born in 1970 and raised in dallas, texas, chonita gilbert grew up playing the piano, the clarinet and, of course, singing. having come into a world in the wake of the hippy movement, just as disco culture was gaining ground as the predominant musical craze, n'dambi's musical influences wereand continue to bequite varied. her parents, both reverends, introduced her to the music of the church, at an early age, with her father also attempting to direct her more secular musical tastes towards country artists such as loretta lynn, johnny cash and tammy wynette. also a child of pop culture, n'dambi also dabbled in the soul and funk that was prevelant at the time. "i got busted, once, for singing [millie jackson's] (if loving you is wrong) i don't want to be right" really loud, in the bathroom," recalls n'dambi, "my mom said that kind of music was worldly music, and it wouldn't save me, but i felt that life was all-encompassing and you should't listen to just one genre of music and lmit yourself to one vision." that sentiment would be reflected, later, on n'dambi's solo debut, little lost girls blues.
as one might expect, n'dambi debuted her vocal talents in her parents' church, but it wasn't long before that same talent was recognized in talent competitions that she entered during her university years. a student of southern methodist university, who graduated with a degree in english in 1994, n'dambi was a regular at talent competitions and even cut a relatively unsuccessful demo tape in conjunction with a dallas producer. it was at an aaudition for a play to be performed at the south dallas cultural center that ms. gilbert met ms. erika wright. though the former had already adopted the west african name "n'dambi"which means "most beautiful"the later would not adopt the pseudonym "erykah badu"taken from her favorite vocal improvisation. the two became fast friends and began performing together at hip-hop nights organized by n'dambi's cousin at the art gallery onasale.
fast friendship resulted in a promise that whichever of the two landed a recording contract first would assit the other in getting her career off the ground. as fate would have it, badu held that honor, having attracted the attention of universal records executives. holding true to their pact, badu enlisted the aid of her talented friend as a background vocalist on her debut album, baduism. the two hit the road to promote badu's release, along with the rest of badu's band, making such high-profile appearances as mtv unplugged, day- drama one life to live, the david letterman show and bet's planet groove. n'dambi also appears alongside badu in the videos for "on & on", "next lifetime" and "tyrone".
with the release of n'dambi's debut album, little lost girls blues, comparisons between the singer and her long-friend have already begun, with attitudes ranging from heartfelt appreciation that the powers that control the universe's musics have sent another angel to those who resentfully accuse n'dambi of viciously biting badu's style. while n'dambi reconizes and is grateful for the opportunities she's had alongside badu, she dismisses the notion that she is merely a badu wannabe. "getting my foot in the door at the radio stations, and places like that, i definitely have to say i'm a background singer with erykah badu, but when i perform, i don't open the show by saying i'm erykah badu's back-up singer." and why would she have to? with soaring vocals that recall and beautifully combine all of her early musical influences, n'dambi has what it takes to make an audience forget all other divas, when she takes the stage.
indeed, n'dambi has already started to generate plenty of hype on her own. publications like billboard, xxl, hits and black radio exclusive have already jumped on the n'dambi train and seem willing to enjoy the ride as far as it will take them. internet searches on the artist's name produce results ranging from her own production company, cheeky-i, to reviews by universities where she has performed. additionally, production of her first video, for the single "what's wrong with you" is already in the works. in spite of all the attention she is receiving, however, n'dambi is happy, for the time being, to still consider herself a part of badu's band .
founding cheeky-i productions has allowed her, along with fellow producer madulkwu chinwahwho also contributed his talents to baduizmto maintain greater artistic control over the end product and such control is necessary when one is as accomplished a writer as she is a singer and pianist. the company, founded with her own money, should also put to rest any remaining rumors that n'dambi is riding the coattails of her former employer.
an accomplished artist who has finally acheived her opportunity to shine, n'dambi joins her wagon to a current slew of artists, such as erykah badu, cree summer, lauryn hill and cherokee, who are returning a integrity and soulfullness to music that has been absent for far too long. for navigating her was through a corrosive industry and finding her own voice, n'dambi is one funky diva.