The world's most famous woman is back with a new album, another hairstyle, a daughter and religion. In an exclusive interview, MADONNA talks about girl power, faith and doughnuts.

Words: Norbert lvanek and Fiona Shepherd

Listening with mother

MADONNA'S BACK. NEW single ‘Frozen‘. New album Ray ()fLig/tt. New baby. New philosophy. New hairstyle. For about the zillionth time.

Ho-not-so-hum. Aren‘t you glad this attention-commanding. positivity-wielding superstar auteur has returned to ‘proper' album recording after the considerable achievement of silencing the dissenters with her assured performance in Evita'.’ Particularly that she should return. not as some growing-old- gracefully grande dame prepared to take the Barbra Streisand road to posterity. but as a hip older gunslinger with a 90s take on torch balladeering and some funky ethno-spiritual influences to boot.

Pushing aside the iconography and associated madness that goes with being the world‘s most famous woman. there‘s still a

palpable sense of Madonna‘s love of music. of

creating a new body of work. She has always welcomed collaborators since the days when then-boyfriend John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez helped launch her as underground disco diva. Now she describes Ray ()f Light‘s UK producer William Orbit as her ‘co-pilot’.

Orbit has a long and distinguished career on the progressive dance tiller. like a less visible Jazzie B. occasionally sticking his head above water with hits like ‘Fascinating Rhythm‘. Massive Attack‘s Marius De Vries also co-produced one track. though The Prodigy (on the US roster of Madonna‘s Maverick label) had to pass because they were too busy taking over the world. Glaswegian composer par excellence Craig Armstrong extended his impressive CV with some string arrangements for Ray ()fLig/it. This woman knows how to surround herself with cutting- edge musicians.

Outside the music realm. she remains sketchy on a possible future film project The Red Door and is resolutely tight-lipped about current English squeeze Andrew Bird. but is comfortable making reference to Lourdes. her fourteen-month-old daughter by a previous relationship. and positively voluble about the changes wrought in her lifestyle since her (relative) retirement from the public eye.

She‘s done the perky disco pop thing. taken it to its stratospheric heights. She's successfully reinvented herself countless times. At 38. the ultimate pop chameleon faces middle age and motherhood with alacrity. For her musical present and future. it looks like The Madonna Ballad (a la trip-hop) is going to take over completely.

And in her private life. she has in Lourdes as close to a permanent companion as she's ever managed well. they do say motherhood is the biggest change wrought on any woman. Trust Madonna to seamlessly take on the mantle of working (earth) mother.

Why did you name your daughter after the French village?

Because it‘s a village of healing and it‘s a place that my mother always wanted to go to. but she never got to go . . . and so I named my daughter after that place.

There's a song on the album about your daughter, called 'Little Star'.

It‘s a lullaby. It‘s just a really pure and simple sort of love song to my daughter.

You call her butterfly? Butterfly? I refer to her as pumpkin.

Judging by Ray Of Light you seem to have been listening to a lot of British music like Portishead.

I‘ve been listening to Portishead since their first album and I’ve been listening to Tricky and Goldie and Bjork and lots of British artists for years now. so I would definitely say that sound has influenced me. But I‘ve also listened to a lot of Indian. Moroccan and classical music. I had to study with a vocal coach to do the music for Evita and I suddenly realised there was a whole part of my voice that I‘ve never used before so it definitely influenced my songwriting on this record.

Is there a concept for Ray Of Light?

I didn’t really have a concept. All the songs are just kind of the embodiment of this kind of spiritual journey. this emotional awakening that I've had in the past couple of years. So it‘s sort of a reflection of that. But I don‘t know if that‘s a concept.

What caused your emotional awakening? Lots of things. having a baby . . . I mean. I couldn‘t tell you it'sjust one thing. I couldjust tell you I‘ve changed a lot and the whole experience of making Evita and having a baby and practising Yoga and studying Kaballah . . . I realise all of those things have always been out there for me to learn from. but I guess I wasn‘t ready to learn until now.

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