Her name is Marsha Ambrosius and she does what she WANTS to do. Or at least that’s what she says on Twitter. The R&B songbird stormed the music scene in 2000 as one half of the soul duo Floetry and made us love her even more across many “Late Nights & Early Mornings” with her 2011 solo debut. Bottom line. Marsha does things her way, and we can’t help but dig it. From braids to curls and freeform fros, she makes it clear, natural hair is no exception.
SG: What was your natural hair experience like growing up? Were you always natural?
MA: I embraced my fro from the day I can remember, really. That stems from a long line of women who did exactly the same. My mother had the mean even fro. I don’t even know how they did that back then! It was perfect. I don’t think they make afro picks like they used to. It was special. It was something that made an afro absolutely perfect in circumference.
I used to think my mother was a superhero, and I figured it was her hair. [laughs] I know it’s weird. But now that you ask me, I guess, that’s why I’ve always embraced it… it was whether I wanted to wear it in two afro puffs or an afro puff to the left or to the right. I’ve just always been that kid.
Yeah. But, I’ve clearly been through the motions. As adolescents everyone is getting straight hair so I wanted a relaxer. Soon as I didn’t want one anymore, I cut all of my relaxer off and coiled it up with only about half an inch of hair. But I was unafraid to do so because I’ve never been emotionally attached to hair.
Only my fro made me feel like that. Any other hairstyle was just a fade or a phase I was going through. But I’ve always been okay to embrace my own hair.
Many women can’t say that. That’s kind of rare because a lot of girls grow up with the idea that a relaxer is the way to go–the only option. So, that’s cool.
Right, and [my experience] was the complete opposite. I’m not saying a fro was the only option, but the fro was the cool thing. When I grew up, I grew up looking up to my parents. My dad had a mean fro. My mother had the mean fro. So, I was like, I wanna be like them.
Everybody was rocking the mean fro in your house!
Yeah. So, I guess I had the benefits of that. And it’s not to say my mother never pressed out her hair. I knew what the hot comb was, but that was an “occasion” thing. Even though, you know it’s only gonna last two hours. [laughs]
I know exactly what you mean.
It would, of course, last two hours. I would sweat that out and it would be right back to a fro, which you’re right, for some people it would be: “Oh no! My hair is kinking up!” But, I would love it and I’ve been that way ever since.
At what age did you experiment with a relaxer?
I took my first trip to the United States when I was eleven. All my cousins over here had relaxers. Clearly, I wanted to be just like my American cousins. So, I begged my mother and she caved. I relaxed my hair when I was twelve. I went through a phase amongst a bunch of kids where that was just the norm. So, I didn’t feel out of place.
And this is even without the hair part. When you’re a kid, if you’re not that comfortable… and especially with me coming from Liverpool. I moved to London, and I was traveling a lot through basketball. I just wanted to fit in, and if it was hair that bonded us then so be it. Everyone had the straight look so all of my friends had straight hair.
Until the day I showed up and decided to braid my hair up and wear extensions and that was the “in” thing. I was like: Okay, I can be different. I can be me. And I felt so much more comfortable being me with a giant afro versus straight hair. Then, I went through my complete phase where I wanted to cut my hair off. I had the short Halle Berry “do” for a long time.
I thought I was the fifth member of Total or something. [laughs] You know, but I went through phases. And you rebel against your parents and everything they say you should do you do the opposite because you’re just trying to be your own person. I did that with my hair for a long time until leaving college and coming over here to the United States. I was like, I’m a woman now.
But, I wasn’t a woman. Being in my early twenties, I was a grown kid. I was still so young but so sure about who I was that I could venture out and try and be the version of myself that I thought I was. With that came cutting off my perm and starting from scratch. I had every hair color under the sun with a giant orange afro or giant purple afro. Just afro, afro, afro, afro until I couldn’t take it anymore. And I double-strand twisted my hair. I did a whole bunch of stuff.
You didn’t have any issues experimenting with those colors?
No, I didn’t see it as that. I saw [my hair] as the accessory. I saw it as, what basketball team am I into right now? Or, what’s my favorite sneakers? And I would match my hair color with my favorite sneakers. It’s crazy but I did it.
And your hair stayed healthy throughout that process?
I kept all the colors, but when I got bored I would just chop it off. I definitely bleached my hair at one point, and I was like: Oh yeah, that definitely means I’ll never get my hair color back! And I’ll have to grow it back from scratch. It was a process but one I was willing to take because, at the time, it wasn’t an attachment thing. It was this is me now. And when I was ready to move on, I moved on.
Has being natural ever come up for debate when it comes to considering your image in the music industry?
No. I’ve had the blessed opportunity to have come in with style per se. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing and how much of a point I was making by doing so. I was just being myself. I didn’t know that me having big curly hair was a statement. I didn’t realize how much pressure there was to be something else. So, I was like, Oh! No one else does this? This is a big deal? Wow, who knew?” I didn’t. [laughs]
I’m going to be myself, whether that’s my hair or not. It’s me and you just have to accept it. And I’ve done that from the very beginning.
It’s not an easy thing. A lot of women say they want to go natural but when they take the step, they still seem to have issues with accepting the person they see in the mirror. Many times, it tends to run deeper than we think it does.
Right, and for me, the big chop was: Oh, I’m going to cut my hair now. And that was it. It wasn’t this big move I have to make, and I’m nervous of what are people going to think.
It was just another step.
Yeah. Nothing more nothing less.
That’s a freeing perspective to have. So, what is your current routine like now?
Well now, thank goodness for Dark & Lovely Au Naturale products because it’s one that really works for my hair long term. I’ve jumped from product to product trying to find one that works for me. And I’m really impressed with their line. I live and die by conditioners. Right now I like Dark and Lovely’s Au Naturale Knot Out Conditioner. I’ll try anyone’s conditioner or leave-in conditioner because I have to brush out my hair. Otherwise, when I wake up the next day, it just adds 45 minutes to my daily routine. Who has an extra 45 minutes nowadays?!
No one! [laughs]
No one. Exactly. [laughs] So I try as many leave-in conditioners as possible. I brush it down, double-strand twist it, and then let it out in the morning and see what happens.
We’ve seen you rock different styles from braids to freeform fros. Do you have a favorite?
Hmmm… That’s hard! [laughs] Possibly, when I’ve just washed it, and it’s freshly conditioned, and I’ve just blown it out. And I’m getting ready to style it. I think that’s my fav.
Do you have a staple hairstyle for bad hair days?
I love my Phillies fitted baseball hat. When you see that, it’s not necessarily a bad hair day. It’s just the: I don’t have the extra 45 minutes so I’m gonna put this hat on. [laughs]
At the last Curly Nikki Meet-up in New York City, you had a big loosely curled fro going on. How did you get that look?
That is when I’ve just washed my hair, just blow dried it out, and we double-strand twisted it down. But very thick, not too small, because the curls get way tight when I double-strand twist it too tight. So, it was six giant [twists] after blow drying. Then, I just use the curling iron for the front because that’s the first to go a little frizzy when I sweat. But, in terms of using products, it lasted a very long time. When I can last the whole event without the front of my hair going twice as big as the rest of it is when it’s a great product.
I never would’ve guessed you used twists to achieve that style. I would’ve guessed a rod curling iron or something similar.
Rods take too long, and it takes too much heat on my hair to achieve the same thing if I’d conditioned my hair, blow dried it out, applied the product–and you can use one of the heating caps versus a blow dryer. Double strand twist it down–kind of Bantu knot it–and just leave it be.
I learned something new today!
Yeah. Then, let it out and curl over parts that didn’t dry. Sometimes, my hair takes absolutely forever to dry. That’s why I like to blow dry it out before I start styling.
Especially if it’s not warm outside, sometimes, my hair will take two days to dry. It’s crazy!
Oh yeah! Two days. That’s where the baseball cap comes in. [laughs]
So, what is the best thing about being natural?
The best thing is that I’m comfortable with it. That would be the best thing.
Do you feel like you’re showing your best self… your most honest self?
Yeah. I’m completely me. No-holds-barred. No bells. No whistles, and it speaks to who I am as a person, to who I am as a musician. It all makes complete sense.
It’s the best. Not to say if you have a relaxer over a natural it’s better, but I find many times, you tend to see a person’s most authentic self. And there’s beauty in that.
Most definitely. I will say for those who are attempting to go natural, just don’t think it means you don’t have to maintain your look as much as you would if you had a relaxer. It’s still about taking care of your hair. You know, I think people think: “I’m going to go natural, I don’t have to do as much.”
You still do. It’s just taking care of you this time. It’s not about a chemical you have to keep reapplying and damaging and going it again and again. You’re completely taking care of you when you’re natural.
Can you tell us about your new project?
I just finished the second album, which I’m looking forward to preparing and getting ready for the world to hear. The album title is “Friends & Lovers.” It’s almost autobiographical. And it had to be, as I’ve experienced so much just being a woman in this industry, being a friend to many, and meeting absolutely amazing people along the way. I met some friends and some lovers. And I made a whole album about those encounters. So, I look forward to people really listening and taking note of what us women go through every now again.