Last year, the all-female Be’la Dona won the WKYS Go-Go Award for best up-and-coming group. Arts Desk recently got in touch with bandleader Cherie Mitchell, who also sings with Chuck Brown, and we discussed, via e-mail, the group’s history and its upcoming plans, as well as the legacy of the all-women go-go group Pleasure and Be’la Dona’s signature “sexual crank” sound. Read Mitchell’s responses, occasionally in the third person, after the jump:
Washington City Paper: When did the group form? Cherie Mitchell: The band officially formed together in approximately November 2008. The rhythm section of the band has performed at Posh Restaurant once a month since Sept 2008 for a showcase called “R&B Live DC,” opening up and backing up artists such as Marsha Ambrosius, Howard Hewitt, Chuck Brown, and Case. After that, our first public gig as a whole (all seven pieces) debuted at yhe Cardinal’s Nest, in Northeast D.C., in November hosted by Cold Blaze Promotions.
WCP: Have any of you played in other bands before?
CM: Cherie currently performs with Chuck Brown and Nile Rodgers and Chic. She has also toured with Pieces of a Dream, Stephanie Mills, Howard Hewitt, Phil Perry, Maysa Leak, Jean Carne, EU, and Maiesha and the Hiphuggers. Deanna Hawkins also performs with Musiq Soulchild. Genny Jam was a member of Pleasure Band. Karis Hill was a member of Soul Patrol. Sharli McQueen toured with Pras of the Fugees.
WCP: Are you self-taught musicians and singers or did you learn via lessons, church bands, school, or other go-go bands?
CM: The majority of the band attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts and received bachelor’s degrees in music at Howard University and Bowie State. The majority are classically trained, while a few have been self-taught. Everyone in the band can read music and also have strong ears. Each musician in the band has separate and strong backgrounds in gospel, jazz, R&B, and rock.
WCP: Are you familiar with go-go band Pleasure? Do you mind being compared to what I think was the last all-women D.C. go-go group?
CM: Yes, we are familiar with the group Pleasure. In fact, our guitar player Genny Jam is an original member. We don’t mind being compared to Pleasure nor do we mind being compared to Rare Essence, Suttle Thoughts, or Vybe. We do what we do and have fun doin’ it! In fact, people will naturally compare us to Pleasure, just because they were an all-female band, as well. We pay homage to them every show by performing one of their hits, and we enjoy it. We give credit where credit is due. They paved the way for us.
WCP: Do you just do go-go covers of R&B songs by others, or do you do some original songs as well?
CM: For now we perform R&B covers over a go-go beat. We also incorporate jazz, pop, and R&B selections in our first set without a go-go beat. Very soon, we will include our originals. Right now, we are just trying to get our foot in the door.
WCP: Are you reaching an older, “grown and sexy” go-go audience, or a younger one, or both?
CM: We cater to all age groups and demographics. We can do it all! We invented a new style of go-go, a step above grown and sexy, and we call it sensual crank.
WCP: Do you change your approach (different types of songs) depending on the audience?
CM: Absolutely. In this town, we are basically a cover band and as a cover band, you have to cater to the crowd. We are versatile enough to play some Luther Vandross or Frankie Beverly or Aretha Franklin, if the crowd is 40 and over. We wouldn’t dare play that for a crowd 25 and younger. They prefer hot hits from the radio like Rihanna or Beyoncé Before a performance, I (the music director) usually scope out the venue to determine which songs in our repertoire to choose. We have a ton of songs that generally work every time for any crowd setting, however, for our first set, I strategically select what i think the crowd would mostly enjoy and appreciate.
WCP: Do you have plans to record a CD and release it yourselves in 2010, or do you want to try to get signed to a label first that could help you?
CM: We do plan to have a cd out in 2010. Everyone in the band are writers and producers. As we speak, we are putting our heads together.
Be’la Dona performs every Thursday at La Fontaine Bleue, 7963 Annapolis Rd., Seabrook, Md. (301) 731-6658.