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Leela James Thinks Hair Politics Are Stupid

Leela James (born June 2, 1983 in Los Angeles, California) is an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter who is almost as well known for her big beautiful hair as she is for her spectacular voice.

(Image of Leela James - Media - All Rights Reserved)

Indeed Leela's deep, rich, gritty vocals have drawn comparisons to Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Tina Turner.  She cites legendary singers James Brown, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, and Stevie Wonder as her influences.

Debut Album

James' debut album, entitled A Change Is Gonna Come, was released on June 21, 2005. The album was conceived as a throwback to an earlier era of American soul music, building upon the legacy of 1960s and 1970s soul singers while incorporating elements of contemporary R&B, funk, and gospel.

In the lyrics to the album's lead single, entitled "Music", James laments the current state of contemporary popular music.

She condemns the glorification of materialism and misogyny that has often been attributed to the lyrical content of contemporary R&B and hip hop songs while pleading for the return of the artistry, dedication, and sincerity displayed by musicians of earlier decades.

(Image of Leela James - Media - All Rights Reserved)

James co-wrote most of the tracks on her debut album, two exceptions being her covers of the pop rock band No Doubt's 1996 hit "Don't Speak" and the classic title song by Sam Cooke, for which the album is named.

Notable collaborators on the album include Raphael Saadiq of the 1990s R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné!, Kanye West, and former Fugees member Wyclef Jean.

Opening Act For Black Eye Peas

In 2004, James toured as an opening act for the Black Eyed Peas and Macy Gray. That same year, she was featured on hip hop producer, DJ, and emcee Pete Rock's album Soul Survivor II, providing vocals to the track "No Tears".

(Image of Leela James - Media - All Rights Reserved)

In 2005, she lent her voice to the posthumously released Ray Charles album Genius & Friends, duetting with the singer on the song "Compared to What". Leela also guested on Robert Randolph and the Family Band's 2006 album Colorblind, lending her vocals to "Stronger".

After parting ways with Warner Bros., James signed with the independent label Shanachie Records and released her second studio album on March 24, 2009, an all-cover set entitled Let's Do It Again (the title being a homage to the 1975 soundtrack album of the same name by The Staple Singers).

In June 2009, she appeared on Moby's new album "Wait for Me", performing the vocal on "Walk with Me".

Leela's My Soul

James' third album My Soul - her debut release for the legendary Stax label - was released on May 24 2010, and debuted on the US Hip Hop/R&B chart at Number Seven. Speaking exclusively in May 2010 to noted UK soul writer Pete Lewis - Deputy Editor of the award-winning Blues & Soul.

she stated: "With this album I wanted to make sure that I showed all sides of me - in terms of variety in the music and in my vocal range - while at the same time making it clear that every song deeply came from my soul."

She also said "plus I also wanted to incorporate a little more hip hop this time, and infuse it with my traditional R&B - because I felt that. By making my beats edgier and harder-hitting, I'd show there was more to me than just doing ballads and things of that sort."

Big All Natural Hair

Leela's big hair is as real and natural as her amazing voice. Her hair is is not chemically altered.  That means not straightened, relaxed or re-texturized.  In an interview with Leela reported she's actually "very lazy about her hair."  For the most part she lets her hair do it's own thing.

Headbands Are A Part Of Her Hair Look On Stage

I love how she often pairs an array of bandeau style headbands with her big wild hair.  Often she positions the headbands a few inches from her hairline which creates a smooth top section and allows the rest of her gorgeous signature fro to billow out over the back.  I have noticed the gorgeous singer often wears headbands when she is performing.

Press And Curl As A Child

Her fro is part of her signature.  She told "growing up, I had a press and curl situation, but my mom didn't believe in perming. But she would press my hair hard, though, right there in the kitchen, my hair just frying!"

From Natural Afro To Jamaican Dookie Braids

When she's performing Leela often wears her hair big and wild in a natural Afro.  When she's not performing she told Essence she puts it in braids.  She said she does "old school Jamaican dookie braids" and sometimes she has her hair coiffed into cornrows.

Leela knows she has amazing natural hair and may even do some locked hair to create a "dreadlocked look".  The gorgeous singer knows the importance of growing healthy hair form the inside out and takes vitamins which keeps her hair strong and healthy.

No Pressures To Straighten Her Hair Or Conform

Leela told she never felt any pressure to straighten her hair as an artist.  But she's also not against straightening hair.  Ultimately she marches to her own beat.

Leela told "I feel like whatever you want to do with your hair is fine, as long as you're not offending anyone. I wouldn't get "I hate you if you don't like soul music" shaved in my head. It's all about freedom of expression."

Hair Politics Are So Stupid

Leela told Essence she doesn't get involved in the whole natural vs. relaxed hair politics thing.  She said "hair politics are so stupid. I wish somebody would say that if I straighten my hair, I'm not as "Black" as someone with a natural. A hairstyle doesn't have anything to do with how conscious you are."

India Arie Said It Best - I'm Not My Hair

She noted "India Arie said it best with her song "I'm Not My Hair." And listen, some people wear afros and loc their hair, but they're just as Uncle Tom as they can be. Everybody knows somebody that's like, "I burn my incense, I'm so righteous, I'm so spiritual..." Give me a break!

Amen to that.  I love Leela's hair, her attitude and her smokin voice.

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