THE BREAK-UP of British duo Floetry in 2006 came as a shock to many. After an illustrious career of over seven years, multiple awards and gold records, one of the UK’s most successful soul bands came to an abrupt and – if reports were to be believed – unpleasant end.
Comprised of Natalie Stewart and Marsha Ambrosius, Floetry took the music world by storm with their fusion of soulful vocals, courtesy of Ambrosius, known as the Songstress, and slick emceeing from Stewart, known as the Floacist.
But after a host of hits including Floetic, Say Yes and SupaStar – and having done so much for the advancement of black British talent in the US music industry, after upping sticks to the States in 2000 – the duo disbanded, the friendship ended, and Ambrosius went on to embark on a solo career after signing to Dr Dre’s famed label Aftermath.
Following the split, questions were asked about what caused the two to end such a successful and much-loved union, but only Ambrosius spoke out, telling The Voice in 2011: “People outgrow each other, people want to move on to pursue different things. Nat and I haven’t spoken since 2007.”
Stewart, however, remained tight-lipped for much longer. After going through what she describes as a partly “forced” and partly necessary spiritual silence, the 34-year-old has begun to speak about the break-up.
Although she says she wasn’t upset about Ambrosius going solo, she reveals that she was hurt by what she describes as “lies” that came from her former bandmate, following the group’s demise.
SUCCESS STORY: Stewart (left) with Floetry bandmate Marsha Ambrosius at the Soul Train Lady Of Soul Awards in 2003
“I never begrudged Marsha doing interviews or doing what she wanted to do,” said the London-born lyricist. “Because if that’s what you’re supposed to do, then you do what you believe in.
“But it was very difficult for me to hear Marsha lie. And it was heartbreaking for me to see my friend go along with the ideas of her PR and management who wanted to jeopardise and blacklist me, which is what they did.
“They blacklisted me because I fired the man who used to be our manager and he very much wanted to make sure that he was able to say that old American cliché of ‘you’ll never work here again’.
“So some parts of my silence were attempted to be forced on me, but in my own spiritual journey, I had come to a very silent place.”
Ready to break her silence, Stewart gives her account of what caused the group’s demise – and she insists there was no personal grievance between herself and Ambrosius.
“To this day, there is nothing that Marsha and I had actually fallen out about. This was the result of a manager looking for better opportunities and the idea of ‘let’s cross over and do something different.’ I was never going to get into tearing down or destroying our brand and what we represented. And I was never going to have a war with her [Ambrosius] – no way.”
Stewart explains that all she ever wanted to do was make good music, perform and study her craft. Less interested in chasing fame, she says that it was her refusal to branch out into more mainstream soul that pushed her and Ambrosius apart.
“There was never anything wrong with Floetry. A lot of the journey, to the point of Marsha signing with Aftermath and going solo, had been about me not allowing Floetry to be sacrificed to this idea of trading on what a success it was.
“I walked away and I tried to get Marsha to walk away with me, to be able to protect the integrity of the music and stop it from being pushed into a more mainstream, hip-hop production. I have things that I believe in deeply and I think that walking by these lines, doors open and blessings and opportunities come into our lives.
“I walked away when it started to become a farce and when I saw there were things I was absolutely not interested in representing. But I’m still very proud of what we created and our place in black British musical history.”
Though it was clear the duo’s relationship had come to an end both personally and professionally, and Stewart felt there were inaccuracies in Ambrosius’s version of events, the skilled spoken word artist says she wasn’t tempted to engage in a public spat with her former friend.
“At the time, I was of the belief that what was supposed to be done, was being done. I was not going to get into a public feud with Marsha, no way. I was not going to be enticed into that – over what?”
Hurt by how the situation between her and Ambrosius unfolded, the Grammy nominee revealed that the stress of the break-up took a toll on her health.
“Our song Sunshine very much explains how things went. I had to stop. Everything had been about myself and Marsha, but I had to think about me. I had had a lot of money stolen from me at this point – there were so many things that I was going through but wasn’t aware of, because I wasn’t paying attention. At the end I was very, very hurt, to the point of not being well. I was very stressed, I was only about eight stone and I was very sad.”
Thankfully, Stewart went on to regain her focus and her happiness. After the group’s break-up, she went on to pursue her own solo career, releasing the album The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul in 2010. She also returned to England and married her long-time partner, fellow poet Nolan Weekes.
“Married life has been a wonderful journey,” she says. “It helps when you both include lots of different vortexes to your marriage, for instance, my last album was completely produced by Nolan and his production company.
“With him, I was able to come home and heal from the experience of being in the States and of Marsha leaving the group. Our marriage helped me so much to deal with that and he is so important to me.
“He was my very first poetry partner when we were in a group together called 3 Plus 1. Our journey has been about building and growing; it’s a very purposeful and productive union.”
Follow Natalie Stewart on Twitter: @The_Floacist