Thea Austin: A Skinny Kinda Reggae

Photography + Story by David Burgoyne | davidburgoyne.com

SNAP! I got the power.

She certainly has. If you are of a certain age, you know exactly what I am talking about. For new generations, she is the co-writer of Jeremih’s, Don’t Tell ’em, an interpolation of Rhythm is a Dancer, currently making a huge splash on the billboards in 2014. With SNAP!, she fronted their biggest anthem, Rhythm is a Dancer. In Soulsearcher, she made, Can’t Get Enough, a dance floor classic; even Ellie Goulding has covered her on the UK’s BBC Radio 1.

Not everyone can say they have a day recognized in their honor but in West Hollywood, September 28th is officially ‘Thea Austin’ day. It is a day to honor her work and support of the LGBT community in Los Angeles, particularly with APLA (Aids Project Los Angeles) since the 1980’s. She is a member of Journey Sistahs, a non-profit organization whose platform is at heart disease and HIV/AIDS awareness. The agency works with APLA and the American Heart Association, the LA Union Rescue Mission and the Jeff Griffith Center for those in need of support, education, food and human resources. Her goal to enhance good health and spiritual enlightenment within our community, coupled with her tireless fundraising, makes Miss Austin not just a legendary voice in dance music history, but a woman whose respect has been most definitely earned.

Through my work, I get the chance to travel the world. I have been lucky enough to attend pride festivals from London and San Francisco, to El Paso and Indianapolis. Recently, at Winnipeg Pride, I had the honor to cross paths with Thea Austin. She has a personality that you not only gravitate toward but positively bask in her light.

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You know what it’s like when you think you know the words to a song? For me, as a teen, whilst singing along to I Got the Power, instead of singing “It’s getting kinda hectic,” I was convinced it was, “Skinny kinda reggae.” Years later, I realized I had got it wrong and on meeting Thea, I had the balls to tell her my lyric faux pas. I love “Skinny kinda reggae,” she squealed with delight through a beautiful smile. Moments later, on stage, whilst belting out her dance floor smash, “Just For Me,” she sang, “Skinny, skinny, skinny kinda reggae,” instead of, “It’s gettin’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kinda hectic!” How can you top that?

With a stage presence that not only lifts but excites, Thea takes you into her bosom, lavishes you in her golden vocals and leaves you wanting to lay back in bed with a cigarette (even if you don’t smoke). From the moment I met her, I wanted to photograph her and capture her spirit, so I wasted no time in inviting her downtown to my studio in Los Angeles. With a huge smile and an even bigger bag of goodies, she lit up my loft and basically made me fall in love with her all over again. An absolute pleasure to shoot, Thea revealed her passion still lies in singing and performing. She plays guitar and produces her own music, as well as Philadelphia teenage sensation, Simone Noel, and other singer songwriters. Over a glass (bottle) of Pinot and bag full of kettle-glazed donuts, I managed to find out what makes Miss Austin tick and what she has in store for the future.

<Left> Firstly, where did you get these donuts? They are fabulous!  <Thea> Okay, The donuts are actually called cruffins and they’re from my favorite neighborhood spot, Kettle Glazed, on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. Aren’t they amazing?

Delicious! Tell us about how you came to sing with SNAP. I came to SNAP, thankfully, by introduction by the one and only Penny Ford (“I Got the Power”). She heard my demo, called the producers, let them hear me and then they invited me to Germany to write, sing and record with them. It was as simple as that.

I will never forget the day I first saw you perform on stage. I was blown away. What is your secret to having so much energy and life on stage? (She laughs her unmistakeable laugh) My secret to having life and energy is love, passion, goals and good service. I stay as healthy as possible by encouraging myself through my spiritual faith and prayer.

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Yes, your spirit and energy are so powerful! Tell me, what makes you tick?
Loving & managing close family relationships. Singing, writing, recording, performing, reading, yoga, hiking, boxing, zumba, bootcamp, great sex! Yes, all of that and more. I feed my spirit and body everyday. I love life, people, animals, nature. The good, the bad and the ugly. Everything matters. All of this makes me tick, especially pure love.

Do you ever tire of singing your no.1 track, “Rythm is a Dancer?” I NEVER get tired of singing Rhythm is a Dancer! (She smiles a dreamy smile and looks me straight in the eye) It’s the best thing that ever happened to me! This song was born from my spirit of prayer and has changed my life. I am grateful every day.

How did your involvement with APLA come about? My involvement with APLA came about as a result of seeing the need and having the desire to support people. I am empathic and understand my place in this old world to serve as best I can. Everyone matters and people with special needs should not be overlooked. You could call it a calling; it was just something I had to do.

The LGBT community loves you, Thea. What does your LGBT fanbase mean to you? They are everything to me and I totally love them. We have so much in common; not just great music but as part of the minority, we have challenges to survive that the majority doesn’t have to face. From varying levels of discrimination to constantly having to overcome bullies. The list goes on and on. We strive to be the best because some of us have suffered the worst. I hope I’m expressing myself well enough not to offend anyone! All people suffer. I’m just relating to the common connection, part of the minority. Anywho, we love each other. I love everybody, even my enemies. I learn from them, too. I’m all about having good faith and doing good works.

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Love your enemies! I’m starting to believe I’m sharing a glass of wine with a saint! Ok, all that’s pretty heart-to-heart. Let’s lighten it up a bit. After seeing Mark Ruffalo in, “The Normal Heart,” I’ve had my first celebrity crush since Rupert Everett in, “Another Country.” Who, if anyone, is your celebrity crush right now? Let’s see… celebrity crush? Hmm… actor Idris Elba, but since I am beautifully in love right now, the crush factor is only a 3 on the scale of 1 to 10!

So, Thea is in love. I’m soooooo in love, like smack-your-lips-all-frick-frackin’-day long! That good, good kinda love! Like, better than my favorite food! Like, my favorite song playing all day long, baby! Riding that wave and owning it! How sweet it is, even when we fight.

Well you deserve it girl. What’s in store for Miss Austin in the coming year? So, the next big things for me is marriage, being a research monkey and launching my label, RIAD Music. Writing, singing, recording and releasing great songs about good love and life and all its ups and downs. Hopefully, to inspire someone else. Readers, please remember that good, pure love is a healer. It’s medicine for the soul. I love and appreciate my life and all that’s in it. I’m living with a heart filled with gratefulness. I have adored this opportunity to share myself with LEFT readers and to do this exclusive shoot with you. Thank you all for your support and for loving “Rhythm is a Dancer” as much as I do. I have just read LEFT’s back catalogue going back six months, front to back, and want to congratulate you all for putting together a remarkable lifestyle magazine. I am so excited to be part of this edition and wish you lots of love and luck for the future.

We are loving you right back and wish you continued success for the future and in your marriage.

 


David Burgoyne is a stylist, writer, photographer and artist in Los Angeles. He is a regular contributor to Left Magazine.

Visit davidtburgoyne.com


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