By Sarah Williams
She is a rising star in the States, but right now, North London's finest, Keisha White, who has been compared to Ms Dynamite and often called 'the great White hope' is staying in the UK to finish what she started and ride the wave of wonderful praise she's been receiving ever since the release of her debut album, 'Seventeen' early last year.
With a honeyed voice that drips with soul and sounds much more mature than her 19 years, its not surprising that Keisha was signed to Warner Records at an age when most teenagers are worried about their clothes and what makeup to wear. After all she was only 16.
As a girl growing up, singing was always a part of the teenager's life so it would have been unnatural for her to do anything else, especially since her mother was also a singer and a major influence on her daughters chosen career path.
"My mum was the main person who inspired me to do music. I used to go to shows and sing with her. I was about 13 years old when I fully realised I wanted to do it professionally and I think its something that was always in me. It was inevitable that I would do it too."
Like her daughter, Keisha's mother was a professional singer with more than a touch of soul. She sang songs that were in the same vain as 80s soul sensation Chaka Khan and the formidable Aretha Franklin and this, Keisha believes, is definitely where her "soul came from."
After wowing the industry with her ambition and amazing vocal talent, (one particular highlight was on Paul Oakenfold's 'The Harder They Come') Keisha went on to tour with Lemar, Jamelia, The Black Eyed Peas and record a slick genre hopping debut album at the tender age of 17, which resulted in her being nominated for a British Urban Music Award.
She may have set the UK music industry buzzing, but it was our American counterparts who really took her to their hearts.
After spending time in the US, Keisha's collaborated with hip-hopper Cassidy on last years hit 'Don't Care Who Knows.' She co-wrote songs on her debut with one of the hottest writers, Balewa Muhammad, who's responsible for hits by Christian Aguilera and Whitney Houston and she's worked with one of most respected and in demand producers in the industry, Scott Storch (Beyonce, Christian Aguilera, Dr Dre).
The producer extraordinaire even put Janet Jackson's last album on hold to work with her.
"Scott's a great guy," She tells me, like working with the greatest urban producer in the world is something we can all one day be lucky enough to do. "He's one of the most rated producers in the hip-hop urban world and he's a great musician. I think he really liked me because he wanted to work with someone who wasn't really established in Britain. We got on well and got some fantastic records out of it."
It's not surprising that, like many of Britain's talented urban artists, the States seem to have noticed and embraced her soulful talent a hell of a lot quicker than we have, which ultimately is a real shame for us.
Americans, Keisha says, not only love her voice but also who she is and what she's about. She puts this down to that fact that while in a flagging urban music industry, Britain struggles to nurture their artists to their full potential, "Americans get the plot."
With so much great British urban talent around, why does she think this is the case?
"I think a lot of the UK music industry are not allowing certain artists to come through if they have something negative to say. America can't control that, because they are so massive. Once artists get to that stage they can say what they want.
"Americans do it so well because they're the ones who are at the top of the Billboard charts. It seems as a UK artists you have to work extra hard, but my philosophy is, it's not really that hard if you have something that's unique about you."
And unique she definitely is, mostly because she never pretends to be anything other than what she is, preferring to let her voice do the talking, "I'm being Keisha White; I'm not trying to be Beyonce. I'm being myself.
"A lot of the time the UK urban industry has a hard time trying to identify what their role is. So it kind of gets confusing. Instead of buying someone like Sway or Kano, people buy 50 cent because he's already massive, so there's a gap there."
With her blend of soul, R'n'B, pop and a smidgen of reggae this 'great White hope', may just be the one to fill that gap, especially if her new single, the emotional tear jerking, 'The Weakness In Me' taken from Seventeen, is anything to go by.
Originally sung by Joan Armatrading in 1978, Keisha chose this particular ballad because of the singer's history. Armatrading was a strong soul artist who was one of the first black females in the UK to have a hit record and after listening to her definitive music, something in it struck a cord with Keisha. "The song, (The Weakness In Me) just jumped out at me and I though, I can do something with this. I can make it my own." For her though, this is more than just a song for lovers. She sees it as a song that's about, "somebody reaching out for a person, a friend or family member, who has come into or out of their lives. It's a feeling of closure."
Now that she's 19, two full years older than when she first started to record her debut album Keisha is once again going to take the UK music industry by storm when she re-touches and re-releases her album 'Seventeen' this summer. It will include more ballsy ballads, like The Weakness In Me' of which she seems so comfortable with.
But before we get to that, there may be a collaboration on the horizon. During our interview Keisha speaks with the assuredness and confidence of a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, that is until I ask about her future plans and suddenly she turns rather coy, "There might be a couple of collaborations with a UK male artist, but I'm not saying who." When I try to press her more about this British male artist, Keisha gives nothing away, apart from saying that the male in question was in a non urban band. My guess, either Simon or Lee from Blue?
She also doesn't discount a collaboration with friend Alicia Keys, who picked Keisha's voice out of a ton of CDs when on her last European tour and put her forward for the vocals on, the Halle Berry film Catwoman.
With all this talent, hype and much deserved attention at such a young age, it's a wonder that Keisha keeps her feet on terra firma at all. But you can tell that somehow she does. Thanks to her family and friends who she says are, "as real as you can get" who don't let her get too above herself and keep her in her place. She's still just a 19-year-old, London girl after all.
In an industry that's lacking in sparkle and originality and with her polished, highly accomplished vocals, a soulful vibe, a down to earth persona and a love for songs that stand the test of time, it's not hard to see why Keisha White is one British artist that we should take notice of and not let go without a fight.
The Weakness In Me is out now
By Sarah Williams