Being the sporting type, Shakura S’Aida practices her own style of ‘catch and release’ program on her male prey, enjoying the art of the pursuit, appreciating the pleasure of the conquest, then letting the prize go, to swim another day, before moving on to more abundant waters herself. (Photo: Tyson Williams)

Love Conquers All? Do Tell.
By David McGee

Shakura S’Aida
Ruf Records

It was only last year when Shirley Brown, one of the outstanding female soul singers of our time, burned through a new album appropriately titled Unleashed. In one of her moments of well-placed indignation over her man’s aberrant behavior in the commitment department, Brown rose up and let him have it. In the song “Clean House,” she snapped, “Instead of showing me love/you showed me attitude.” Brown has writ herself large in soul music history on the strength of her 1975 advisory, “Woman to Woman,” and it would appear that one of the sisters who picked up on her message is Canada’s formidable blues ‘n’ soul ‘n’ jazz vocalist Shakura S’Aida, who follows her impressive self-released 2008 solo debut, Blueprint, with her first outing for Ruf Records, a Germany-based label fast becoming home to some of the finest new female blues artists on the planet, including Joanne Shaw Taylor and Dani Wilde, impressive guitarists and writers alike. S’Aida’s making her stand with her voice and her writing and leaving the guitar work in the more than capable hands of the fiery Donna Grantis, who also co-wrote all but three of the dozen songs here with S’Aida. Suffice it to say that Grantis’s howling, stinging and, when the spirit is right (as on the subdued, gospel-like confessional pleading, “Angels On High”), spare and introspective support is a most effective second voice to S’Aida’s. She demonstrates as sure an affinity for southern soul in all its permutations, from Saturday night to Sunday morning, as does the headlining artist.

Donna Grantis: As a second voice to Shakura S’Aida’s, she demonstrates a sure affinity for southern soul in all its permutations, from Saturday night to Sunday morning. (Photo: Bill King)

However striking Grantis’s work, though, this is S’Aida’s album, and she cleans house as thoroughly as Shirley Brown at her best, immediately in fact, when she enters with Brown’s no-nonsense approach on the opening grinder, “Mr. Right,” declaring with undeniable and unequivocal certitude, “You can’t be my Mr. Right/’cause you’re doin’ me wrong,” marching through her litany of grievances with impressive aplomb, never letting the anger consume her, but instead simply stating her case as Grantis’s guitar does the dirty work of biting and snarling behind her in a deep soul arrangement underpinned by Lance Anderson’s robust, humming organ work. S’Aida’s voice has some of the throaty heft of Ms. Brown’s, and sometimes, in its airier flights, some listeners may detect a trace of the “Clean Up Woman” herself, Betty Wright, and even, when she gets into the intense supplication at the end of “Walk Out That Door,” Janis Joplin at her most wounded. Ultimately, though, S’Aida is her own woman, no mere copy of what came before her but sharing her stylistic antecedents’ assertive, self-affirming message. Not for her is co-de-dependency, as she asserts in the terse “Gonna Tell My Baby,” when she soars over a dirge-like ambiance in announcing her love for her man, despite her intention to leave him (“because he makes me sad”) and make a life for herself apart from him, whatever it takes, “until I see the light of sun.”

Shakura S’Aida at Bluesfest Gaildorf, ‘Gonna Tell My Baby,’ from the album, Brown Sugar. Donna Grantis is on guitar.

Thoroughly modern woman that she is, S’Aida’s overriding message here is that love does not conquer all, and life’s too short to suffer a bad situation, or an abiding lack of respect from your partner. Lest anyone think the artist is luxuriating in her declarations of independence, consider the abject despair infusing the heartbreaking, R&B torch song, “This Is Not a Love Song,” in which her melancholy revelations of physical affection being insufficient grounds for togetherness are alternately tear-stained and raging, in a voice so powerfully impassioned you almost forget it’s backed by an exquisite, mournful guitar-and-organ-rich arrangement. At the same time, she is not about to let her man forget what he’s losing—the churning, funky “Sweet Spot” workout, the Sly-ish “Brown Sugar” (not the Stones’ song, but kinda about the same thing) and the smoldering, explicit come-on and ode to recreational pleasures tellingly titled “Anti-Love Song” all aggrandize the singer’s sensual longing for fleshly pursuits, with the latter expressing disdain for love, because the singer understands it makes a man run away—“and I know you like to be in charge,” she teases in one of her few submissive pronouncements. At that point S’Aida’s merely baiting the hook, knowing full well what it takes to reel in a man. Being the sporting type, she practices her own style of “catch and release” program on her male prey, enjoying the art of the pursuit, appreciating the pleasure of the conquest, then letting the prize go, to swim another day. No men are harmed in the process, and the female of the species moves on to more abundant waters.

Shakura S’Aida’s Brown Sugar is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024