilian music. At that point, I hadn't been familiar with the intoxicating sounds. After they saw I was enjoying myself, they politely asked for a kiss and I gladly obliged."Alter ego:
Amy Winehouse.For your at-home woo kit:
"Love Deluxe" by Sade.
Carol CovellMethod of wooing:
High-class jazz. When lyrics attack:
"'I'd like to feel your warm Brazil and touch your Panama/But your Tierra Del Fuegos are nearly always froze/We've got to seesaw until we unthaw those Popsicle Toes,' from 'Popsicle Toes' by Michael Franks. It is from one lover to another on their birthday."Sealing the deal:
"Before I was married to my husband, he was going away on a trip. Lou Rawls sang a song, 'You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.' I bought the 45 yes, a 45 and put it in his suitcase with a note to play it immediately when he got home to make him think about me."Alter ego:
Diana Ross.For your at-home woo kit:
Carmen McRae's "Old Devil Moon."
Laura Ann Boyd
Singer for Quatro na BossaMethod of wooing:
Jazz and sensual Brazilian sounds.When lyrics attack:
"If driving fast cars you like/If low bars you like/If old hymns you like/If bare limbs you like/If Mae West you like/Or me undressed you like/ Why, nobody will oppose." from "Anything Goes" by Cole PorterApparently it still works:
Put on some Nat Cole.When audiences attract:
"A white-collar business type actually made kissy noises at me once during a song. I said 'Ew' into the microphone."Sealing the deal:
"I made my husband a mix and gave it to him on our first date. I think ending it with R. Kelly's remix to 'Ignition' was what initially drew him to me."Alter egos:
Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, Nina Simone.For your at-home woo kit:
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.Back to the cover story.