Sunday, September 16, 2007

Q: What did we learn today? A: Sandra St. Victor is my Hero

Thank goodness for motivated visionaries, cause Rob at Bold As Love is making his happen with his Bold As Live Black Rock Series. For a mere $8.00 you got a mini-concert by The Family Stand (V. Jeffrey Smith (horns, flute, guitar), Sandra St. Victor (vocals), and Peter Lord (keyboard)), featuring past material and new cuts from their recent release (not yet available in the US) Super Sol Nova; a live interview with The Family Stand by journalist/urbanista Michaela angela Davis; and if you were fast on your feet, an answer to you very own burning question about the artistic vision, advice to emerging artists, thoughts on mentoring, etc. from members of The Family Stand. For an additional mere $10 you coulda gotten the abovementioned Super Sol Nova and possibly a free(!) Black Rock Coalition (BRC) sampler from the nice folks from BRC (thank you!).

Being that folks aren't foolish (playing the fool is different from being one), the place was packed. Ah, no pictures, cause I brought no camera today. I ran out the door to get there on time only to find the time had been changed and the event was at 4pm instead of 3pm. But hey, believe me, I was rewarded with a fantastic seat and the chance to see a bunch of black audio geek professionals set up for the event. That's always a good time as far as I'm concerned (yep, geek to the bone, and proud of it!). Fortunately Afrofuturist featured some as does the Bold As Love site.

This was the first time I had heard The Family Stand live (yes, I'm embarrassed, but why focus on the negative when there's so much positive in having remedied that situation?). They were really amazing, and yeah, why didn't I know about them before? I had albums by Hollywood Beyond ("we want to be the black David Bowie"), A.R. Kane, and Float Up CP, but, oh yeah, those were all black or multi-ethnic British bands. Black rock in the US, aside from Living Colour (originally isolated as a musical anomaly in accord with the famous Highlander syndrome: "There can be only one..."), was a rabbit hole of potential critical acclaim, limited/no radio play, with the resulting limited audience exposure leading to dismal sales and often losing a record contract.

Thankfully each of the members of The Family Stand is a skilled songwriter. While Sandra St. Victor made a point to say that they had never broken up (perhaps the change in lead singers with 1998's Connected caused folks some confusion on that point--but change is just a part of life. Peter Lord speaks with admirable frankness about the process of making that album on their website), it's clear that they also never stopped working in music in some form: writing and/or producing for other artists.

I could go on and on about how great they were; how the crowd gave them two standing ovations; how a friend of Smith's requested a live version of "I Thought We Had" on which Smith sings lead vocal; and the crowd quietly echoed this wish only to be politely deflected by the modest Smith (it's the first track on their MySpace site); how young guitarist Marcus Machado's playing almost set the concrete floor on fire; how special it was to hear V. Jeffrey Smith sing after only previously having heard him on horns and flute, especially with much of his family there showing him love; how honest they were in their comments on the current state of music, sometimes to each others' chagrin (!). But I really want to note why Sandra St. Victor is my hero. Below are the notes I made as the R train carried me away from Brooklyn (apologies to my future-reading-self for the occasionally cheesy tone of 12th grade s/hero worship):

Today I found out Sandra St. Victor is my hero. She's a woman with a beautiful spirit (and physically beautiful as well), amazing talent, with a multi-hued voice, and unafraid to make "da ugly face" when she sings. You know what I mean. I personally have a hard time singing without making the ugly face (and don't have St. Victor's chops), so I'm particularly sensitive to this having been trained in classical and jazz standard performance not to make the ugly face. I don't actually know if classical folk would even know what is meant by by "the ugly face." I think solo string players and pianists are allowed a grimacing visage onstage as a performative gesture, but I don't recall this benefit being extended to others.

In response to a joint question by Greg Tate and Davis, St. Victor spoke of the mentoring she received when she attended a high school of performing arts in Dallas (probably Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) , singing back-up for Chaka Khan, and working with Smith and Lord, the latter two who wouldn't let her do a another take if they felt she'd hit an emotional truth, even if she felt her singing had been technically off.
St. Victor started her vocal training in the classical realm and from there moved into jazz, singing with Roy Ayers, did a lot of back up and session work, and eventually emerged with the melange of styles she's pursued with The Family Stand and in her solo work. In her high school the vocalists were encouraged to find their individual style and voices, and also to be technically accomplished (aka perfect). In late night conversations with Chaka Khan (sometimes "enhanced," sometimes not) she found herself encouraged to do whatever it takes to get to that place of deep connection--the ugly face, "squeezing your buttcheeks," whatever--but fully commit to that vocal expression; don't hide. St. Victor communicated a profound sense of prioritizing that visceral element.

Many creative folk are at the crossroads of the visceral and the technical, as well as finding the perfect niche or packaging--that sound, that sound. If you're fortunate (or not, as the case may be), the one that's in your heart will also be the one that sells (or at least allows you to pay the rent), but well, it ain't always that kinda party.

* * *

The above doesn't wholly communicate my experience this past Sunday. For me it was one of those synergistic moments: I was in the right place, at the right time, and open to hearing some things quite important for me personally. From the luminous energy at the Brooklyn Lyceum, I can't imagine I was alone in that experience.

While there I found out about Brian Tate's Restoration Rocks 2 Festival, where everyone was rockin' out Saturday night. What??? How did I miss hearing about that?! Well, I'm sure bluegum will have something to say about what was apparently a blowout event of superlative talent, black rockers all. Bold As Love did some pre-fest coverage on Tate last week.

The Family Stand performing the transcendent (and goose-bump inducing) "Undiscovered Country" from Super Sol Nova, at Park Pop Festival, The Hague, June 2007. Get this album! You'll understand why Micaela angela Davis was proclaiming, "I now have an album I want to listen to every day!"

• Want more from Davis on The Family Stand?
• Want the Peter Lord and V. Jeffrey Smith pre-show interview with Bold As Love?
• Want more St. Victor? Check out the Daughters of Soul concert.
• More on Essence's Take Back the Music Campaign (Davis was involved in this while an editor at Essence Magazine.
• More on Black Girls Rock! Inc founded by DJ Beverly Bonds (Davis is on the board of this organization aimed at creating positive images for black women and girls in hip hop and popular media).

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At 10:24 AM, Blogger Rob said...

So, who, exactly, is the mysterious Audiologo? How is it that we didn't meet on 9/16? Or did we?

Anyway, thanks so much for this warm review of the show. I'm glad to hear that people found it moving and valuable. The support is much appreciated, and I look forward to reciprocating. Let's be in touch.

Best regards,
rafields [at] gmail dot com

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