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UK Musician Yolanda Charles Takes Center Stage After Playing For Multi-Music Industry Hit Makers!

Updated: May 14

London's Superfly & Super funky Bassist, Multi-Talented Musician & Gem, Yolanda Charles, After Playing For, Michael Jackson with Jermaine Jackson and working with Paul Weller, Marcella Detroit, Pops Mohammed, Alison Moyet, Desert Eagle Discs, Robbie Williams, BB King, Eric Clapton, Roger Daltrey, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Takes Center Stage! It's now her Time to Shine!

As a bass player for the Communards, Raw Stylus, and Urban Species in the 1990s, Yolanda Charles played for Jimmy Sommerville. After recording for Michael Jackson with Jermaine Jackson and working with Paul Weller, Marcella Detroit, Pops Mohammed, Alison Moyet, Desert Eagle Discs, Robbie Williams, BB King, Eric Clapton, Roger Daltrey, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, she became a session bassist.

Her live performances include Sinead O'Connor, Daryl Hall, Natasha Bedingfield, Anastasia, Lulu, and Heather Small, Musical Director for Dave Stewart's London appearances. Additionally, she has played in TV house bands for Nicole Scherzinger (Pussy Cat Dolls) and Ricky Wilson (Kaiser Chiefs). Moreover, she has toured Europe, South Pacific, and the US with Hans Zimmer's Hans Zimmer Live shows.

She is a mentor, business consultant, and musician coach and began her own company. As part of her Twitch channel, she interviews other musicians for insights and advice. Furthermore, she continues to give workshops and lectures around the UK.

She has not only dominated the music business but also the film industry. She worked on film soundtracks for Dune, "A Knight's Tale," "Alfie," "Home," "War on Everyone," and "Boss Baby I & II." As part of the Brian Jackson trio UK Band (Gil Scott-Heron co-writer), she collaborated with Laura Mvula, Eska, and Tomasz Bura. With Squeeze, she toured the UK and the USA, recorded their most recent album, "The Knowledge," and received an MBE.

My pleasure was to interview this fantastic gem in London. Here's what she shared.

Hi Yolanda, how are you doing? Very well, thank you.

Thank you so much for giving me your time. I appreciate that. I appreciate the invitation.

So, let's get started. Ok.

In what part of the world were you born and raised? North London is where I was raised. In my childhood, my parents migrated here from the Caribbean, but we've lived in the North of London practically all my life. So yeah, I'm a London girl.

That's wonderful. What was it like growing up in London? Growing up in the 1970s was the best time of my life. During that time, there was a lot of freedom. There was no restriction on where we could go. Where I was raised, many derelict construction sites and places hadn't been rehabilitated yet, which seemed dangerous by modern standards. Still, as a child, we were free to explore, even if we got scraped and cut because we didn't have parents, wardens, or guards around.

Unfortunately, at times, bad things happened to children unattended, but we had a fantastic time most of the time. As a result of those freedoms, I developed a desire for adventure, which I still have. The memories of my childhood are valuable to me.

That sounds like a lot of fun. What was your first experience with music? I began playing instruments at the age of 7. I could access instruments I didn't have at home as part of a school program. With my interest in music growing, I gradually gravitated towards stringed instruments, primarily the guitar and bass. So, my childhood was playing with friends, being adult free, and listening to or playing the instruments I enjoyed.

Did playing those instruments come easy, or did you find it challenging? I had a good ear for music. It made sense because I spent much time listening to music as a child. Also, my dad was a big music fan. His stereo was the centerpiece of our living room. So, I was familiar with records, handling records, putting them on the deck, and using the needle. Holding albums for a young child is quite scary because you'll get told off if you scratch the record.

Oh, yes, I remember that. As a child, I scratched a few records, so I understand what you mean. Right. Having a dad who was such a music fan, and making us treat those records with such care, made me respect music. Throughout that time, my attention was transferred to the music, allowing me to show respect for the music coming from the record. Also, I began to pay attention to why my dad was so careful with the records and why he taught us how to handle them before we could even touch the stylus properly.

That all carried forward to when I played an instrument. However, it was a disadvantage because my ear was quite good.

The teacher would play the part for us that would be written down in notation; I'd hear them play it, then I could hear it in my head afterward. If you started me off on the right note, I could play I by ear. I didn't read the music.

It was an advantage because I could pick things up quickly, but a disadvantage because I didn't learn to read properly. My ear was quicker than my eye.

So, do you read music today? Yeah, I had to. It comes as part of the job. You get handed scores. I don't often read, so it's a skill you must frequently practice staying accessible to you. If you don't sight regularly, getting back to speed can take a while, but I was never a good sight reader. I can read and write musical notation to communicate with other musicians. Still, I've concluded that although it's a great shortcut for communicating melody, it fails to communicate in many ways. “How to play it” is missing from the music, and the notes need to tell you what approach to use, how much emotion to put in, or what kind of feel-worthy melody should be sitting regarding where the drumbeat is. All that stuff needs to be added to written music, so I like people to learn by ear, and I prefer to learn that way too.

That's awesome. Can you remember the name of the first type of bass you played? When I first began, I played other people's basses because I was around 14 years old. There were bases available at the youth clubs and places like that. Around that time, I had been playing guitar for about a year, and I was playing basslines on an acoustic guitar because I was just into the bass.

I didn't realize I was, but every time I played guitar at school, and they sent me home to practice something, I would pick out the baseline whenever I listened to records. I didn't think of the baseline as a baseline. It was just the strongest melody that stood out in music because baselines are ultimately melodies.

I remember getting on one of the bases at one of the youth clubs and playing "All Night Long" by the Mary Jane Girls, and that was one of the first baselines I'd learned by ear.

Other ones were Bob Marley tunes and Ashton Barrett, the bass player from “The Wailers.”

The first base was given to me by my mom. My mom paid for it, but it was purchased by my guitar teacher, and it was a Guild B3. 01 a wooden finish. Later, I sold it, but it was my first bass.

What has been your biggest challenge as a bassist? I was shy. Although I loved playing the instrument, I wouldn't say I liked being looked at. Therefore, I wasn't a natural performer. People assume that if you want to play an instrument, you want to be looked at, but for me, it's not always the case. Sometimes you want to play the bass but don't want to perform. So, although I had terrible nerves and shyness, my biggest challenge was overcoming my fear of performing.

I can understand that. Yolanda, have you ever had any other desire to learn other instruments besides bass and guitar? Not really. Occasionally, I will use the piano to play basic chords while recording, but otherwise, no. I write all my songs on guitar or bass and use my voice.

Now, do you produce your music? Yes, I have self-written and recorded two albums' worth of music over the last 20 years. I've been working mainly as a session musician. Both records were self-produced, but I didn't produce them. I contributed to arranging decisions and things like that.

Also, they weren't heavily produced studio albums. They were recordings of live approaches. I'm producing my latest record with my band, "Project PH," more like a studio album but under the guidance of very experienced engineers, mixing engineers, and my Co-Producer, Nick Linnik, who is somebody that is a natural producer. He has “the ears” and ideas, and I'm learning how to add production ideas as I go along.

I've focused primarily on bass, drums, EQ arrangements, and some orchestration. There are lots of things that are involved in the production process. Because there are so many things to think about when you're doing production, it's nice to have a partner so that we can share the job between us.

What genres of music do you enjoy playing the most? Anything soul, R&B, and funk-based. That's the type of music that I was raised listening to. My dad was such a big fan of soul/funk music, and my older brother was a fan of modern pop/ soul. My dad also loved James Brown, so I grew up listening to those basslines. Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, and others. That's my sound.

My session career has been in pop, which is more of an accompaniment style of bass, rock, and a driving style of bass playing. I've even done some punk and classical realm, which is not classical; it's more orchestral music, which is, again, support-based. It has many fast passages and 16th notes but only a little groove-based stuff. Another style of music that I enjoy playing is African music, which derives from African styles like Cameroonian, Ghanaian, and Senegalese. South African as well. African-style bass has its specific sound. Lastly, I've done a few Latin styles of music, like salsa, but a small amount. I wouldn't call myself a salsa bassist, but I have done some.

How long have you been playing? I've been playing bass for 35 years now. So given that amount of time, I've covered a lot of ground.

Yeah, absolutely. You play everything so well. Are there any songs that challenge you? Not really. I can play difficult things slowly. The speed might not be there, or something like the Jaco Pastorius version of Donna Lee by Charlie Parker. That's a go-to for bassists. I can play the notes, but I never play them to my satisfaction, and I can't play it at the proper speed or the fast tempos, but playing most things slowly, I can play most things; it's just a case of mechanics. You have to figure out what fingering is and work at a level you can handle. That still sounds good. You can speed anything up. If it doesn't sound good sped up, there may be a better tempo for you. That's the case with most musicians. Things they can't play, they're probably playing it too fast.

Great assessment. Yolanda, how did your professional career unfold? While doing a music course at 17 years old, I participated in a televised music competition. It turns out that one of the engineers on the show was a saxophonist too, and two years later, he called me and said that he remembered me from two years previous and that they needed a bass player. I was recommended because he thought that I would be a good choice. At the time, I was only 19. By then, I had been in various bands with friends, maybe even playing club gigs, but it was only for fun, not session work.

Also, I had a job working in shops. So, at 19 was more first paid professional paid session. I worked for a well-known artist that had many fans. It was Jimmy Somerville of "The Communards." He did a cover of a Bee Gees song, "To Love Somebody," in a reggae style, which is great for me because I can play reggae well.

What a great opportunity! Great band too! I heard the song and saw the video where you were onstage playing with him. You're phenomenal! Thank you.

My pleasure. Throughout your career, you've played with many well-established artists. Who are some of the people that you worked with during your career? The scary sessions are where the artist walks in, and you're familiar with their face because they're everywhere and on everything. They've been part of your childhood, even growing up, and then they walk into the room, and there they are, animated and in real life. That can be nerve-racking.

When I worked with Jermaine Jackson, that was a lovely moment because I could play the genre of music I loved the most. It was a Michael Jackson session, but he wasn't there. Nevertheless, Jermaine was producing, so I hung out with Jermaine. That was cool.

Also, I played on BB King's 80th-anniversary album. That was a monumental session because they booked a day to catch all these artists in London simultaneously—Roger Daltrey from "The Who," Van Morrison, and Eric Clapton. So, I worked with the four artists, and we recorded four songs. It was an incredible experience.

I had to be professional, fast, and faultless. I also had to be impressive in terms of what I played so that the parts I played would stay on the record. As I sat there, I kept quiet and observed these famous people, while at the same time, I had the opportunity to hang out together and chat about various things with them. It was an incredible moment.

I did a film soundtrack with Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and Mick Jagger. As a result of working with Mick Jagger in the studio for two weeks, I got to know him a little better. That was lovely because he was excellent, and Dave Stewart became a friend. We're still friends now. Dave Stewart's my mate because he was lovely, and we got on well. I even became his musical director after the session for his British band.

Yolanda, do you feel female bass players get treated differently than males in the music industry? There's a perception of women musicians being less accomplished or technically able than men. Quite a few female bass players have appeared in the last ten years and are putting light on that story.

Tal Wilkenfeld, Mohini Day and Rhonda smith. There are many other notable female bassists out there now. Ronda Smith has been around longer than any of them and was always excellent. The standard has improved a lot.

More female musicians are stepping up and doing a fantastic job. H.E.R. is excellent on guitar, and "Domi," the pianist from France, is an incredible technician. Very few males or females can hold a candle to her talent. She's around 20 years old now. Meshell Ndegeocello set standards in the 90s by playing funk-style bass.

There are many lovely female musicians and instrumentalists, but even though those women have stood out, some male musicians are slightly disparaging. That's unfortunate, but it's up to us as female musicians never to get a pass. Because we're women, we must practice just as hard as guys. We also need to be as focused. Our gender doesn't give us a pass from receiving criticism. We should be criticized if we're not good.

Sometimes criticism can be leveled at us unfairly, but sometimes it's justified. So, it's up to us as female musicians to work hard.

Absolutely. Do you find that there is a difference between working with British musicians vs. American musicians? Yeah. There's a scene in America and a professional attitude that we don't have here. We operate differently in the UK. I've noticed this; when I worked with some Americans recently, there were higher expectations from the musicians to be at a certain standard and deliver. It's more pressure in some ways. Although there are expectations on the British side, the UK is more forgiving. It might be, you know, people might not like me saying this, but I've had my butt kicked by Brits and had the feeling that I would get a real butt-kicking by the Americans. So, I ensured I was prepared as best as possible each time.

Sometimes, I would watch and see what was happening with the other musicians, and I would think, how are they Getting away with that? In America, there is a lot of competition for roles. They're turning out great musicians from good colleges, and if you're not ready when you should be, I imagine somebody is waiting in the wings to take your job any day or any second.

That may be why Americans are thought of as being more prepared. There could be more pressure on them because there's more competition. In the UK, there is less competition, and maybe there's less of the sergeant/major attitude. They're heavily disciplined.

A lot of our musicians don't come out of college. They feed into the system through recommendations, jam sessions, and releasing independent music. We don't turn them out so much from colleges like Americans. Come through the system.

Regarding your playing, Yolanda, what makes you different and unique? Many people say that I have a great feel and good sound. I'm known for playing pop music but not for playing on many records, so I'm curious if people are as aware of my true style because I play so many different types. I'm a chameleon. Some people don't know quite what my style of playing is. With my band "Project PH," I'm making a stand and declaring who I am as a bass player. All of the styles playing in my music exemplify my taste and what I'm capable of doing. There's some technical and slap stuff. I do a specific style of playing that's mine and only mine. It's not on anyone else's records. That's where I can be 100% myself in my music. So, there's more for people to discover regarding my bass playing because, as a session player, I would have been more generic and less noticeable in my music. I'm very distinct.

It's my understanding that you teach music as well. Yes, I do lectures, workshops, and colleges but, I am off-staff. I also did some bass tuition at one of the colleges, Trinity Music, which is a highly respected college. Traditionally it's known for its jazz courses, but they've started a pop music course. I work on popular music courses. My habit has been to accept invitations to do workshops and lectures. I make short half-day bookings and spread the word about making the music you play feel and sound good.

I worked hard on the feel, pocket rhythm, placement, and rhythmic approaches. Feel and listening is the main thing because the Western method of teaching music doesn't embody or internalize the music. It's external. It's through the eyes and the ears. But, if you learn Indian classical, African, or even Central or South American style, it tends to be a body understanding.

Body movement is a part of learning the music, especially in Indian music, where you learn mouth percussion for the rhythms. The rhythmic element of African music is everywhere within the music. Although I know less about Central and South American music, the music is about the body. Regarding Western and European music, it's less about the body and more about the ears and the eyes. It is hard for many Westerners to understand rhythm and timing as well as they can. Therefore, I work hard at colleges to open their ears and their way of learning and focus it differently. I use percussion instruments to try and get people moving their hips.

You can convey the music with your instrument if your body knows how to move to the music. Your instrument is an extension of your body. When I see stiffness in people's physical approach, that's how you will play the music. You will play your instrument stiffly because you don't feel the music.

You became one of the first black women to become a session player within your community. Can you explain that? OK. I first became a professional session musician in 1990 when I was 19. Hence, at that point, this was a period where there were black female artists like Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, and others, but in terms of being a behind-the-scenes musician, there were very few, if any. One band had a black female bass player in the 80s, but I don't think she was a session player.

So, regarding my career, I was one of the early female bass players of Caribbean extraction or black origins because I've mixed. I've got Indian and African mixed with European. I have about three different continents in my blood.

So, because there was not anyone around, I found myself doing sessions in environments where people had never had a black person or woman playing their music before. Therefore, I would be in that role for the first time, which was true for us both.

I helped us both introduce people to the idea that they could hire women and not only a woman but women of color.

When you're an early advocate of that, it helps to give your career a sense of purpose to know that you did something in the early days that helped others later.

Given that my career spans about 30 years long as a session bass player, I think I'm the only black female Session bass player in the county.

That's awesome. Are you working on any new albums now or in the foreseeable future? My band, currently named "Yolanda Charles's Project PH," is quite a mouthful. It's supposed to be just "Project PH," but my name proceeds Project PH to help people understand who my band is. One of the songs is out right now, "No ID," Andrew Sedman kindly played it on Indie Soul Radio, and that's amazing!

Who's on the "No ID" project? I play Bass Guitar, Laurie Lowe – Drums, Hamish Balfour Keyboards, and Nick Linnik - Guitar. Adeola Shyllon – Vocals, Paris Ruel – Vocals, Carl Hudson - Additional keyboards, Lyrics, and Music by Yolanda Charles

Produced & Arranged by Nick Linnik & me, it was recorded at Rosewood Music, mixed by Thomas Geiger, and Miles Showell mastered it at Abbey Rd Studios.