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Freestyle Icon Siedah Garrett Continues to Serve as a Musical Inspiration

Siedah Garrett
Siedah Garrett
Photo courtesy of the artist
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Last year, when Australian label Tinted Records reach out to Siedah Garrett about the possibility of remixing and re-releasing her 1985 freestyle classic "Do You Want It Right Now," she didn't hesitate in saying yes.

“It's a new introduction to an old song," she tells New Times from her home in Los Angeles. "You know you've heard it before, but you're hearing it in a brand-new way. It's all at once familiar and brand new. That's a weird feeling."

Garrett has always been a fan of remix culture, and the opportunity for a group of young producers to recontextualize her work was one she was something that excited her.

"There aren't too many areas in which that would work," she adds. "The way music can be revamped, remixed, configurated, rejiggered. It's just a beautiful thing. It's another layer of flavor onto the original.”

Thanks to Tinted's interest, the original track finally made its way to streaming services in January, followed by several remixes by producers like Eden Prince and Dr Packer.

Of course, this is just a continuation of the enduring "Do You Want It Right Now" influence on dance music.

Featured on the soundtrack of Sidney Poitier's 1985 directorial debut, Fast Forward, the song is one of freestyle's earliest crossover successes, a classic of the genre that made stars out of Stevie B, Lisa Lisa, and Shannon. (Miami itself has had a long love affair with freestyle music — to the point where one of the genre's origin theories holds that it was named after the Miami electro group, Freestyle.)

Following the release of her 1988 solo album, Kiss of Life, Garrett became a prolific songwriter and background singer. By then, however, "Do You Want It Right Now" was cementing its status as part of the dance music lexicon.

Over the decades, the song has continued to serve as inspiration for other artists. Taylor Dayne recorded a bouncing cover — another product of the freestyle era — for her 1988 debut album, Tell It to My Heart. Never released as a single, it nonetheless remains one of Dayne's most recognizable songs.

In 1992, Degrees of Motion's cover reached number 31 on the U.K. singles chart and became a dance-music classic in its own right. Then, house legend Armand Van Helden — one of Garrett's favorite artists — sampled it for his 2007 chart topper "I Want Your Soul." And before CamelPhat became an international success story, the duo chopped it up for its 2012 release “Right Now.”

Given that an enduring legacy, It's hard to believe Garrett when she says that “no one’s asked me about [this song] in 30 years." Despite her noteworthy career as a songwriter, “Do You Want It Right Now” is the one that got away.

"I wish I'd written that song," she says.

Quincy Jones, who served as executive producer of the Fast Forward soundtrack, was turned on to the track by New York DJ and producer John "Jellybean" Benitez.

"The song is played in the guitar solo, so you never even hear me sing a word in the movie,” Garrett says with a chuckle.

Though she hasn't forgotten that little detail, it doesn't seem to bother her in the slightest, because the song continues to move the dance floor.

“I'm just glad it's still around," she says with a smile. "I'm still associated with it, and it's still doing its thing and people are still dancing to it. That's the sign of a great song.”

“Do You Want It Right Now” was just one note in a storied career. Mentored by Jones, Garrett was a staple on the legendary producer's Qwest Records imprint. She cowrote Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” — she says Jackson insisted on videotaping her demo of the song because he wanted to make sure he sang it just like she did.

Garrett has written for and been a background vocalist for Madonna, Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, and Common.

And she says none of that would have transpired if not for her mother. An interior designer, her mom had a client who needed backup singers for his album.

Garrett’s face lights up as she recalls her introduction to the music business.

“I'm 16, and I go in this recording studio with these two amazing women," she says. "They start singing, and their harmonies are so tight. And then I sing with them. I had the most fun I ever had in my life. I went home and was high on that for weeks. ”

She was just a teenager, but she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

“It just spoke to me. I'd never been a part of anything that made me feel so happy inside. And then I got paid?" Garrett marvels. "The concept just blew my mind. I don't know what I would do if I weren't writing songs.”

What would she do if she weren't in the music industry?

“I think I would be a knitwear designer,” she says.

Not surprisingly, it's a side hustle Garrett also has become known for over the years. Besides providing pieces for collaborators like Madonna, she knits as part of her philanthropic efforts.

“I love to knit so much. I knit beanies for babies with cancer and other issues. I knitted a bunch of beanies for a children's hospital in Miami,” she imparts.

She can't always afford to write a check, but the gift of time and service can be even more impactful.

“All I can do is give back my time, and my energy, and performing for events to help raise money," Garrett says. "It ends up being a much more appreciated part of my participation rather than just write a check. 'Cause anybody can write a check.”

Indeed, anybody can write a check, but nobody can sing like Siedah Garrett.

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