Mike Rimmer reports on R&B gospel trio TRIN-I-TEE 5:7 and their new beginning with Matthew Knowles' Spirit Rising/Music World company.
In a crowded American scene, there are no shortage of female R&B gospel trios and yet the New Orleans-reared Trin-i-tee 5:7 are the ones who have managed to separate themselves from the crowd with a series of well recorded albums. It's been five years since the release of their album 'The Kiss' but now the group are well and truly back with the stormingly funky 'T57' which debuted this week on the US gospel charts at number two. The album's success is no surprise as it stems from Spirit Rising/Music World, the company run by that entrepreneur extraordinaire Matthew Knowles. Having overseen the success of Destiny's Child and his daughter Beyonce's solo career, Knowles is now ensuring that Adrian Anderson, Chanelle Haynes and Angel Taylor are back with a bang. In Britain we can but hope it won't be too long before somebody licences 'T57' for UK release!
Adrian Anderson is on the phone to chat about the new album. I began by asking the obvious question, why has it taken the girls such a long time to get a new album out? "It's been a combination of things," she admits. "We took the time to make an evaluation and determined to become more educated in the industry we were being very successful in. We wanted to be able to grow ourselves as a brand and to be able to really contribute a lot more to our fans, and that required us studying and becoming more empowered and more involved, just like going to college. Now the result of that is, a new label, new management with Mathew Knowles' Music World of course, and a new record, with a new understanding professionally (business wise), and a maturity."
More of that later because external forces also came into play for the group when Hurricane Katrina came along. "Angel and Chanelle are both from New Orleans," Adrian explains, "so that was an unforeseen setback, but it actually produced some more things that ended up contributing to this record. So all those things came into play and that's what took so long to bring out another record to the fans and to the world."
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was reported across the world but how did it affect the two members of the group from the area? "Chanelle had just moved back out there by the water, back to New Orleans, and three days later she's on a stranger's floor because her family evacuated. They had their car and the clothes they had on their backs. Her brothers stayed behind but they left and they thought: we'll be back in a few days. They had no idea when they drove away they weren't gonna be back for almost two years! When she was on that stranger's floor Chanelle realised how things can change in the blink of an eye. And at that time her brothers were missing and the phone lines weren't working."
She continues, "Eventually I got a hold of Chanelle, her cell phone
was working, she couldn't believe it! Eventually she called her
brothers and they were able to
get a hold of them. They actually had to commandeer an 18-wheeler and get themselves out, but they didn't leave until they rescued others. They did three trips, helping people get to the convention centre because some people had trucks but were charging money to get on board. They told us a lot of stories about things that happened while they were there waiting to hear from Chanelle, waiting for everything, waiting for their safety.
"Angel's family lost their family home and their car, so you had people just transitioning and trying to get a hold of one another and trying to keep their sanity. You would just surrender to God and know that you can't control anything and you really needed his love to keep you calm because you can't think rationally because there's nothing that you can do. Day by day it got worse before it got better."
The events of New Orleans had a knock on effect for the group as Adrian shares, "We had to look and said, 'What do we want to do? Do we want to still do this?' We were very confused at some points. But what kept us was the love we have for what we do. We knew that the beauty of what we do mattered, and it also was part of our sisterhood so we couldn't abandon that. We just knew that it was very important that we hold our family dear. When you lose everything you gain everything; that's the best way that I can say it, because you have a higher level of appreciation for everything that you have. You're not impressed with falsehood. It's like a cleansing, and now you're at a different state of maturity. So yes it was a very trying time. I don't think Chanelle will ever be the same. I don't think any of us will ever be the same from that, but I can say we're even better in other ways."
I observe that it must have made them stronger as a group and Adrian agrees. "It made us stronger spiritually, it made us stronger mentally, it made us stronger emotionally, it made us have clearer vision for what we want in life and what we want to do. And as a group, certainly it makes us stronger. It actually solidifies some things."
One of the responses to the New Orleans disaster is that the group have set up charitable organisations to make an impact beyond their music. Adrian says, "The charity is established out of what the group endured with the hurricane, and really the after-effects to be quite honest with you. New Orleans still needs a lot of help. The Gulf Coast still needs a lot of help because the property values. . .people haven't got all their monies; people need people. No matter what's going on with your governments and your government help, people need people; we're a strong believer of that."
She continues, "So we had a very grassroots approach but we formed the T5:7 Hope & Triumph Campaign. And what we did was we targeted New Orleans first, being that it's Angel's and Chanelle's hometown, and we worked further this year into Mississippi, and next year we'll go to my hometown of Sacramento, California. What we did was go back to New Orleans, stayed in Chanelle's FEMA trailer and were with the people, went to business owners, day-care centres, colleges, homeless shelters, homeless missions, schools. . .just a variety of different components of the city, aspects of the city, and talked to the people, sang for the people, and just asked them what was going on, how they felt, counselled with them, and stirred up some ideas about how to make things better and really emphasise that people need people. Churches that had lots of people; we'd go and sing in tents outside to show them it's a time for us to come together. And if we come together, whether that's sharing a sandwich that day, it's very important that we tend to one another. And while you're waiting for the official help that comes and you're waiting for those things, it still takes people helping people. And that's where that campaign came from."
Musically, the group are entering a new season with the release of 'T57'. The album's fresh contemporary sound draws on styles more accustomed to being heard in mainstream music scenes than in gospel. It brings together everything that makes Trin-i-tee 5:7 great including their dynamic vocal performance and inspiring lyrics but this time out the album shows a musical leap forward.
Obviously the influence of Matthew Knowles comes into play so how did the girls get to work with him? "Well, I'll tell you what, that was a beautiful moment," Adrian gushes enthusiastically, "because we have wanted a global company that has the relationships already and could really understand where we wanted to take our group. We were in prayer about it. Mathew Knowles saw us in concert and approached us after that. He explained to us what he saw for us; he sent for us to come to his label, gave us a tour of Music World, and from then on began the relationship. He really was behind our group, he wanted us, and we understood that he had branded his group, but more importantly he understood the business. He'd already been through the ups and downs and the trials and had a clear understanding of what he was getting involved with, so that really was a credit to him. So we realised that a lot of people were looking for Mathew Knowles but we were very, very blessed because HE was looking for US. And that's how that came about."
The group have had a little mainstream success in the States in the past. Now they are part of Matthew Knowles' new inspirational division called Spirit Rising Music and they are the faces of that division. "It's going to allow for a broader format," reflects Adrian. "Certainly there's always going to be positive lyrics, or realistic lyrics, pertaining to our lives and how we've matured and everything that we've learned. So Inspirational is a great category for us. Our subject matter has always been broad so I think you'll see it translates certainly in R&B, pop, inter-racial and gospel music but you're definitely going to see our evolution and we'll continue to grow in those directions where you see us on the mainstream charts and you see us in Christian and gospel."
Adrian is quick to point out that part of the band's time out from
recording has been taken up with sorting out the business side of
their affairs. I observe that it doesn't sound very spiritual. How
does she marry up her faith with the very clinical, very businesslike
approach they've adopted. Is there a conflict? "No," she responds
firmly, "I think that you have to be a good steward. And that's a
wonderful question and I very much appreciate it! You must be a good
steward with what you are blessed with, and when art meets commerce it
takes it to a whole other level. So it's not that it's not spiritual
it's just that you have a stewardship, and if you have a stewardship
you have a responsibility to learn every aspect of it. We knew the
other parts of it but you want to become educated, and a lot of times
people claim that it is not popular or spiritual, but suddenly, if
you're blessed with a house you must know how to run that house, and
that includes the plumbing, the lighting. . . That might not seem very
spiritual when you're doing it but you're being a good steward of your
home. And we must be a good steward of this group."
So now they've had a chance to regroup, to refocus and make the group secure financially, where do they stand in terms of what they're carrying spiritually; what is it that they're wanting to communicate to their audience? "Humility," asserts Adrian, "that in life you never know what is gonna happen. Even when you see the amazing things coming, be humble, be kind, and embrace the gift that God gives you and nurture them all. Look within yourself and say; how many talents has he really given me? And take the time to nurture them, and extend yourself to humanity. The better you are to yourself and the better you're able to get yourself strong, you're gonna be able to help that many more people."
She continues, "You know we could not be around this long but for the grace of God, and we can't just bask in that, we have to do something with it, we have a responsibility. Spiritually it's so many things because you need humility, you also need to be excited about everything that is to come and everything that's already here; love your family well, come together and create new ways in which you can help your family, your community. It's beautiful and it's righteous and it's popular to care. And you don't have to live a falsehood, you don't have to pretend you have something that you don't have. Your peace and your provision is in God. Be excited about your life! And recognise that when you extend yourself to be friendly you gain friends. When you extend yourself in humility you get lifted up. And it matters how we treat one another day by day; you're day-to-day life is very important. So be aggressive about your future, be excited, dream and dream big! And never forget that people matter, people matter, and things do not replace the value and the beauty of people, and the Spirit of God will reward you over and over and over and over and over again. We all could put such beauty in this world; we just have to slow down, get in prayer, think about it, and my mom used to always tell me: 'A smile costs you nothing Adrian!'"
She laughs at the memory and our time on the telephone is over. 'T57' is an album that launches a freshly confident Trin-i-tee 5:7 who are bursting with the desire to share their new music and inspire their audience. It's been a long time coming but listening to their new album, the wait has been worth it and Trin-i-tee 5:7 are back, prepared and ready to make an impact.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.