91.3 KBCS and the Pacific Jazz Institute at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley welcomes 2015 Grammy-nominated blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland touring in support of her new release Outskirts of Love. Band members include Arthur Neilson (guitar), Kenneth “Willie” Scandlyn (guitar), Kevin Jenkins (bass) and Robin Gould (drums). Set times Thursday and Sunday at 7:30pm. Set times Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Doors open at 6:00pm Thursday and 5:30pm Friday through Sunday.
Shemekia Copeland released her 8th album September, 2015, Outskirts Of Love. Think fiery. Blistering. Soulful. With a hint of gospel. The kind of voice that gives you chills. Copeland reinvents the blues and makes them her own, especially on her new album. “Everybody is on the outskirts of something on this record, whether it’s love, justice, homelessness or whatever it may be,” Copeland said. “I bring what’s very important to me to my records and always try to find a positive way to help people.”
Whether she’s belting out a raucous blues-rocker, firing up a blistering soul shouter, bringing the spirit to a gospel-fueled R&B rave-up or digging deep down into a subtle, country-tinged ballad, Shemekia Copeland sounds like no one else. With a voice that is alternately sultry, assertive and roaring, Shemekia’s wide-open vision of contemporary blues, roots and soul music showcases the evolution of a passionate artist with a modern musical and lyrical approach. The Chicago Tribune says Copeland delivers “gale force singing and power” with a “unique, gutsy style, vibrant emotional palette and intuitive grasp of the music.” NPR Music calls her “fiercely expressive.”
Copeland has performed thousands of gigs at clubs, festivals and concert halls all over the world and has appeared on national television, NPR, and in newspapers, films and magazines. She is a mainstay on countless commercial and non-commercial radio stations. She’s sung with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, James Cotton and many others. She opened for The Rolling Stones and entertained U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Jeff Beck calls her “f*cking amazing.” Santana says, “She’s incandescent…a diamond.” At the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois officially declared Copeland to be “The New Queen Of The Blues.” In 2012, she performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. Afterward, Jagger (with whom she sang) sent her a bottle of champagne. With Outskirts Of Love and a packed tour schedule, Copeland has her eyes fixed firmly on the future as she continues to break new musical ground. “I want to keep growing, to be innovative,” she says. “I’m a lifer, singing about things that bother me, using my music to help people. My dad always said ‘we’re all connected.’ I’m an old soul marching to the beat of my own drum,” she continues, “And right now I’m making the most exciting music of my career.”
There’s no doubt that there’s a better future in store for Naomi, especially after her great breakout year in 2013. Named the Best Folk Singer in Seattle by alt publication Seattle Weekly and featured on their cover, Naomi became the toast of the town, which in turn led to a friendship with the much-loved indie songwriter Damien Jurado, who came onboard to produce this album. Other key collaborators that Naomi brought in, renowned Seattle bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, cellist Natalie Hall (Macklemore), drummer Darren Reynolds (Patrick & The Locomotive), and Latin percussionist Lalo Bello, all brought their own ideas to the accompaniment, guided by Jurado’s desire to keep the music as vibrantly alive as possible. The result is Naomi Wachira’s debut full-length, a portrait of a Kenyan artist at home in the Pacific Northwestern United States.
When you listen to Naomi’s songs, you’ll hear the lifelong influence of two powerful, groundbreaking female songwriters: Miriam Makeba and Tracy Chapman. Makeba became one of the biggest stars on the continent through her socially aware songwriting, something she shared closely with American songwriter Tracy Chapman. Chapman was a voice for social change as well, but Naomi loved her positive idealism, a concept that informs all the songs on Naomi’s album. Makeba’s also a personal icon for Naomi, who cites “the way she carried herself, her grace and character,” as influencers. “She was able to maintain her integrity as an African. She didn’t need to change who she was to fit with Western audiences.”
That’s why you won’t hear any stereotypical African music on Naomi’s debut. She’s making music inspired both by the music she discovered in America and the music she grew up with in Kenya, not a Western conception of how African music should sound.
The daughter of a Kijabe pastor, Naomi joined the traveling family band at five years old, spreading the good word through gospel song. This explains the beautiful harmonies on her album, for as she says “In my family everyone sang and everyone knew their part. Harmony was second nature for us.” Larger African concepts also play a part in Naomi’s music, like the Zulu idea of Ubuntu. This concept means “I am because we are,” and it’s a community-based worldview that focuses on caring for each other.
This is why the songs on Naomi’s debut album sound so alive. They’re plucked from her own life, powered by her Northwest musical community, and imbued with her own sense of hopefulness.