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“A huge influence on my approach to music came from Sun Ra when I was eight years old,” says Ife Sanchez Mora when describing her new album Fire Inside Me. “He was really impressed by my little electric keyboard. He said ‘Don’t worry about the lessons, the rules. You have to feel and go with it and trust your gut.”

Fire Inside Me is a masterful blend of Sanchez’ powerful vocals and skill for narrative songwriting, anchoring tracks of many different genres through her evocative, heartrending lyrics and unmistakable voice. Her songs travel the country, painting portraits of life in New York, Detroit and other psychic landscapes of America. Ife’s classic, timeless songcraft stands fully on it’s own, but becomes more fascinating when you learn her full story.

Ife was a pivotal figure in both her native Detroit’s techno scene and this turn of the century’s trip-hop explosion, having signed to Tricky’s record label Durban Poison/Dreamworks S.K.G. in 2000.

Both her parents, Francisco Mora and Teresa Mora, were prominent Detroit musicians, hence the quality time with Sun Ra. Grandmother Elizabeth Catlett was a political painter, featured in the most prestigious African-American art collections around the world and as one of Oprah Winfery’s “Legends.”

Grandfather Francisco Mora, another revered painter, was a Mexican contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Both were integral in Ife’s musical development.

“They always taught me to be bold in my art, to not hold back, to push boundaries. Challenge yourself constantly.”

Fire Inside Me reflects that boundary-breaking. Drawing from a wide range of influences like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, P-Funk, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, the album flirts between genre’s — “Hopeful Heart’s” Pretenders-nodding country/rock swagger, the sharp-toothed, folky critique of “American Dream,” the gorgeous, string-laden chamber ballad “Crash & Burn” — but grounded in Ife’s conceptual, confessional lyricism.

Based on the artist’s real-life relationships from the last several years, the individual tracks come together to form a song cycle on the emotional life of the contemporary American woman.

“This is what women go through in love, the heartache she experiences, having children, falling in love and having a career. It’s about relationships not working out and picking yourself back up again, finding yourself through pain and heartbreak, and just exploding with who you are authentically. Being bold as women are.”

As the individual tracks on Fire Inside Me jump between the sounds of blues, rock and country, they are all grounded in that boldness and in those personal stories.

The title song begins with blustery, hard-country guitars, as a tambourine guides the way for Ife’s silky storytelling about love and courage. “Tell Yo Papa” is a straight rock and roll ode to Betty Davis, wife of Miles and star musician on her own. It’s a track you can imagine Jon Bonham drinking to. “Detroit Blues” is a blues shuffle, with rhythmic guitars and a shout-along chorus to a teflon American city and it’s unbreakable ladies. Stunning slow-burner “Dreaming” is a growling, cabaret ode to anxiety and depression, and the ability for relief through self-acceptance.

“You get to a place in life where you ask yourself “How did I get here?” You can admit the ugliest parts of yourself, admit that you’re not ok with where you are in your life and that’s ok.”

Ife is a lifelong practicer of Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, which cast as strong an influence on her musical journey as her grandparents’ visual art. She chants every morning and evening and lives life by the Buddhist philosophy to always speak the truth and provoke constructive dialogue.

Aforementioned “American Dreaming,” might ruffle feathers, but is designed to provoke just such dialogue. Written about a celebrity that Ife declines to name, the song is also a general critique for the way she believes celebrity has taken over American society.
“Everyone is aspiring to their fifteen minutes of fame, everyone is willing to sacrifice. No one has values anymore. People are willing to sell their souls for celebrity, but when they attain it they lose themselves. Attaining celebrity has become the new American dream, as opposed to my American dream of family, being an artist, simple things.”

“Fire Inside Me” avoids the trap of such superficial dreams. Helmed by an artist who had risen to the top of both Detroit Techno and Trip Hop, and whose new solo work overshadows both of those periods with it’s soul and depth, the album is a testament to true skill. Different genres come and go, but both Ife and”Fire Inside Me” rest on a foundation of truth and history. By fusing blues, country and rock with Ife’s unforgettable voice, “Fire Inside Me” achieves the elusive goal of feeling both classic and brand new at the exact same time.

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