Tori Alamaze: Lost In Translation

In an industry where styles are copied and images are duplicated on a daily basis, it’s hard to find the originator of anything. In the last few months, Atlanta-based singer Tori Alamaze (pronounced al-lah-MAH-zay) has witnessed fellow newcomers the Pussycat Dolls pilfer her song “Don’t Cha”, a sassy adaptation of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Swass”. Tori initially […]

In an industry where styles are copied and images are duplicated on a daily basis, it’s hard to find the originator of anything. In the last few months, Atlanta-based singer Tori Alamaze (pronounced al-lah-MAH-zay) has witnessed fellow newcomers the Pussycat Dolls pilfer her song “Don’t Cha”, a sassy adaptation of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Swass”.

Tori initially recorded the song with multi-talented artist/producer Cee-Lo, and released it through Universal Records in preparation for a complete album project. The Detroit native says the label never shot a video for her single, nor did she receive proper marketing. According to industry chatter, Tori’s version of “Don’t Cha” was intended as the label’s next big thing, but then Universal decided the single wasn’t the right move. Tori was subsequently dropped from the label just as her song was beginning to get some positive attention.

Not surprisingly, Tori is less than delighted with the Dolls’ version. The multicultural female posse imitates Tori’s vocal inflections and adlibs to a tee, while adding Busta Rhymes to the mix and keeping Cee-Lo on production. Tori now tells her side of this intriguing tale to Alternatives, and keeps her dream moving. Alternatives: Before we get into your story, can you give some background on your history in the music industry?

Tori Alamaze: I used to be a makeup artist for about 10 years. I’ve worked with everyone from Faith to Erykah [Badu], TLC, Xscape, Monica, Outkast, Busta [Rhymes]. Most recently, I made the transition from makeup into singing when I started going on tour with Outkast on “Hey Ya” in 2003-2004.

AHHA: So basically your music career just started around two years?

Tori: I would say I’ve been kind of behind the scenes quietly creating and dreaming and wanting to do music. However, I was still involved in the industry. [With] traveling and the clients, of course, comes A&R and labels and all that type of stuff. So I was still in it, but I wasn’t necessarily considered a recording artist. In the last three years, I’ve been more vocal, and it’s been more out there.

AHHA: Right. So what do you want people to know about the situation with this song, “Don’t Cha”?

Tori: It’s just interesting at the moment because I am in transition, and of course this was all unexpected. This wasn’t included in what we initially started, so of course we have to shift everything that we have been doing and just come up with a whole ‘nother plan. Basically, I’ve been seeing on the Internet and just hearing what people say, but they have no idea. Consumers just come up with their own conclusion, which is the only thing that kind of prompted me to get it out. I don’t want to focus on it because I’m so focused on moving forward, but I just gotta speak because I hear all kinds of stuff—that the Pussycat Dolls are cuter, that’s why the label did it, or just all kinds of assumptions out there, but it’s dead wrong.

AHHA: Okay, what is your explanation?

Tori: I personally feel like I was caught up in the middle of favors and egos, and it had nothing to do with me. It’s not personal against Tori. But at some point, the guy who signed me decided not to do anything with the project, and that includes not letting go of any of my music. So [Universal President] Doug Morris [and the label] weren’t gonna release me, they weren’t gonna let go of any of the music. I would have just been in a standstill and not [been able to] move forward to another situation or do anything for that matter. So Doug Morris spoke to Cee-Lo personally, who wrote the song. And I’m also, by the way, signed to his production company.

AHHA: Okay, I was going to ask if you were signed to Universal.

Tori: I was signed to Cee-Lo’s production company [Radiculture Records] on Universal. Basically he and I were and are still a team. People assume that there’s animosity between us, that he sold the song for more profit. None of that is true. Basically, we were put between a rock and a hard place, in that [Universal] wasn’t gonna get rid of me or get rid of my music. So they basically were like, “Okay, we can continue this legal battle or we can give the song to someone else.”

AHHA: So you knew they were giving it away, it didn’t come as a surprise?

Tori: No, it was a surprise because it was [already] done. They didn’t need my consent. [Laughs] It was done. I found out in April. It definitely took the light out from me. It’s just like, you’re ready to fly and somebody attempts to clip your wings. But at the same time, I’ve endured so much. This isn’t the first situation and definitely won’t be the last, so it’s nothing to me. I mean, my faith is grounded, I gotta keep going. I have more than one hit. They can have it.

AHHA: And what was your contribution to the song. Did you just sing it or…?

Tori: Cee-Lo produced the song. I was working on a demo before I met him. We met in January 2004 I believe and just started creating. And then once he and I got together, he was the only person that seemed to get it—the “it” that was probably missing before. We’ve known each other for about ten years – he’s known me as a dancer, and he got my demo. It got into his hands a couple of years ago. And from there we just started creating. He’s an amazing writer and producer, and he seems to get who I am—who Tori Alamaze is and what I wanna say and how I wanna say it.

AHHA: So is your main concern basically not being credited for the original song?

Tori: I think what really gets up under my skin is the fact that—before I get into that, I have to say that it’s still possible that I may be able to do a video for “Don’t Cha.” So we’re kind of entertaining that at the moment. So with that said, I think it just bothers me that I’m a [solo] artist, I’m an African-American artist, but my music just so happens to transcend race, time, age, gender, whatever. It transcends that – and it just bothers me that you have these six girls, not really artists, just some Burlesque cabaret group. It just seems like, from what Cee-Lo told me, they attempted to study my voice with such reverence, they looked at me with such reverence, like, “Oh, Miss Tori.” They attempted to study my voice, copy every breath, every sigh, every ad lib that I did, and it still lacks the original soul.

AHHA: What you think gets lost in their version?

Tori: What’s missing is me. To me, the record companies tend to think consumers are ignorant. You throw some formula out there, which is this pop group, and expect them to just ride along like nothing happened. Some people do that and some people are like, Wait a minute; that doesn’t sound like the same version I heard. And there is more than one example of beauty.

AHHA: You mentioned that the girls emulated your voice and everything. So they knew about the whole thing.

Tori: Of course, of course. And I don’t wish them any ill will. But I just have a feeling that at some point—yeah, it may look grand right now, but I think at some point it will backfire. ‘Cause seriously this song has been out almost a year. I got at 3100 spins, with very little marketing and promotion. I got this song on “Beauty Shop” twice. I have a feature in VIBE Magazine’s April Hollywood issue. It’s not like I’m some chick who just crawled from under some rug from some little town in Georgia. My name is Tori Alamaze. I have a lot of respect; I respect a lot of people. I have a lot of love and I have a lot of people who have my back.

AHHA: What type of public reaction have you seen? Are people generally surprised, outraged?

Tori: I think people have a lot of questions from what I’ve observed. People are just like, “What’s going on?” I’ve even read an email that said “Don’t buy it.” All kinds of stuff. People are saying, “Tori Alamaze had more emotion, more feeling”. To [the Pussycat Dolls] it’s a song. To me it’s something Cee-Lo and I created in the basement.

AHHA: So it’s really like your baby?

Tori: Exactly. Because it’s an introduction to the album, and the album is a Tori Alamaze movement, particularly for women. It’s a movement. It’s not just a song so that the labels can make money off fake Spice Girls. It’s not like that. But because it’s just a song to them, that’s exactly what it sounds like.

AHHA: Have you spoken to any of the girls about it or what would you tell them if you could speak with them?

Tori: I would be extremely graceful and wish them well ‘cause I don’t blame them personally. But it is a little foolish to just—I think they expect me to just disappear or [they] wish that I would just disappear or that version would disappear. Because I’m sure that any radio station they go to, any interview, that somebody’s gonna bring it up. But they’re like, “Oh, we just did a remix, and we’re cool and there’s no problem”. Because the less controversy on their side, the [better].

AHHA: This type of situation seems like it would happen a lot in the music industry, but artists don’t usually talk about it.

Tori: I know a lot of bullcrap happens in the industry—but from what I hear from people who’ve been in the industry longer, this particular situation is rare because this isn’t a song that was out five years ago, ten years ago. This song is currently and still in rotation – still on the Billboard [charts]—my version. So it’s like, it’s an obvious corporate jack move. I didn’t even get a chance. They didn’t even give me a chance.

AHHA: It seems like, to the label, maybe the Pussycat Dolls are more marketable.

Tori: I don’t think it had anything to do with marketing at all. I don’t think it has nothing to do with marketing because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. I mean nothing. I’m not overweight. I mean, I could understand—I remember when I was younger I heard about the whole Martha Wash thing, the Weather Girls, and that whole thing about whether she was really singing. And then they gave [the song] to this group [because] she was overweight, that was their issue. I’m not even any of that. I’m very marketable.

AHHA: Some people might look at it like you’re envious of the group’s success with your song.

Tori: They’re riding off of my success. That’s what it is. They’re riding off of what I got started. [Laughs] People were already going bananas over that song, like last August, September when it started in Los Angeles.

AHHA: Alright, I understand. Can you talk about your album?

Tori: The album is done and it’s fantastic. As I said before, we’re in the middle of a transition so I’m looking at a late July [release]. I actually have a follow-up song called “Miss Everythang,” letting people know I’ve been through enough. Even going through this situation currently, I’m staying faithful and keeping my head up and keeping moving. My grandmother has passed away, my aunt has passed away, and my mother just had surgery for cancer, so I’m dealing with a host of things at the same time.

There’s nothing—they can’t take anything away from me. Absolutely nothing. I mean, singing, performing, recording, writing has always been a dream of mine. And I’ve come this far. I’m not gonna come this far and just fall into oblivion. That’s not how I’m made up. I’m a Black woman.