Karma Stewart pauses for us to catch up

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If you’re familiar with Karma Stewart, you probably agree that her voice is out of the ordinary. Her robust lower register is gritty and penetrating. Her voice does not imitate, but undeniably contains residue of the styles of music greats like Phyllis Hyman, Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan. Once heard, it is difficult to forget.

For Karma, discovering this gift was one of the most petrifying moments of her life. She explains, “The choir director was like, ‘who wants to sing a solo,’ and we were all there looking petrified and he was like ‘Hey you, what’s your name?’ We had to learn the song in less than an hour and I sang it and I just remember in the midst of the whole ceremony, as soon as I started singing, my mom jumped up and was like, ‘My baby can sing!’ “

At 17, the Texas native (who had been raised for years in Frankfurt, Germany) moved to Los Angeles. She was scouted by an Arista producer/family friend and joined an all girl singing group. When that didn’t work out, she moved back to Texas and did a balsy thing: planned a move to New York City. “I lied to my mom … I was like, ‘mom so, Jay-Z’s having a competition for singers and do you have any money to spare so I can fly to NY?’ I ended up getting X amount of dollars from family and friends and went out there”.

Karma (frontal-profile)The balsiness continued when she arrived. “I talked my way into a private party that Regis Philbin was hosting. I talked to the band and asked them if I could sing, but they told me no. The band ended up taking a break and I sat down with the piano player. I asked him if he knew “All Of Me” in the key of A. I ended up singing and Regis was in the crowd and talked about me on his show. Well shit, after that, I felt like I could do anything.”

Karma then decided to give Los Angeles another shot. It wasn’t the easiest decision, considering that she was accepted at Bethune Cookman College, but moving to Los Angeles and attending Hollywood’s Musicians Institute did prove to propel her career. Within six months of arriving, she booked her first professional gig.

A year later, she was touring Europe with lauded Detroit–based outfit PPP and acquiring much buzz from respected newspapers, music blogs and aficionados like Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and London-based music authority Giles Peterson. After 2008’s The Karma EP and an amazing run with PPP, we didn’t hear much else from her until the 2013 single “How We B” from film, The Brass Teapot, surfaced on the internet. Over Skype video chat, the comedic chanteuse (now back in Texas) opens up about her forth coming solo project, her pending permanent move to Los Angeles and what the heck she’s been up to since bowing out of the scene.

On How She Connected With PPP: “Funny story. I was dating, at the time, this huge music lover and he knew Coultrain,. He let Coultrain hear some of my music. At the time, I was just singing jazz and r&b covers. He gave Coultrain my CD and then years later, Jeff’s telling me that Coultrain wants me to send him a video because he had just gotten recruited by Wajeed to work with PPP and I think Tiombe had just gotten signed with Elektra, and had to leave. They were looking for somebody fresh and kind of spicy. They liked my audition tape, it was a show I did at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. They flew me to NY to meet and greet and audition me, and that was all she wrote.”

On Preparing Her Upcoming Solo Project: “I’m doing a majority of the songwriting. I am working with Saadiq from PPP. Saadiq is my main guy right now. I also have three other friends in LA who are musicians and they actually play with major artists right now. Manny, he used to play drums for Travie McCoy but now he’s signed to Atlantic records with a group by the name of Ghostown. Benny used to play drums for Kerri Hilson, I’m working with him. Also working with my friend Ron who plays keys for Snoop Lion,etc. My friend Joel, he plays guitar for Aloe Blacc. I’m really excited. It’s gonna be one of those things like , you know, I’m just gonna write. So we’ll see what comes out and in which direction they’d like to take it.”

On Artists She’d Like To Work With: “I would love to collaborate with Questlove. I met him at one of his underground events in New York and I think he’s very talented. I would love to work with him. I would love to work with Rafael Saadiq, I think that would be just golden. Gosh, there are so many people that I would love to work with. I’d love to do a song with Cee-Lo. That would be so much fun.”

Other Things You Didn’t Know About Karma: “When I was in LA before I got with PPP, I was doing theatre. I played Dionne Warwick and one of The Shirelles in the play Baby It’s You. I played Mimi in RENT when I got back to Texas at Zachary Scott Theatre. Cirque Du Soleil reached out to me to record for a couple of shows. It was something that I came across when I moved back to Texas from LA. This was a couple of years ago. I did an audition that lasted for like, an hour. Umm, they had me learn one song, but I like to be five steps ahead of the game. especially being a woman. I did my research. I was up for hours on-line going over all of their shows, learning all of their songs. Then they sent me like an audition tape with 5 of their songs and told me to learn one, but I learned all five. When I went in for the audition they loved what I did. They asked me to come back in an hour after learning another song, but I knew all of the songs already so I auditioned again on the spot. So ever since then, the casting director has contacted me, at least twice a year, about their shows. They keep me in their back pocket.” Karma also appears as “Bex” in the IAWTV award-winning web-series “Destroy The Alpha Gammas.”

On What She Listens To: “Right now, Beyonce`. Beyonce` is one of those women who you love to hate but she’s just undeniable. She is talented and she works hard. She is the black Madonna. “Partition” and “Drunk in Love” are my favorite songs. I listen to Sly & The Family Stone everyday. I love Raheem DeVaughn. Last night I was jamming to Frankie Beverly & Maze. I’m really old school, don’t judge me. I listen to Miguel. I was jamming to Bobby Womack’s “If You Think You’re Lonely Now”. I was singing my ass off in my kitchen.”

On Her Awesome Hair: “I have a stylist in Cali. Her name is Cynthia. When I moved to LA , my hair used to be in a mohawk and was a dark color. I found Cynthia just by chance. It was kind of a match made in heaven. When I got the PPP opportunity, I was like ok, so I need something really rad cause I’m about to go on tour and I need something that’s gonna set me apart. So she was like ‘We’re gonna dye it red and we’re gonna leave the Mohawk in the back, just wait’. And out came this result. I’ve been rocking it ever since. No, I did not steal this from Rihanna. my hair was like this when she was still singing “Pon De Replay”, I love Rihanna, but no, I had this style first.

Karma (frontal)“I was in San Diego visiting and these dudes rushed me and were like, ‘That’s Keyshia Cole!’ I had to tell them that I was not Keyshia Cole! My stylist here in Texas is Rodney. He keeps up my style. I’m thinking of transitioning so I’m not sure where I’ll go with this. That’s the next thing I’ve been thinking about is how I’ve been rocking this style for a while, I think it’s time for me to try something new, so, we’ll see what’s in store.”

On A PPP Reunion: “Any show I’ve ever done, a lot of people associate me with PPP. I love PPP, they were so good to me, I just need to start doing my own thing now. It has everything to do with me just trying to establish my own sound, yet still, in all actuality PPP is my sound. This is just one of those cases where the little girl has to find her way. I would definitely do another PPP project. I’d totally be down to do a reunion if it ever came down to it.”

On Her Fans: “They’ve been so loyal. I’ve been out of the scene, doing a lot of writing projects and collaborations s and behind the scenes type of stuff, and little bitty features here and there and they just haven’t forgotten me. You have no idea how much that means to me. They have never forgotten about me and that is what makes me feel like, ‘ok, time to go back to LA and get back out there and start performing more and doing more of my own content.” They are the ones who have kept me going honestly. I am so grateful for each and every one of them. I cannot wait to get back to LA. I owe them.”

On Life: “Live life to the fullest and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself a little bit. That’s what life is all about. I have worked hard in my life, nothing has ever just been handed to me. I’m a firm believer in karma. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. The people that you meet in life, God brings them into your life for a reason. Whether it’s to teach you something or open up a door. Everyone serves a purpose. ”

(All photos provided by Karma Stewart)