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Ashanti the brave

Grammy-winning diva Ashanti may have slipped off the radar for a while but after a stint on Broadway and television she is back doing what she does best. The R&B songstress has returned with a new album, Braveheart, which delves into her struggles during her time away.

Her on-again-off-again relationship with rapper Nelly is cited as the inspiration behind what seems to be a break-up record, as well as her split from her previous record label Murder Inc.

Ashanti has kept a relatively low profile since the release of her fourth album six years ago as she has started her own independent record label — Written Entertainment — which she set up as she was not satisfied with industry proposals.

“After my last album The Declaration came out in 2008 I got seven offers from major labels and I turned all of them down and it was a really hard thing [to do], because they all offered 360s — where the label takes a large percentage for the rest of your life — and I couldn’t swallow that,” she explained.

“So I said: ‘You know what? I’m going to create my own record label’ — Written Entertainment — and it took a while to record, it took a while to get things together; but we did it, we’re here and I own my masters, and it’s a lot of responsibility but it’s worth it.”

The 33-year-old admitted it was not plain sailing and that it was a learning process throughout, despite the double pressure of being both the artist and CEO.

“It’s really hard because there are so many decisions; it’s not just me — I have a whole staff of people that I employ that I have to worry about who have kids, so it’s tough,” she said.

“I have to almost split myself in half. Although I’d love to be in the studio creating; at the end of the day I have to sign that invoice. And not having that engine behind you creates a lot more work but I have a lot of friends and peers that are with majors and they have to work the same amount, so it kind of balances out, when you think about it.”

Ashanti feels artists are beginning to take the independent route as record labels are no longer vital to an artist’s success.

“It’s helpful when they have that engine to distribute on a global level but, at the end of the day, it still comes out as the same amount of work for the artist so I think that’s why a lot of artists are diving into the indie pool and I feel like that in the next five years record labels are going to be gone because they’re not going to be a necessity.”

The title of her new release, Braveheart, is an ode to the Mel Gibson film of the same name. Her big career move forced her to be brave, she says.

“I think the title Braveheart is extremely strong. I feel like you have to be brave and have heart in everything you do in life and I did take a concept from the movie with Mel Gibson, which is one of my favourite movies,” she said.

“In the movie you had the Brits and the Scots and the Brits had horses and armour and weapons and thousands of soldiers while the Scots had rags, they were barefoot, no horses, homemade weapons but they came for blood. You couldn’t deny that hunger, that passion, that energy. And I feel like that’s a metaphor for the majors and the indies [independent labels]. With me coming from a major to an indie, I have that same passion and hunger to win.”

Ashanti’s passion is evident throughout the album, not least in Scars — a track she confirmed to be about her break-up with rapper Nelly.

“Scars is one of the deepest records, probably one of the deepest records that I’ve ever written.

“It came from a real situation, I think people have seen me go through things publicly both in my personal life and my career and I think Braveheart was a platform to be very honest about everything. And when I wrote Scars that’s what I felt at that moment.

“I’m a very real person and I think that’s what allows people to bond with me because I write about real life situations and real experiences.”

Fans of Ashanti’s record-breaking first album, Ashanti, will be pleased to know that she made the conscious decision to maintain her trademark sound in the new album.

“I stuck to my roots but I still brought some stuff that’s a little bit different. I feel I have to stay true to my roots, but you also have to bring a little more to keep people intrigued and to keep people interested,” she said.

Ashanti also revealed that a reunion with her former label mate Ja Rule, who she enjoyed great success with on hits such as Always On Time and Mesmerize, is still on the cards.

“We’ve been talking about it but right now our schedules are kind of crazy. I’m promoting Braveheart, he’s out [of prison] so he’s hitting everything. Once we get into the studio, there’s no denying it, we’re coming out with a smash because our chemistry is undeniable. We just have to get our schedules together and make it work.”

Don’t miss it

Estelle is the next act at Chocolate Nights at supperclub, which take place every Friday (Craig David has cancelled his April 11 show). The Londoner is working on her fourth album — so expect new material. Call 04-4511100; VIP reservations on 055-2831311.