"Art is an outlet, an opportunity to express yourself and get those feelings out. For me, it's therapeutic," says Colette Washington. An Internet program manager for a nonprofit organization in the daytime, the close-cropped, blond-tressed Washington, who possesses striking polyethnic features, is a singer by night. Together with her band Naked Soul, a five-piece funk/rock outfit, she's been playing locally for about two years now. "When I sing, I let go of it all and let it be out there," she explains. "It's just a way to escape that's positive. You can take something angry or passionate or whatever and put it to painting or put it to paper or put it to music and hatch something really powerful."
She calls her music "alternative soul," largely because she's not trying to express herself through the mainstream, commercial paradigm -- into which the majority of soul/R&B music these days seems to be shoehorned. As an independent artist, says Washington, "I don't have to do anything any [particular] way. My goal is to make quality original music that was outside the box, so to speak."
Inspired by "everything from Motown to jazz to rock 'n' roll, even country," Washington began recording demos about five years ago after moving from Humboldt County to Oakland. She used Internet resources like Craigslist to find like-minded musicians, each of whom brought something different to the table. "I think my main influences as a vocalist are gospel and soul. Al Hayes, my guitar player, brings a hard-edged rock flavor to it. Ace Allen, my bass player, brings a lot of funk to it. It's a mix, a variety of styles." Rounding out the band are drummer Troy Johnson and keyboard player Ryan Manley.
The group's catchy moniker, she says, describes how she feels about her art. "The Naked Soul story is pretty much my vision of putting myself out there in the world -- basically baring my naked soul, if you will -- through lyrics, through performance, through songs." Her music provides "a glimpse into my vulnerabilities, my pain and loss and love and all that. I'm just kind of singing the songs and trying to be really open about that."
Washington is also trying to reach out to the East Bay's diverse community through an open call for extras to be featured in a video for the song "Make a Choice." It's happening this Sunday, November 24, at Oakland's Black Box from 12 to 6:30 p.m. (1921 Telegraph Ave., 510-451-1932). The song, she says, is about "young people of color, coming up in difficult times and being faced with difficult decisions in life." Ultimately, she adds, the take-home message is "stay out of the prison system," which seems ironic yet strangely apt, given that the conversation is taking place inside the Black Box, whose gallery is currently featuring an exhibition of prison artwork.
Local company East Bay Jay will be shooting both 16mm film and digital video at the video shoot, and refreshments will be provided. The plan, Washington says, is to "have people come together and be part of something that's bigger than just the video, which is the community of artists."
Community seems to be a big theme in Washington's life. In addition to her involvement in Naked Soul, for the past three years she's helped other independent artists get exposure as Webmaster of Myownmusic.net. "That's a space I'm trying to create on the Web," she explains. "It's a network of artists, a place for them to come and find each other."
After all, she reasons, "nobody else is trying to help us, [so] we gotta help each other."