In an age of instant celebrity where the mundane too often passes for the exceptional, the Canadian double Maple Blues award winner Shakura S’Aida (pronounced Shack-oora Sigh-ee-da), is here to remind us of the true merits of a soulful blues singer with a genuine magnetism.
She’s blessed with a natural exuberance, sensuality, charisma and one of the great blues voices of our time. There’s echoes of Nina Simone in the way she envelops us with her low register and how she explores a rich husk when phrasing eloquently.
Above all, she seems to love what she’s does. She’s engaging, vivacious, exciting and has the ability to touch your soul. Her soaring voice is both effortless and graceful as it comes to bear on a set of essential contemporary blues that explores soul, funk, gospel with a stripped down rocky edge.
She got a real depth to her vocal range and a rich timbre with which she phrases eloquently. She occasionally attacks a song with aggression to emphasize a line, while her bristling self confidence is counter-balanced by a sense of humour that connects with the crowd.
Apart from her natural range, her sense of timing allows her to get inside a song and work her way round an arrangement before hitting the note and soaring.
Tonight she’s in duo mode with sinewy guitarist Paige Armstrong, though she’s belatedly joined by her band on bv’s and a shared mic. She moulds a sizeable crowd to her own ends with real stage craft and a voice that can melt ice cream.
She’s a good communicator who uses a mix of English and French, as well as gesticulation to encourage the responsive crowd to join in. Her audience warms to her approach and she achieves that rare moment when an outdoor gig is transformed into an intimate setting.
By the end of the set she’s got the whole square dancing, clapping and sharing a call and response sequence before they ultimately roar her on to a deserved encore.
She coaxes the crowd to dance at the front of the stage on her self penned and aptly titled ‘Blues Dancing’. She also gets them to sing-along on ‘Geechee Woman’ and she revels in tackling the ascending hook of ‘Time’.
There’s also room for a handful of well chosen covers that bring an extra dynamic to the set. She sounds like Tina Turner on ‘(Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie on the) Queen of Rock ‘N’ Soul’. It’s a song penned by Jeff Thomas and popularised by a fellow honorary Canadian, the late, great, Long John Baldry, but it could have been written for her!
She emphasises the protest feel of The Doobie Brothers’ ‘Taking It To The Streets’ – which she dedicates to her mum – and rounds things off with a Keb Mo gospel as members of her band join her for bv’s, as she nails a wonderful set with a crowd pleasing finale.
If Shakura is a towering presence, then the opening band The Howlin Blues Trio take the hard working route.
The swing-led trio of vocal/harp, double bass and guitar explore all that is good about swing-blues to make light of the absence of a drummer.
Harp playing vocalist Jean-Noël Hereve is an excellent player and colourful performer who explores an array of deep tones.
He leads his band into some gritty Chicago Blues and then moves on to the more free flowing West Coast swing with a rockabilly undertow, as he works the crowd with a performance that exudes professionalism.
The double bass player nails the bottom end, while the guitarist offers a tasteful melange of stinging notes and propulsive rhythms.
The Howlin Blues Trio groove, boogie and swing their way to a generous reception.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Anne Pioton
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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