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Q&A: With her New Orleans roots, Dawn Richard is charting her own course

 Dawn Richard
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Dawn Richard was a founding member of Danity Kane and a member of P. Diddy's 'Dirty Money.' Now she's charting her own course, powered by her New Orleans roots.

Dawn Richard is charting her own course. The New Orleans native is an animator for Adult Swim, the owner-operator of a vegan pop-up food truck, and a martial arts expert. But she's also known for her unique songs.

Richard is bringing her New Orleans roots to electronic music and is banging the drum for the role of Black women in this and all genres of music.

She'll be sharing the bill with "Tank and The Bangas" at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw on Saturday night.

Richard joined WUNC recently to talk about her style of music, the influence New Orleans has on her, and her most recent album.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

You've said you are your own genre, and it's hard to argue with that. What role does New Orleans play in your unique mix of music and production?

"I mean, it's basically the narrator of everything. I wanted to give New Orleans a different look. When people think of New Orleans, they think of jazz, they think of soul — and that is definitely present, but I have a different angle. And coming from an electronic and alternative background, I wanted to show New Orleans as being a bit more versatile."

Earlier, we were listening to a bit of "Bussifame" from your album Second Line — is that a New Orleans reference?

"Absolutely. And it's also a homage to what Black culture has been for dance music. I think, throughout the years, we've kind of been pushed out. I mean, we think about people like Larry Hurd, Chicago, Detroit, house music, Donna Summer, Crystal Waters — these people who have been establishing the disco and dance sound, who then... when the '70s and '80s came along, you saw the Black culture kind of get pushed out. And now, dance music has become this, you know, male white DJ category, which isn't the truth. Black music has always been at the forefront of dance music. So, that's what the album is basically talking about — the beauty of black music and dance music and how that relationship exists and celebrating that."

"Boomerang" is absolutely infectious. When you perform live, does it turn into one big dance festival?

"Oh, it's a dance party. It's a dance party that everyone's invited to. It's a lot of sequins, a lot of glitter, and it's really just a celebration for people to dance. That's what a Second Line is in New Orleans when we have a funeral, right? We don't celebrate the death as much as we celebrate the legacy. "Boomerang" is just another opportunity for us to have footwork and get you to dance on that floor."

You were recently the Artist in Residence at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. What attracts you to teaching?

"Both of my parents are teachers, actually, and also my grandmother — God rest her soul — she has a PhD in library science. So, I grew up around educators. So, this was something that was near and dear to me. Never would have thought that I'd be able to teach at NYU; I'd always wanted to go, but I also was majoring in marine biology at the time. So, my trajectory was a bit different for college; I wasn't able to go into the realm of music, so this was an honor. And it was beautiful, it was gorgeous, to talk to the students and to tell them about my journey as an entrepreneur as a musician and to perform."

Dawn Richard is playing with "Tank and the Bangas" at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw on Saturday night. Her latest album is Pigments and there's a new song "Bubblegum" out now.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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