The British soul singer talks to The National about her new show, which pays tribute to the great US jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald
Mica Paris is strong and proud ahead of Dubai performance
There is your favourite singer and then there is your favourite singer’s preferred artist.
British soul music singer Mica Paris sits in the latter. She may not have had the steady stream of hits as some of her superstar colleagues, but her musical sensibility and industry respect was noted by the likes of Prince and Whitney Houston, in addition to inspiring the likes of Amy Winehouse.
This time around, Paris is paying tribute to one of her own biggest influences.
With her latest show, Mica Sings Ella, which comes to Dubai Opera tomorrow, the 48-year-old will perform some of the late jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald’s revered tracks such as Dream a Little Dream of Me and Every Time We Say Goodbye. The gig marks the end of what has been a widely successful tour across the UK during which Paris sold out show after show, in addition to playing in hallowed venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall.
She is now ready to document that experience by entering the studio with an 80-piece orchestra to record the crowd favourites.
“We are doing things old school, honey,” she says.
“In the old days, you would tour the music first and then record, which is always the best because you know what songs work for the audience. Now, it’s the other way around and the artists figure it all out there in the studio. So I am pretty confident going in to record, it’s going to be great.”
In a way, the upcoming album is an apt conclusion to Paris’s remarkable journey with Fitzgerald, which began more than year ago in celebration of what would have been the American’s 100th birthday.
“I felt like doing something to introduce her to this generation,” she says. “So I decided to do a couple of songs with the orchestra and we just dropped it on iTunes and everyone just went mental and we ended up touring ever since.”
With their birthdays only two days apart, Paris always sensed an affinity with Fitzgerald in that both were strong women who maintained a steady career.
Ironically, it was Fitzgerald’s stoic nature that meant that she was largely overshadowed by colleague Billie Holiday, whose career was tragically mired in substance addiction.
Paris says the same principle applies to today’s music industry in that drama always sells.
“If you have a drug story or craziness going on, then everyone is all over you,” she says.
“That’s why I love Ella. Our careers are similar in that I never had that drug story, where a lot of my friends, like Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse, did and which had them more in the press.
“I always just kept going. I have been doing this for 30 years and I still love it. I feel a synergy with Ella in that I never felt this need to destroy myself.”
That said, Paris is under no illusion regarding the trials and tribulations that a music career can present.
“Listen, I will keep it real with you. All artists are tortured and that’s not made up, it’s real,” she says. “There is a rape-and-pillage mentality in the industry. People always come along and try to rip you off. “I remember opening up a show for [late soul singer] Barry White back in the day and he was talking about a conversation he had with Michael Jackson and how he felt that everyone was coming at him to rip him off.
“That has always been going on, so it’s a matter of how you deal with it.” And that message is particularly potent when it comes to a female artist. While satisfied that abusive behaviour is being called out in the midst of the #Me Too movement that is sweeping the entertainment industry, Paris is also calling on fellow female artists to work smarter. “It is a male-dominated world when it comes to this business. That’s sadly the standard,” she says.
“So you are going to have to learn to navigate a way through that. Now yes, I have seen a load of that bad stuff happening, and to a lot of my friends, but what I am saying is that you can also guard yourself, too. People don’t use their intellect sometimes – like I am not going to have an evening meeting with you if it’s in your hotel room, you know what I mean?
“Besides, I am a strong black woman and five foot 10, may I add, so I think people are afraid of me anyway.”
Paris’s strong message to women in the entertainment industry will be the subject of her second book – her debut being the 2007 self-help book Beautiful Within: Finding Happiness and Confidence In Your Own Skin.
Paris says the yet-to-be-titled follow-up, which will be released later in the year, is a more intimate and tense study of women affected by the music industry.
“It is about why a lot of tortured singers are women. I am talking about the people who were my friends and who I lost over the years, like Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston” she says.
“There are so many women who I know that are alive and gone that have been battered by the industry, and I am trying to explore why it is that we have a hard time. “The writing is going well but it is also intense.”
Mica Paris performs Mica Sings Ella on Friday at Dubai Opera, Downtown Dubai. Tickets from Dh156 at www.dubaiopera.com