Q&A with British/West-Indian singer-songwriter Dionne Bennett, unique and diverse vocal style that covers all Afro-culture influenced genres

"Black music and the civil rights movement go hand in hand, as Nina Simone says „the artist’s duty is to reflect the times”.  The music and art created by the black diaspora has shone a light in so many ways on inequality, the injustice of black people and the effect that racism has on its people and culture. It has shown what should not be, and what could be."

Dionne Bennett: The Spirit & Soul of Funk

Dionne Bennett is a British/West-Indian singer-songwriter, producer, and radio personality. She started singing and performing live at age 14 and released her first soul single by the time she was 15. She is now internationally known for her unique and diverse vocal style that covers all Afro-culture influenced genres from blues, jazz to rhythm & blues, soul, reggae, drum bass funk, rock & roll, and beyond. During her career she has performed throughout Europe, and has shared the stage with music legends such as Dr. John. She has also opened up for Maceo Parker and the British super group Oasis as one of the members of the ’The Peth’ fronted by Welsh actor, producer, and singer Rhys Ifans. Dionne has had a varied career path within the arts, as was part of a Cbeebies educational program called the Bobinogs. Dionne played the part of ‘Bobin’ who played the piano and sang, and the programme used music and song to educate and inform pre-schoolers alongside positive messages and problem solving.

(Photo: Dionne Bennett)

Dionne has recently started working for a sync music company ’Sonic Culture’ based in the USA and regularly writes toplines for Tv programmes and adverts. She is a vocal and performance university lecturer, who coaches the next generation of up and coming singers on the music scene and at degree level. She hosts and produces her very own music show ‘The Suga Shack’ for local radio station, Radio Cardiff, UK . Dionne also chairs the Diversity Advisory Group ant the Royal College of Music Drama, helping to ensure that incision of black music and black artists within the curriculum and the college itself. Dionne has pursued her dreams even after suffering an acute asthma attack where she was put into a coma and lost the ability to speak and sing due to a tracheotomy procedure, as well taking time out of the scene to raise her son. Dionne released her debut full length album ’Sugar Hip Ya Ya’ (2021) with 8 brand new originals and 2 covers. Featuring USA Blues Music Award nominee Little G Weevil on the title track, and a smoking 10 piece band all way through.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Afro-American music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music of Black origin has inspired me throughout my life.  The many genres of African-American music has helped me develop my own style as an artist, given me knowledge and understanding through music, and has shaped my identity. Through performing and collaboration I have had the chance to travel and meet many other performers, and this has enabled me to meet and discuss life experiences, and exchange ideas and thoughts. Black artists have taught me so much more about my culture that school ever did, and the music has left an indelible mark on my soul, and I continue to explore and create.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I would describe my sound as powerful. Even though I have done many genres of music, my approach has always been rooted in soul music, and my vocals are full of the spirit of female funk singers of the past, like Vicki Anderson, Lyn Collins, Mavis Staples, Betty Davis. Artists like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Betty Wright, I could go on and on!  These women and many more have inspired, and influenced my style greatly, and have also fueled my passion to create and keep on creating and performing Black music.

"Women have always and will continue to be a driving force within the music industry. Our creativity and passion has always been integral, but the respect and safeguarding of women in the industry needs to be at the forefront of the scene. Women should have equal pay, there should be 50/50 lineup when booking festivals and events, and the music industry needs to do better in protecting women from predatory behaviour, show respect to their artistry and to their bodies. Things are slowly changing, and have been highlighted and debated openly recently, but there’s still a long way to go." (Photo: Dionne Bennett)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Looking back, meeting and performing with Dr. John was one of the highlights of my career. His magnificent talent and understanding of the music business was eye- opening, and he made me feel so comfortable and respected. His advice to me was to leave all the bullshit behind, and concentrate on doing the music that moves your soul. To be true. That’s when the good stuff happens, that’s where the real music is created.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

It hard to say, as I believe music the music scene has to change with each generation, so things can develop and stay creative. Great music is still being made, and there are more avenues to find new music, but I do believe streaming platforms should pay artists fairly. I do miss seeing lots of different funk bands playing out on a weekend!!!

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Women have always and will continue to be a driving force within the music industry. Our creativity and passion has always been integral, but the respect and safeguarding of women in the industry needs to be at the forefront of the scene. Women should have equal pay, there should be 50/50 lineup when booking festivals and events, and the music industry needs to do better in protecting women from predatory behaviour, show respect to their artistry and to their bodies. Things are slowly changing, and have been highlighted and debated openly recently, but there’s still a long way to go.

"It hard to say, as I believe music the music scene has to change with each generation, so things can develop and stay creative. Great music is still being made, and there are more avenues to find new music, but I do believe streaming platforms should pay artists fairly. I do miss seeing lots of different funk bands playing out on a weekend!!!" (Photo: Dionne Bennett & Little G Weevil)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Being the opening act for Maceo Parker was an absolute dream! After growing up listening to his music and then getting to open up for him and his fantastic band in Poland, was out of this world. He was such a cool cat, and a humble person, I was in awe all night!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

The most important thing is to surround yourself with artists who inspire and push you to do better.  The experiences, and knowledge you gain is priceless.

What is the impact of music on the civil/human rights, spiritual and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Black music and the civil rights movement go hand in hand, as Nina Simone says „the artist’s duty is to reflect the times”.  The music and art created by the black diaspora has shone a light in so many ways on inequality, the injustice of black people and the effect that racism has on its people and culture. It has shown what should not be, and what could be. 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

That’s a hard question to answer, but keeping it musical, I guess I’d like to be transported back in time and be in the studio while Aretha Franklin recorded I ’Never Loved A Man’ album. I would be in my element, listening to her sing and record that track and as well as ’Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, and ’Dr. Feelgood’! Damn, I just be happy to sit and hang out all day with the Queen.

Dionne Bennett - Home

(Photo: Dionne Bennett)

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