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Work in Progress

The Baltimore Sun

For a decade, Fertile Ground, the self-contained, Baltimore-based soul-fusion band, has been an illuminating presence on the underground indie scene. With a stirring musical approach that braids elements of Afro-Cuban jazz, alt-rock, reggae and '70s soul, the seven-piece outfit regularly tours the country, Japan and Europe. Lead singer Navasha Daya dazzles with her full-throttle vocals, modern dance moves and ceremonial-style costumes accented with feathers. Fertile Ground is rooted in Daya's husband, James Collins, the band's visionary, keyboardist and chief songwriter. Intent on self-determination, the group is working on the follow-up to Black Is ... its ambitious, spirituality-infused 2004 CD. Still untitled, the new album is due out next spring on Collins' own Blackout label. He and Daya live in Mount Washington.

IN HIS WORDS --If you understand your market and you put your music out there, you control who you sell to. You control the mechanism through which people have an opportunity to purchase your music. If you don't, then others control how you get out there, what you sound like, what you look like. We didn't want to go through that.

A ONE-OF-A-KIND EXPERIENCE --People come to a Fertile Ground show because it's a sound you don't find on the radio or on TV right now. ... It's not this sound or image that's saturating the market. So in the long run, it works for us. People see us, then buy the music because you can't find it anywhere else.

FINDING INSPIRATION --It's interesting trying to create music in a vacuum. I remember when Seasons Change [Fertile Ground's 2002 CD] came out, [singer-actress] Cree Summer had put out an album called Street Faerie. It was like a microcosm of black music as it pertains to rock. She had done some interesting things incorporating guitar, and that got some wheels turning. But our record didn't sound anything like hers. It just gave us some ideas. Right now, there hasn't been a lot of interesting stuff going on to push us. So creating the music has taken a little longer. The good thing about Fertile Ground is that we don't fit into a category per se. ... But with this new record, we want to push it in more of a jazz direction.

MAPPING THE MUSIC --I start the record. I write it. And I have a team that helps execute a vision. My approach generally incorporates the band's personalities. It doesn't become a selfish record. I'll lay out a blueprint, and the guys come in and fill in the gaps. I don't write records based on my own experiences. I'm thinking about the attitudes and lives of our band members. We talk; we're a family. I interpret all that. With our band, we have a very unique set of skills that works very well.

A GAME STRATEGY --As independent artists, we have to carve out our part of the game. But the way you approach the game should be different. The key to independent art is to reprioritize and understand what your resources are. The musicians have to understand the nuts and bolts of distribution. It's exciting, though, that music has so many outlets now. It means that people get their ears back. They can become more discerning because there's so much music out there, different kinds of music.

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