Woman of substance

In today's world of music where divas are created overnight and forgotten even sooner, Mary J Blige has carved her niche as an artiste with ample talent and consistent maturity. But more importantly, she is a woman of substance.

By Gousia Ahmad (Contributor)

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Published: Tue 6 Jun 2006, 3:24 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:42 PM

A contradiction to her counterparts and female competitors, who are engrossed with "the bling", Mary J's commitment to her art outshines her stardom.

All set to emotionally elevate the audience of Dubai, Mary J Blige takes pride in emphasising that she is a singer and the purpose of the concert is to hear her perform live; so there will be no lip-synching.

The foundation for the evening will be hip-hop music and R'N'B with a lot of soul; it's a combination of songs from all her albums starting from What's the 411 in 1992 to her latest release Break Through.

With a head that remains firmly on her shoulders, Mary J Blige shares her thoughts and responses to life that were not always good. City Times caught up with the artiste who embodies the woman of today before her much awaited concert.

On what ground would you say does Mary J Blige stand today in terms of being a diva, an artist and a human being?

As a human being I have come a long way; and have learnt to love and respect myself. To some extent, I understand I am like a servant who has to give; to serve others with something that will nourish and enrich their soul. I give my 200 per cent.

The reason for me to exist is because of my fans around the world and the love they have for my music. So I always try to return their love with better music. At the same time, I also suffer and struggle with the hate in this world. Many people try to bring us down but I have learnt that you have to do what you have to do — we cannot make everyone happy. The music industry is a business that teaches you to love, respect and be patient in order to survive.

How far has the girl from Bronx, New York travelled in pursuit of her dream?

Well, I definitely look and feel great and have reached a place emotionally where I am comfortable accepting that I have more to do. Where I came from in Bronx to where I am today — it's a long road — and I am living testimony of what one can be if one realise ones dreams. But I have also matured along the way — it's not only about the next goal or the next destination — the journey is as important.

As a child were you aware that you were special and gifted?

When I was seven, I realised my ability to sing and that I enjoy music and took solace in singing. That's all I knew as a child.

You have come a long way both professionally and in your personal life. Over the years, how has the meaning of friendship changed for you?

In my experience the meaning of friendship has changed in a big way. When you are successful you can be of use to a lot of people, so it is beneficial to be friends. I don't try to judge people but I understand that people come in your life with a purpose and a plan and it eventually shows through. I have only three friends and that includes my husband, who is one of my best friends.

One has to qualify to be a friend of mine. It's not really about everyone getting on board. I believe in giving all I have in a friendship and standing by a friend, but I also expect to be accepted as I am in totality with the positives and the negatives and being loved for who I am.

Did you ever want to be anything other than a singer or a star?

Well I had thought of being a beautician (Laughs). Along with singing, I have also pursued acting and I do enjoy that medium as well — it drains my energy and helps me cleanse and let out the tension that builds up — it's a creative vent. Now I'm also pursuing something that I have always wanted to do — designing clothes for women that can make them happy and feel good about who they are.

After your father abandoned the family when you were about four years old, how challenging was it being raised by a single parent and how has that shaped who you are today? Your father was a Jazz musician, do you think your love for music comes from him?

My love for music comes from both my parents. My mother was trained in music. As a child I recall her humming and singing at home all the time. As I person, my mother was also a source of strength; there are many good things she taught me as a girl and the need to better myself comes from her.

But the difficulty during my childhood years has also shaped me. Through the insecurities I always took refuge in music. And as an adult even when my personal life suffered, I felt the pain and let it all out in my songs and many people around the world shared that experience with me and let out their pain and suffering with my music. So it has made me who I am.

However, my emotional insecurities also got me into a lot of negative things like alcohol, drugs and difficult relations with men who were abusive. But when you are abused as a child, and when you grow up seeing women being abused — you are naturally drawn to men who are abusive. So I suffered and paid the price, but it has also built me as a person and as an artist.

In 1995 you won a Grammy, but though you were at a professional peak, your personal life was in the pits with bouts of drug addiction, alcoholism and depression. How contradicting was the experience of being creative and self-destructive at the same time?

I guess the fact that my father wasn't there, was an emotional hole that sucked me in; somehow I was trying to compensate for that loss and that was eating me away. But over the years, I had always felt that I wasn't pretty and developed an inferiority complex. All of this came from a low self-esteem that I felt and picked up in my environment.

And that negativity I tried to erase with alcohol and drugs; to at least reach that instant gratification and escape for some time. And these substances are strong — they can take over your life — you don't realise you are being destructive. I did what I had to and I kept singing and at least that was channelising my pain, but when you have a low opinion of yourself you doesn't realise you are actually harming what you have and who you are.

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