"We are where we are, this is such an insane time; it seems so unreal, it's like apocalyptic or something."
Danelia Cotton knows the difference between real and unreal; this passionate talent from Hopewell, NJ is as real as they come and has recently added a tenth album to her catalog of incredibly honest and open work.
A woman not afraid of voicing her opinions be it in discussion or song and not one to shy away from tackling tough subjects while sticking to her convictions; Cotton is a rare find in today's entertainment industry.
"A Different War" marks her foray into a "Political" direction and even though she is confident she realizes that this release has her walking somewhat of a "Fine line."
"You have to be very careful with the political line that you ride when you're doing articles like this because you really can't be political anymore; I mean you could if you want to but I think for artists like me you struggle with that because your social media gets affected if you stand on the wrong side," she started with a tone of uncertainty. "I think in the '60's and '70's it was a little bit easier to be more vocal and you weren't ostracized or alienated by stating a political opinion even if yours was different from everybody else. So this is the first time that I've done a sort of socially conscious thing but I now have a two year old who is bi-racial and Jewish and antisemitism is on the rise just like racism so she will experience a lot; it's an issue that's a little closer to me now especially bringing her into the world at this point."
"It's an EP; six songs and it's called "A Different War." The first single "Forgive Me" is at radio now; I'm hoping by tomorrow we'll be in the top 100. The first single was not political but the title track is about racism, "Cheap High" is about the economic issues and our economic situation which is why racism is high because when you have economic instability in a country racism always spikes."
Growing up in Hopewell, a predominantly white mostly rural community in the Sourland Mountains region, Cotton was one of only a handful of black students at her high school. The daughter of a jazz singer, she grew up with an affection not for R&B but for jazz, gospel and rock music. Yet despite graduating at the top of her class and receiving a full college scholarship; the specter of color haunted her and does so to this day.
"In the song "A Different War" it's more like; well it's actually more like a conversation between someone black and someone who is white in the first verse and the second verse is applicable to anyone who is not white or not straight, anybody who's not down the middle and it's more like; you say things are one way but "Your color opens doors and mine is fighting a different war," that's the line. So it's really sort of like, whatever you say is one thing; it's like walking in another man's shoes. You wouldn't know what it's like, you'd have to walk in my shoes and you wouldn't for a minute really want to do that if you knew what that entailed. So it's a difficult thing for people who aren't white; I think it's kind of where we are and it's the current climate. I think people are oblivious at times and sometimes get offended but I think they are unrealistic about what's going on and I think if we don't educate ourselves in some sense and way; things will just remain the same."
"There's two blues tracks on this album which are sort of in the complete other direction; sort of an ode to love and the greatness of it. So there you go; which is life, so it includes all aspects of my life," she said with a laugh. "The racism, the feminist act, economic; I live in Tribeca and there's that struggle. We are applying for schools for my daughter and with most of them she's the only bi-racial Jewish kid applying and she's on a waiting list; you would think that they'd like a child like that to attend to add more diversity but I'm a bit surprised that's not the case. That's Greek to me, I don't understand society; in one sense it seems like we want to progress but then we are not willing to make the strides to do so and so it makes me believe that everything is just said in vain. People say they want things to get better but then they don't want to do the hard things that entails; which sometimes is just opening up the communication lines and asking the other side how they feel and what it is that they do we feel alienates them. Just open up the conversation even if it's intense at the beginning, open up the lines so that we can talk and see where we are not connecting; "Oh, we didn't know that offended you black people," OK now you know, now you're educated. So I think that talking to each other, understanding each other on some level is really the way to go. You can't assume how another side feels, you have to really talk to each other and express those things regardless of how intense that conversation can become; you've got to do it but that's just my opinion there."
So is this what she's trying to accomplish with this new EP? Is she trying to convey that message and start a dialog?
"Ya' know what? Yes! That's a great thing," she said with exuberance. "I'm telling you how I feel on my side and that's a big thing and I'm telling you that I'm speaking from my position, from being a black female and experiencing it. I'm speaking from the front line (laughs) so you have a sense; do you want to hear? "A Different War" asks; listen up do you want to hear their truths? Do you want to hear what they have to say? Do you want them to tell you how they feel? I think it's important and I don't want to misspeak for others in my position; it's more like, hey we need to have that discussion it's important. You need to hear what they have to say because you'll never know what they're doing or how they feel and you'll never be able to attack it if you don't educate yourself; it's why everybody loves Governor Cuomo right now because ignorance is fear and you dis-spell fear when you educate people. That's it, that's it, they are no longer afraid of what they know. Talking about it and listening to each other's side, right there you dis-spell a lot and people aren't as afraid, they are more like, hey they're not so bad (laughs) and that's kind of what happens and I think that's a good thing. So that's what to some degree I'm trying to do in my own way."
Despite her multiple releases, Danelia considers herself somewhat of a late bloomer. However, she also knows that it was how it was supposed to be and doesn't hesitate to admit she'd have it no other way; especially when it comes to her fans and her support system.
"Small White Town," "Rare Child," "Gun in Your Hand," "Mystery of Me" and the cover album are my five full lengths and "Live Child," "Danelia Cotton" the first one, "The Woodstock Sessions," "A Prayer" and now "A Different War" are my five EPs. What people don't realize is that I went to college and then I started gigging so I got into this late. So it's not like I'd have as many out as people who started earlier; I went to college and did my thing. What I've done personally is not as much as some because I got into the game a little late but I think it was for good reason. I'm glad my mom told me to do what I had to do; she said, "You're going to college or you can fight me or whatever" and believe me I tried to quit and she said, "Don't even think about it." (Laughs)
"I never have any fear that my mother isn't a fan or my family period. They have been incredibly supportive and just really awesome, so yeah they're on the front lines. My brother is always with me and actually co-produced this album with me and my manager and he has been behind the scenes since the beginning to keep me in line to fight for my sound more than anyone I know. I love him to death; hands down biggest fan ever and what people don't realize is that he has really fought on the front lines to keep me true to my sound; "Don't let them make you be something you're not Denilia, you'll regret it" and he has just really, really been that guy and I don't know how to explain that but my fans should be thankful that I have that in my ear. Sometimes it's hard because you fight the industry and he is like, "Don't you want to just put your head on the pillow at night and know you did it the way you wanted to? You'll never be able to come back from that..." and he's right and I love him for that."
"It takes people and fans to also believe in what you're doing and keeping you going," she continued; "It's a big thing." It's people like my brother in my ear, it's the fans appreciating you being true to what you want and honestly the truth speaks volumes. If you're not honest; I think it's people that champion what you do and support you in the right way and never require you to compromise in any way and that's a good thing. I celebrate those people because without them we can't survive either, we are fighting a machine and feeling like we can't win and sometimes you give in just to stay in the game and you never want to do that. So we need support in the right way, we need audiences that get it, managers that get it, we need a lot of good things but I tell people all of the time that when you're true to what you do it's great and people get it and they don't know why they like it. They like it because they don't know exactly what it is about it but it's great."
The pandemic has caused cancellations worldwide and Danelia is feeling the effects as well. Most artists release new material and are excited to get out on the road and test it on their fan base but that's not possible given the current climate; so what's the plan?
"Most of us got calls for everything up until June; most aren't taking them away they're pushing you up and saying we will try and reschedule you. So you hope that when they say that they'll honor you that they'll give you your shows back. I feel really sorry for the people who had major tours; this was a big thing. People like Grace Potter and others had major tours, I had tour dates but not to the degree that they had but I was also on my way to dropping an album. I mean right now "Forgive Me" is doing really well but I'll never know what that means because I can't go to those cities and places where radio stations are playing it the most and be like, hey let me get a gig here, because nobody is booking anything without knowing how this is going to play out."
" So I'm going to do online concerts in my house; Hopewell Theater reached out and we're thinking that what I would do is ride down in my car by myself, I would plug in and the sound and light guys would all be six feet away and we could all have social distance. We would not ever have to touch each other or be in a bad spot and then I'd leave. I want to help theaters and places like that because venues are struggling and I want to help them too."
Ah but there is one activity that she plans on doing in the great outdoors; one that this situation has actually shaped in a good way.
"We're about to do a video for "Cheap High" and we are going to do it downtown and socially distance the video because we can't get a more potent set or a greater backdrop than empty retail shops when you're talking about the economics of things and money and how it can be a cheap high and then it's gone."
So "A Different War" has Danelia Cotton all dressed up with literally no place to go but much like in the past as well as the present she has the tools to persevere.
To discover more about Danelia, please visit http://www.danieliacotton.com/.
Photo Credit: Chia Messina
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!
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Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.