Heartfelt. Inspiring. Authentic. Real. These are but only a handful of traits that describe singer/songwriter Madia and her music. Her sweet, bird-like vocals are pure – silky and smooth with undiluted grace – but she writes songs that cover the roughest and most honest of emotions. The gospel and R&B influences are there, but somehow she draws them together to make something new. “Pop has soul,” Madia describes her sound. She’s clearly not a gaudy diva, but what she lacks in excessive vanity, she makes up for in thoughtful, meticulous songcrafting. If you’ve heard her perform live, you’ve heard something real. Madia’s soul-bearing ways will leave an indelible mark on those who choose to listen.
Performing live is a great joy for the Philadelphia-born, New Jersey-bred vocalist, but her affinity for the written word always has been an undeniable passion. Starting with journal entries in the third grade, Madia would go on to exercise her imagination through poems, short stories, and then songs (but also, not to mention, class notes to cute grade school boys!). This progression was not a difficult one, since music and God played a huge role in family life. Her siblings, parents, and grandmother are all talented vocalists who sang hymns and gospel. “I started singing at age 8. My older brother, by 2 years, sang, and I thought it was like a super power,” Madia recalls. Her upbringing as a Seventh Day Adventist, a strict Protestant denomination, also molded her into a mature, positive, self-respecting woman, “We didn’t wear jewelry or paint our nails or wear makeup. We couldn’t go out on Friday night because it was the Sabbath. Those rules and my parents’ strict adherence to them made me a bit of a natural plain Jane.”
Singing as a part of various choirs and gospel performance groups, Madia learned the craft by doing and allowed the church to cultivate her budding talent. However, she owes just as much credit for her musical maturation to her father, a Liberian (West African) immigrant and avid record collector. Musical icons such as Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston (“She sang out!,” Madia exclaims), Sade, and Cece Winans provided her with a foundation, but Nina Simone also influenced her in what type of artist she wanted to be: “Nina’s talent came through. She didn’t have to ooze sexy. She spoke in a deeper register. She cursed on stage. She kind of did stuff her way. I respect that.” As she continued chasing her muses later on, contemporary artists like Jill Scott, John Mayer, and India Arie were also inspirations in developing her sound.
Once Madia began attending Rutgers University in 1998, many more musical opportunities opened up for her. Plus, she experimented with secular songwriting and performing outside the church for the first time. She tirelessly paid her dues working talent shows and the open mic circuit in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and even Arizona, where she obtained her MBA from Arizona State University in 2008. So, it was definitely a big deal when she earned the chance to open for Black Rob at Rutgers during his “Whoa!” heyday.
Armed with degrees in journalism and Africana studies, the songstress became a “gypsy” – to use her father’s words – and eventually wound up in Washington, D.C., writing for the folks at jazz and indie soul label Three Keys Music. There, she collaborated with quirky soulster and former Erykah Badu backup singer Yahzarah, penning the song, “One Day,” for Yahzarah’s Blackstar (2003) album. However, more importantly, she would meet her now longtime collaborator and producer LaSean.
When this new producer-songwriter tandem returned to Philadelphia, they began recording Madia’s first studio album, The Limit Is the Sky, released under the independent Minx Records in 2003. The gospel-influenced chanteuse embraced her spirited pop side on her debut, wrapping her silky vocals in bouncy beats and feel-good melodies. But even here, there is evidence of her soul-bearing tendencies on “Liberia on My Mind,” where she reflects on the aftermath of the country’s bloody civil wars that claimed over 200,000 lives, “My family experienced real heartbreak with the war in Liberia. A war that lasts that long causes so much pain. I wanted to tell people about it. My grandmother never got to see her home again. She felt so uprooted and I think it broke her heart.” In the winter of 2004, a digital distribution deal gave her broader exposure with music placements on iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, and others. Moreover, The Limit is the Sky has had thousands of downloads worldwide, and not to mention, over 100,000 on Download.com (before CNET revamped the site).
Released in 2005, Madia’s sophomore release, On My Way, was recorded in Phoenix, AZ, another place where her “gypsy” travels landed her. She and LaSean cooked up a little more of the grit of contemporary soul here, but they never strayed from utilizing pop, simple tunes, and inspirational themes. On the closing title track, she reminisces about her Aunt making her start songs from the beginning when she got too nervous or messed up a line, “It definitely made me a stronger singer, and it was a safe place to experiment with my voice.” Love is, of course, a common thread for On My Way, but it’s revealed in several forms, whether it’s about being homesick (“Missing Home”), always having wanted to be like her father (“Just Like You”), or being fed up with an unequal relationship (“No More”). Madia firmly states, “I really feel things. I roll around in how I feel about something. I think it’s therapeutic, because then I can move on.”
Released Valentine’s Day 2012, Madia’s third and latest album, Go Get It, is available now! Her journey to find her voice and improve her songwriting craft is most realized on this latest work. The first single, “Fight for Me,” has made its rounds on internet blogs and playlists. A mixture of soothing soul and grooving, dance floor pop, it shows Madia’s ability to convey her heartfelt message and still reach a broader audience. She chronicles her growth and maturity as an independent woman in Washington, D.C. (“City Girl” and “U Street”) and then “rolls around” in poignant emotions on many other songs (“Forgive & Forget” and “Call Me Crazy” to name a few). There’s something here for everyone. And if you give her the chance, her music will let you feel. Madia chimes in, “I like being genuine… real to the touch.”