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Oct 28 / Prinza

Ms Dynamite Is BACK!

I made this video for the kids growing up with no one who cares about them. STANDING backstage at the Mobo Awards, sipping a mug of hot lemon and honey to warm her voice, Ms Dynamite (left) betrays no sign of nervousness. After taking time out to have and raise her baby son, this is her much-heralded return to the music frontline – performing Judgement Day, her first new single in three years. She had just won the Mercury Music Prize, two Brits and and three Music Of Black Origin awards (Mobos) when she announced her sudden withdrawal from music in 2002. Critics called it career suicide. But Ms Dynamite quietly explains why she had no choice.”My mum lost five children, three of them while I was growing up,” she says, speaking softly in the artists’ canteen. “She lost one child to cot death. One was born with a hole in the heart. Another was stillborn. She had two miscarriages. “That affected me terribly. Seeing her go off to the hospital to give birth, and coming home alone, with no baby.”As she looks up from her hands where they rest on the plastic tablecloth, suddenly she is 24-year-old Niomi McLean-Daley rather than her Ms Dynamite alter ego. “I was seven, 11 and 15 when three of those children died and it broke my heart,” she says. “The others died before I was born. So when I found out I was pregnant with Shavaar it wasn’t a choice for me whether to take time out or not. “Whatever the consequences, even if the record label had said: ‘We’re dropping you’ or no one ever wanted to buy my records again, I would have still done what I did.”THE scars of her mother Heather’s experiences ran so deep that at first she feared for the health of her own unborn child. “But when I went for my first scan, I saw Shavaar’s heartbeat and it was so strong, then I knew that he would be all right, he would make it. But I still wanted to be careful, and that’s why I was determined not to work.” At her side during the birth two years ago was her 24-year-old fiance, Dwayne Seaforth. But last week friends revealed that they have seperated. “We’re not together any more,” Niomi says, talking about the break-up for the first time. “I think that a lot of parents stay together for the kids, but that’s not always the best thing to do.”Kids are not stupid or blind or dumb – they can see what’s happening. “Me and Dwayne are on a level. The thing about him is he is 100 per cent a good dad. A great dad. I wouldn’t have had a child with a man who I didn’t know would take care of his responsibilities. “Just because one of the parents doesn’t live there, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a family. A relationship doesn’t stop existing just because you stop being together in that way – there is still the friendship you had in the first place. Shavaar is the most important thing in both of our lives.”Niomi and her brother Kingslee were abandoned by their father, Eyon, as young children – a painful time which is the poignant subject of her single Father, out today. The double A-side with Judgement Day contains the hard-hitting lines: “I spent 23 years trying to be the f***ing man you should be/Taking care of your responsibility/Wanted clothes on our back and shoes on our feet/No help, but you always had your bag of weed.”Niomi shakes her head as she remembers writing it. “I wrote that song a year ago, and it surprised me, the anger in the song,” she says. “I have no bad feelings against my dad now. But I think it was me cleaning out any bad issue I had inside – consciously and subconsciously.” Being the man of the family, as she describes it, meant parenting her younger siblings from a very young age. “I was the eldest of 10 – five girls and five boys – but we didn’t all grow up together,” she says. “Four grew up with my mum, three with my dad, three with their mum. I grew up just with two brothers and one sister. I grew up in a single-parent family, and I was the other parent – my mum will tell you that. “I got my first job aged 13 at the Hackney Empire box office and I brought home the money for my brothers’ or sister’s winter jacket or trainers. I never spent the money on myself. Kingslee grew up fast too.”Her first album, A Little Deeper, featured a song written for him called Little Brother. Now an emerging talent in his own right, he raps on her new album during Redemption Song, a Bob Marley cover. “I am very proud of him,” Niomi says. “And mum’s really proud of us too.” Ms Dynamite has never been afraid to tackle gritty subjects – from personal grief to attacking drug companies to telling pretend gangster boys to grow up.On Wednesday night Channel 4 screens the controversial video for Father, which plays like a short film. Featuring an inner-city estate entirely abandoned by adults, it shows kids swarming over an ice cream van, smoking drugs, smashing phone boxes and being attacked with baseball bats, all through the eyes of a frightened young boy. In the final scene, youths throw a firework at a child in a wheelchair. “I don’t appear in the video at all because I wanted it to be a song related to by everyone, not just about me and my dad,” she says. “Of course, it is a very personal song, but by putting all those kids in the video – black, white, disabled, able-bodied – I wanted to make it about more than just me. “There are lots of kids growing up without a dad or without a mum or anyone who cares about them. I wanted to make a video for them.”She has made peace with her father now. “I’ve got him to thank for my name,” she says. “To show us our individuality right from the start, he named me Niomi with an i, Kingslee with a double e. He used to say that people can only live up to their name. “And in a way it did make me feel different. In class, when a teacher would say: ‘Naomi’, I would say: ‘It’s Niomi.’ It means faithful friend, and I think that’s a great thing to mean.”Suring her teens Niomi’s relationship with her mother was strained at times – but she describes her now as “the woman who I respect more than any other person in my life”. Knowing that Niomi would suffer racism as a mixed-race child growing up in 80s London, Heather taught her to be proud of her black heritage. “I was looking at some old school work the other day and I realised I am so supposed to be doing what I am doing,” Niomi laughs.”I found a poem I wrote when I was seven for a creative writing day and it says: ‘People calling me a half-caste is a racist terminology.’ It even talks about slavery.MY mum is one of those women who would never leave it to anyone else to educate her children. I grew up with so many mixed-race children who weren’t as confident as me. “Today, some people say to me: ‘Why do you call yourself a black woman when you are half white?’ “Well, which half is that? I’m not going to start dissecting myself. “If a BNP person came in here now, they wouldn’t care that I was half white. They would look at you as white and me as black. I am seen as a black woman by society.”Heather and her stepdad made her politically aware and she went on anti-apartheid protest marches from early childhood. “I also remember going on the march against Stephen Lawrence’s murder,” she says. “Let’s face it, with an upbringing like that I was never going to sing about stuff that isn’t important to me. I write from the heart.”She starts rapping playfully: “…I like you, I like me/Look at my lovely bi-ki-ni.” Then she laughs, and as the traces of remembered sorrow leave her face she is Ms Dynamite once more. “I ain’t never going to get up on the stage and sing that.”

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