Artistry: Artist Feature
Brave Soul Artist: Heidi Martin

April 19, 2008 Print version       Other articles by this author

In February 2007, I attended The Front Porch, a monthly open mic/artist showcase produced by Brave Soul co-founder Tim'm West. On this particular night, one of the featured artists was a woman who Tim'm himself had told me was someone I would wind up not only appreciating, but LOVING. By the time she finished her set which consisted of passionate, honest, raw poetry and songs about racism, prejudice, and heartbreak, it's safe to say I was breaking my neck to get my hands on a copy of her album HIDE, before I left the spot.

What I found when I actually cracked the CD open and listened to it were layers of beautiful, music, amazing lyrics, thoughts and THAT VOICE---a voice that was loaded with SOUL, JAZZ, and all the colors of the rainbow. When we decided to speak about the POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD this month on the site, Tim'm and I both agreed that no one was better suited to be this month's feature than SHE...

Heidi "hide" Martin is a DC native. A mother of two wonderful boys. A soulful vocalist, prolific composer. Four of her compositions from her album, HIDE have been featured on PBS, In the Documentary Revolution 67 (about the rebellion in Newark, NJ). She has a new album "See hear, LOVE" (which is to be released soon) and is featured vocalist on Russell Gunn's latest album, on the track "Love for Sale".

We're honored to introduce to all of the Brave Soul Family the courageous, beautiful, and immensely talented...Heidi Martin...Read On...and enjoy!

AS an Artist the experience of writing poetry and setting it to music has shaped me. To reveal is a great art, it's ongoing, it's evolution and revolution at the same time...I know who I am becuz of it!

Sharing your work with friends, many are at a loss for what to compare it to. The strength of your voice lies in it's sheer uniqueness as well as your commitment to honoring the history and legacy of change-makers and activists. Jazz, blues, folk and gospel are all influences seem to weave their way in your vocal stylings. Can you speak about some of your vocal influences?

I love women, Jazz vocalists are my faves... the plaintive wail of Abbey Lincoln is inimitable...Betty Carter, Billie...I love to hear their own compositions...I love Joni Mitchell I grew up singin' her stuff and Bonnie Raitt...vocal influences, which activists do I look to for inspiration? Congress Woman Maxine Waters...I'm in process now of a song about her. Ways and means ya know... I also love how Malcolm X was so closed he was open and vise versa...u know that line from Gloria Naylor if he was any blacker he'd be white....(though my fav of hers is "her dress was as tight as it was red" ) but its the going as far as you can with something... I mean you can sit inside a mustard seed and claim to be a mustard seed well but who are you when you've grown out of that? I mean when do you- the mustard seed plant? I think in some ways that's where we are right now in our society in black and white culture...where do we go to identify when something has bloomed? Who am I as a white female if I have let so much grow in me from the black experience in this perticular time cuz I am not referring to the black experience in any other country. I remember the first time my mind and heart keloided from the understanding that as a 5 year old, Martin Luther King Jr. was considering my future, my life, my living in America with such a passion and concern it was more than my father would ever do. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't have to and that consideration will never leave me.

Your album HIDE delved boldly into some specific issues such as the Civil Rights Movement, racism, & prejudice. What kinds of responses and feedback have you gotten from listeners and/or critics(if there really is difference between the two) about the album's subject matter?

Weeeee! I guess the strongest reactions have been that on two occasions in nYc once at Groove and once at CBGB's um white men just got up and came towards me cussin' me out. The Man at CBGB's was screaming "you are betraying us!!!?" I was like 'huh?' But on both counts brotha's came from out a nowhere and talked em down and out the building. I love to hear what people feel... I feel so much better when I get to talk with folks that have come out to hear us. That's what I love George Washington Carver said, if you love anything long enough it will tell you it's secrets...I think we all need to know each other's secrets.

A. What does it mean to challenge racism through your music? B.Can you speak to specific challenges?

Well when I wrote HIDE, it came out more from entrapment and confusion I wasn't thinking that I was going to hear it on PFW or BAI and folks would dig it. I was really making a clearing in me. I was dealing with growing up in America and being taught to fear blacks, keep your distance and withhold emotional connection to other. America is so segregated still. We are so afraid to really look at the past and present that the future is better to the same degree we can be aware of who we are. I guess in that way to share HIDE and put it out there to cause awareness or aid in someone's awareness that does some ground work or a bit of pre-surgery work...The challenge first off if we're talking race 101 is whites still feel they need to control race issues, & black folks from this deep seeded fear of safety. Once there is a conversation open on race or race related we as whites... it's in us to control it, I think this is a reflection of the violence we know occurred against blacks, this is the fear that we will be retaliated against for our cultures' acts of violence, because we know we got a way with murder. I remember a girlfriend of mine saying she doesn't need to be aware cuz she wakes up black every day. And I thought in that moment how I wake up aware everyday that the worst thing that could be done to another culture was done by mine.

The challenge is to get to the place of healing I think HIDE opens that a little, it did for me a great deal. I recited the first poem I wrote from HIDE was 'Black Gandhi'. I sat in at the National Black Theatre in Harlem in 98 and I recited it, I had never done that before and didn't know the slam scene at all...I started reciting and crying and I was drenched with sweat, heat and light. I remember feeling people as a whole and feeling like we were crying together (out loud or inside) and when I was done, this older black lady came over and said, "I needed to hear that and from you". We hugged for quite a while.

With the Democratic Primary election of 2008 heightening our sensibilities around race, how do you, a white artist who writes vividly about the legacy of racism, respond to those who'd simply challenge your place to do so, on the basis of your whiteness?

Race does not determine consciousness. I truly believe that statement yet I know that initially I went to vote for Obama on the sheer fact he's black. Until we have reparations set up and things are more balanced. I still go black, What was the determining factor for slavery and racism...if you were black they were after you...I feel I have to reverse it. I am still at the place where I feel responsible to sort thru, tease out , sus out tha issues that stem from white society. I feel trapped most of the time by white culture due to our history, behavior, beliefs and withholding love.

Our Brave Soul Topic for April is "The Power of the Spoken Word". As someone who writes her own lyrics can you speak to us about how writing and spoken word has shaped, influenced, and affected your life as human being and as an artist?

As a human I had the experience that night in Harlem when I recited for the first time, I heard others recite for the first time and when I heard Ainsley Burrows I felt I wasn't alone anymore. I am ok. I'm not a broken person. I'm a person that's broken. AS an Artist the experience of writing poetry setting it to music has shaped me. To reveal is a great art, it's ongoing, it's evolution and revolution at the same time...I know who I am becuz of it!

How are your songs birthed into fruition? In very simple terms, do you write lyrics/poems/spoken word pieces and set them to music or do you let the music steer the ship as to the lyrical direction of your songs?

I think hard until I feel something intensely and when I can't stand the feeling of holding it in any more, then I sit at the piano and play some chords and sing what ever comes out my mouth...On the other hand I may have a muse that wants me to write down something IMMEDIATELY and I do, ya know the pieces of scratch we all have that put the best poem out there...

Would you please share with the Brave Soul readers who some of your influences are musically, or artistically overall and why they touch you in the way(s) they do?

The band that I work with regularly effect me the most cuz I am intimately growing with them thru their support and pushing: Dre-DeAndre Shaifer (he produced See, Hear, LOVE), Kris Funn and John Lamkin. They are amazing men that I have left an indelible mark on my soul. As well growing in music hearing live...Reuban Brown, Steve Williams, Charlie Young, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Abbey [Lincoln], Betty[Carter], Phoebe[Snow], Cannonball, Tain, Tain and Genus, Tain and Revis, Hutch, Shirley Horn, Shirley Murdock, CHRIS DAVE and Kim Burrell, Montez Coleman, Willie Jones III, Nasheet Waits, Kim Lake, Russell Gunn, Sy Smith, James Hurt, Kinah, Don Cherry, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bowie, James King, Nasar, Allyn Johnson, Quincy Phillips, J'nel Gil, Jill Scott, Me'shell, c'mon ya know who...this is alot to put down....Orrin Evans, GEORGE BURTON I'M ON HIM, ROMEIR MENDEZ AN' BEAN RIGHT NOW!! I LOVE THAT UNIT...I love hearing the begining and
the end yaknow...hearing people over the years...

What can listeners who've seen or heard you perform expect from your upcoming release "See, Hear, Love"? How does it differ from your last album in terms of lyrical and musical content?

Well now you see I told you with HIDE it was a clearing and as it turns out so was this new album. I have been in a relationship for 7 years and it was not healthy so this album is more about spiritual growth and relating to other. And waiting... for change, love, self change, self love...

As an artist, how does the process of recording music differ from or move you as opposed to performing live?

For me recording studio experience is holding firm energetically as the spirit in me comes out a more contained thing... like I am full and going to express...but the live experience is the opposite. I have to remain open and empty so spirit will pass thru me. BUT what is similar in BOTH cases is never to be in my head...always a goal...

Living or deceased, if you were having a dinner party and could invite five individuals to attend and be present in the same room, who would they be and why? I'm a pisces/aries cusp... 5?!?! Well funny thing is I love to know people better but I also love to know who I know better so It'd probably be my mom, my girl Deb, my boys(pictured left), and a good friend of ours Bette. But if you really want me to say artist wise folks that I know too, Kris Funn, Omrao, Orrin Evans, Andre' Leon Gray (amazing artist outta NC) and DeAndre Shaifer...I love to talk to these men...if there was ten then I'da had some women
OR MAYBE.... President Lincoln and a few folks that were first freed to really stick it to him...

In the past 15 years, what impact has HIV/AIDS had on your life and the community that you call home in the Washington, DC area?

AIDS scared me in the 80s, like 83 I was waitressing in DC in Georgetown and going to tracks, lost and found, badlands, frat house so ya know it was upclose. I knew of folks that had contracted the virus and died. NOW I WISH WE WERE HAVING A CONVERSATION RIGHT NOW CUZ as I move on it's dangerous territory cuz I have to admit I don't feel as's timely that you ask I recently reconnected with a close friend who took me to all the gay bars in the 90s, and piano bars to sit in...he has an electic personality and undying faith in living...He came to hear me in the village at Cachaca gig we did in March...I really was lucky to have met him at that time in my life and still be close. He has been hiv+ for over 20 years, he's unmoved I mean he's had serious struggles but he is himself? if I can say it that way....the joys, the sorrows life seems to be relative truely. I see him as addressing his life issues and truth in a clear way. I see him as a witness to his life and his friends...I guess what I feel is I have seen folks asleep to this mystery and some with out adversity, and some with adversity...I think Artie Wakes up with hiv+ but he lives wide awake...he's aware of it but he's so aware of some many other things too and I can't say I wouldn't wish him not to have it but it's a final this is's our spirit that we give to one another, it's what doesn't meet the eye, one of my favorite quotes is something like God doesn't die on the day we cease to believe in a personal diety WE diE on the day our LIVEs cease to be illumined but a source which is beyond all reason...Dag Hammersckold....

For more on Heidi Martin, you can visit her on myspace by clicking here:
Heidi Martin on Myspace , as well as her website, Heidi Martin Official Website She can be heard live weekly at Bohemian Caverns in Washington, DC every Tuesday at 9:30pm.