Soul goddess Nicole Wray is back. The singer – now known as Lady Wray – was last on the scene as part of Lady, a heaven-sent coupling with UK R&B singer-songwriter Terri Walker. Together these harmonic sisters released a phenomenal self-titled LP of old-school soul on Truth and Soul Records, which included standouts such as ‘Money’ and ‘Sweet Lady’.
Alicia Keys’ sixth album, Here, is an unexpected masterwork. Quite unlike her previous release, Girl on Fire, it is an album infused with rhythm, creativity and purpose not heard since her earliest albums. And it’s also one of this year’s must-hear releases.
In the words of director and artist Simon Frederick: “Black is the new black”. And few things this year have brought delight, joy and open-mouthed awe to me than the sight of black sisters rocking natural curls with pride. Alicia Keys, Solange, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fleur East, Nao and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to name but a few of the music world’s natural hair heroes.
But what has hair got to do with music – and Lion Babe specifically? More than you’d think. Hair is an express of the self. And anyone who knows what it’s like maintaining an afro, day in, day out, will tell you that – just ask Erykah Badu, India.Arie or Solange. Jillian Hervey, Lion Babe’s majestic frontwoman, wears a mane of golden curls that look as though they were a gift from the goddess Oshun herself.
Hervey’s natural hair journey – as well as the fact she is the daughter of singer and actress, Vanessa Williams – brought her face to face with taunts, teases and pressure for her to conform to her attacker’s standards of beauty. But, as she told Glamour magazine earlier this year, returning to natural hair led her to feel “very comfortable in my skin and really confident about who I was”. The Lion Babe of today could not exist without this comfortable, confident brown-skinned wonder woman.
Sharon Van Etten has a voice that stops you in your tracks and holds there, leaving you staring somewhere into the middle distance, as her words float around your head. This Brooklyn-born, singer-songwriter so far has four studio albums to her name – her latest, Are We There, was released just last year. But despite a number of recommendations, Van Etten’s music is not yet in my music library. I know: what have I been doing to myself, right? Plenty of time to change that, thankfully, and what better place to start than her new EP, entitled I Don’t Want to Let You Down?