Interview with Ramiyah
A Story to Be Told
Detroit, Michigan has traditionally played home to some of the greatest gospel talents of our time. Legendary artists such as Thomas Whitfield, the Winans, and Commissioned have made Detroit a hotbed for the trendsetters of Gospel Music.
— interview by Gerard Bonner —
So, it's really no surprise to hear that the next big thing in gospel is coming from Detroit. The group is known as Ramiyah...meaning "Jehovah is exalted".
The story of Ramiyah, however, is a little different than most.
Where the Gospel arena traditionally sees groups get their big break after singing together for years, the formation of Ramiyah sounds almost like a season of Making the Band II or American Idol. Superproducer J. Moss of PAJAM held auditions throughout the Detroit area to form a girl group. Over 100 girls auditioned and the result of those auditions yielded Sherise Staten, Tracy Bryant, DeLaurian Burton and Stephanie Bonner.
Who says that P. Diddy is the only one who can make a band?
Perhaps the interesting element to the formation of Ramiyah was that the auditions were not group or duo type of auditions. "We all had individual auditions, so we didn't see each other until the group was made. So when we got together, it was basically like, 'Hi, I'm Stephanie and I'm Tracy, and so on," laughs Stephanie Bonner. "Since then, [PAJAM] put us through gelling times, where we went and hung out outside of music so we could get to know each other," says Tracy Bryant.
As four virtual strangers, forming a group would be no easy task. But the ladies of Ramiyah have found a way to meet the challenge of this new venture. "I think the most difficult thing in the beginning was making our individual voices blend as one," says Sherise Staten. "We had never known each other and to bring four different people in is a challenge. But you know that Mr. J. Moss keeps it rockin'," continued Staten.
Though initially strangers, the common thread among Ramiyah is their musical background. Each of the group members came from musical backgrounds or began singing at an early age. Like most young people, the church choir was their early stomping grounds. However, there's always one who's a little different in the crew.
Album Review: Ramiyah
Their vocal blend is as smooth as silk and the ladies sound as though they've been together for years rather than virtual strangers introduced via an audition. Nonetheless, the album is smokin'. Some definite jeep-bumpers include "Just Stop", "Here We Go (Holla)", and "Turn It Out".....|
See full album review.
"When I was younger, I sang for fun," says DeLaurian Burton. "I didn't really get serious about singing until I got into high school. Since then, I've been singing in the Praise Team at church and the youth choir, and I'm still singing."
Ramiyah may be relatively new to the game but they are very clear on their reason for being and understand the magnitude of this new venture. "It's a huge responsibility," says Bonner. "I remember when we sat around the table to first sign our recording contract and we just began to cry. I said, "Do ya'll realize what we're signing our lives to?' This is not just about singing. It's not just about performing and travelling. It's about really touching somebody to let them know that God is real. We have a responsibility to live for Him because He died for us. We realize that every single day, we have to strive to perfect ourselves, our ministry, our spiritual lives. It's huge and no joke," continues Bonner.
As an urban group, the lines between ministry and hot tracks can occasionally become blurred. However, Ramiyah is focused on balancing the two. "We all live what we sing about and ministry definitely comes first," states Bryant. "God is the head of our lives and at the forefront of our ministry. And when you're rollin' with PAJAM, you can't help but to have hot tracks."
Understandably, there is a close relationship between Ramiyah and PAJAM. The concept of Ramiyah is the brainchild of PAJAM's front man J. Moss. With Paul Allen ("pda") and Walter Kearney rounding out the PAJAM trio, this production team provides management and industry guidance to female quartet.
While the PAJAM crew is very serious about their work, they certainly have a lighter side to them. "They're silly and they're clowns," says Staten. "They're pranksters!! Business time is business time but boy, they're some pranksters," laughs Staten.
The worst PAJAM prank, you ask? "They saran wrapped our cars in the winter and we could not get them open," says Bonner. "I mean they really saran wrapped the whole joint. You couldn't even get the car door open. But we got them back!!"
The commitment and respect between PAJAM and Ramiyah goes both ways and Ramiyah readily appreciates the excellence that PAJAM brings. "From the first time that I met them, they've been extremely consistent," declares Bonner. "They are extremely dedicated. The only thing that surprises me is how much better they get each day. I didn't think they could get much better than they were but they continue to prove me wrong."
This entire process for Ramiyah has afforded them opportunities that aren't readily available to most upstart groups, starting of course with their hot rocker production team.
Add to that, they find themselves in the studios with the legendary Dorinda Clark-Cole, Karen Clark-Sheard and Kierra Sheard. "It was a great experience working with them," says Burton. "It was like 'are they really here in our session, on our album? It was great."
In addition, the group is signed to Music World Gospel, run by Alvin Williams and Matthew Knowles. Ironically, the group didn't have to do much in the way of shopping for a label. Williams saw Ramiyah during their first label showcase and was extremely impressed. "We flew to Texas a couple of days later and did a showcase. Matthew [Knowles] signed us on the spot in front of hundreds of people, which was something he had never done before," says Bonner.
Ramiyah is aware of the enormity of this release for them. They've performed on Bobby Jones Gospel and the 2003 Stellar Awards months before their singles even hit radio. Yet they remain undaunted and are handling the pressure quite well. "I don't think it's really a lot of pressure," says Staten. "We all know who we are in God and then we know what roles we play as a group and in our group. So we just go out there, keep God first, and do what's in your heart. God always works the rest out."
As Ramiyah makes its recording debut, they look to introduce songs to the masses that have both social and spritual relevance. "The message that we're sending to people is one that we say everywhere we go. That message is to keep God first," states Bonner. "One of our songs is called "Stop". Many people sit around and have a pity party, asking 'why can't I have this car?' and 'why can't I have this amount of money?' Just remember not to throw in the towel. God has something waiting for you and He always saves the best for last."
Ramiyah's formation and sound more closely resembles an R&B makeup as opposed to a traditional gospel fit. The same holds true for the image and appearance of the group. You're much more likely to see the group resemble the fashion savvy found in XXL or Vibe rather than the stylings of your average church fashion show. While the girls look to relate to their audience, they do remain respectful of their entire audience.
"We strive never to be offensive in anything that we wear," admits Bonner. "So that's something we're working on each and every day. We're continuing to let God lead and guide us in that area. But it's definitely something that we're conscious of. Wherever we go, we really scope the audience and make sure we're appropriate."
In this ever-changing music industry, one constant that seems to keep appearing is the longevity, or lack thereof, of girl groups. From the Supremes in the 60s and 70s to countless groups in the modern era, keeping a female group together seems to be an increasing challenge. However, Ramiyah is confident that they'll be around.
"Not to be controversial but females have a lot of different personalities," reveals Bonner. "We're much more sensitive than males and we really have to get to know each other as sisters. We look at each other as sisters, so it's easier to handle an attitude in a given day. We may know that [one of the girls] is just trippin' but she's still my girl. I love her and she loves me. Especially in our group, we know that God is the head of our lives. We know that we are each individually ordained to do this, so it's not easy to get out."
"When God has ordained you to do something, you can't just run away," says Burton. "The level of commitment that we have to each other is unbreakable. We have a bond that will never be broken. Regardless of how far Ramiyah goes, Stephanie, Sherise, Tracy, and DeLaurian will always be sisters. Because God has placed us here to do this awesome work, we have to know that this comes first. We've given up our whole lives to do this and we know we've been called to do this," declares Burton.
Just listening to Ramiyah, it's easy to see that their focus is definitely in the right place. In the occasionally saturated music industry, it can be easy to get lost in the proverbial sauce. However, Ramiyah knows what distinguishes them from the other girl groups currently in the industry.
"What separates us from others is God's ordainment, His anointing on our lives, and His favor," states Staten. "We have the urban/hip-hop beats and stuff like that. We dance. Most of all, what makes us different is the way we praise God in our own individual way, people see that it's real."
Similar to Raz-B from B2K, there is a strong hip hop element within the group. During several track on the album, group members DeLaurian Burton and Sherise Staten, drop a serious flow and show that ladies can rhyme too. "Well, you know, I taught Sherise
everything she knows," laughs Burton. "I've always written poetry. It's been a very helpful way for me to express myself. As I got older, I started rapping with songs that I heard and eventually starting writing my own raps and trying to develop that craft."
Ramiyah on Spirit Rising
By the inclusion of brand new music from artists such as Ramiyah and Dawkins and Dawkins and HR Crump, Spirit Rising Vol. 2 Inspirational will cause heads to snap to attention.... |
Certainly, the music industry today is as competitive as it has ever been. With lofty goals and a hungry audience, numerous challenges await any group entering this arena. With that said, Ramiyah has had to endure some challenge en route to this release. Their greatest challenge? "My hardest part was Boot Camp," exclaims Bryant. "Boot Camp was no joke. That's the stuff that was no joke. You never want to go to Boot Camp. In Boot Camp, you sing for days, you dance for days, you exercise on the treadmills."
"We had dance rehearsals where we couldn't stop unless we were sweating. We weren't dancing if we weren't sweating," reveals Bonner.
Not even Boot Camp could deter Ramiyah from aiming for their desired audience...America's youth. "We know how it is to grow up as a young person in today's society," says Bonner. "We realize that young people need an outlet. We feel like we're an inspiration to young people everywhere. It's time for young people to stand up for God."
"And you can have fun doing it...", adds Bryant.
Inspired by artists ranging from the Clark Sisters to Commissioned, the ladies of Ramiyah are aiming to follow in the steps of their predecessors. Like their famous predecessors, Ramiyah has an appeal to both the churched and unchurched. Fusing tight harmonies, relevant lyrics, with an unmistakable call towards ministry, this girl group is destined for greatness.
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