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Corinne Bailey Rae on life, culture and her new album

BY Sammy Stein

4th Sep 2023 Culture

4 min read

Corinne Bailey Rae on life, culture and her new album
In a Q&A with Reader's Digest, English singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae talks about her new album Black Rainbows, out on September 15, 2023
RD: Your early musical experience was in church. Does spiritual music still mean a lot? 
Corinne Bailey Rae: Yes. The music director at the church I attended had a radical approach. He asked us, the young people, what we wanted to talk and sing about. So we made up songs. He bought me my first electric guitar.
He would ask, "Is God the train driver, the tracks, or a passenger? How does the divine interact?’ I developed a capacious faith, and I could play music as I wanted. 
Has your idea of the music industry changed? 
When my first record came out you had to go to a store and buy it, or hope it came on the radio. Today, people watch more than listen. You can watch YouTube, or stream for free. New artists don’t make money from recording, so they might tour or get sponsorship. You become a cool artist, that brings heat, and you can then commodify.
"Today, people watch more than listen"
That affects the type of people getting a platform. Artists are now expected to be beautiful, take a great photo, have the right amount of controversy, and be active on social media, not just make songs. You could argue this is a loss to music-making. 
Can you explain how music makes you feel? 
Music takes me outside myself. It connects me to the past, the future, the eternal. It is transcendent. At the same time, it is coming through me, pushing out all the gritty things inside, so I feel most myself onstage. 
I understand visits to Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago inspired songs for Black Rainbows. What especially inspired you about those visits? 
The south side of Chicago has been a thriving middle-class white area, a middle-class black area but now has mass unemployment, poverty, and is a food desert. At the centre is this beautiful gothic bank, saved from demolition and full of historic archives and visual art, mostly by black American artists.
Corinne Bailey Rae
Sixteen thousand books live there as well as problematic objects from America’s past—racist ephemera that have been taken out of circulation. It feels like the centre of the world for things I am interested in. 
Each track on Black Rainbows feels connected and some lyrics are profound. Is there a message you want to give? 
There is a range of feelings. I found questions in intellectual writings. How do we deal with the African diasporan people? Some writers think we should turn inwards and reject everything outside blackness and protect ourselves, others think we should embrace and integrate with cultures we find ourselves in.
"The rainbow idea indicates many voices and represents the spectrum of music on the album"
It is an old argument but how do we make a safe space for black people? The rainbow idea indicates many voices and represents the spectrum of music on the album. I am telling stories using my lens. 
There is a sense of a full circle with the album opening with "A Spell, A Prayer" and closing with the majestic "Before The Throne of The Invisible God".  
Absolutely, I heard that too—like a prayer bowl. Swirling, reflection, prayer, and meditation are strong elements. In history, so much is written and known but a lot is unknown and in the minds of people.
I wanted the record to be quite cosmic and weird. There are more and more questions, fewer answers but more wonder so I wanted a sense of spectral opening up, and wonder. 
What other career could you see yourself in if you had not been a musician?  
Something creative for sure—I am drawn to expression. Perhaps not a visual artist but maybe a writer.
Corinne Bailey Rae
I studied English Literature, and the Arts Bank also allowed me to indulge my interests. All that history—where do the stories come from? How can I expand on universal subjects?
Being a wife, mother, and suffering loss, is there a pathos to your music now?  
When I was widowed at 29, it was the end of a certain kind of innocence, but grief is somehow rich and the lessons profound. I feel very grateful to have found another someone, fallen in love, married, and had children.
"Grief is somehow rich and the lessons profound"
I feel grounded, I have survived. I am lucky to travel with my mother, husband, and children and see so many incredible places.  
Would you encourage your children into music?  
I think the greatest gift is knowing your vocation, so I hope they come to discover their passion and then so many other questions are answered. 
What do you do outside music?  
I read, I love clothes and films. I go to exhibitions and like to hear other people talking about things. Holidays where you wear the same clothes every day, good food and simple things.
Black Rainbows Album Cover copy
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