Empress Akua connects with roots

Empress Akua connects with roots

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Thursday, September 05, 2019

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From the Watts area of Los Angeles, American singer Empress Akua's roots are steeped in the Black Power movement which dominated that community throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, she feels a similar kinship with Jamaica.

Presently in Kingston recording songs for what will be her first album, she is working with veteran Sangie Davis, best known as composer of Bob Marley's Wake Up and Live and Girlie, Girlie by Sophia George.

“I sense the spirit here, the true feel. The spirit of the music is here and that's really important to me,” she said, in an interview with the Jamaica Observe r. “I truly feel the ancestors.”

It is Empress Akua's third time in Jamaica and the second time she is working with Davis, who is also a senior member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The latest sessions also involve bass player Glen Browne, guitarists Dalton Browne and Earl “Chinna” Smith, keyboardist Franklyn “Bubbler” Waul, and Ozoun'e Sandalyah on synthesisers.

The concept for the songs is simple.

“My whole thing is to bring peace and love over the world. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem,” she said.

Born Sheila Washington, Empress Akua has been recording for over 20 years. As a harmony singer, she has done countless recording sessions and shows with Eek-A-Mouse, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, Ky-Mani Marley, Ini Kamoze, Andrew Bees, and Shinehead.

Her solo work has been intermittent, though last year was fairly busy with the release of the songs Gwaan Dutty Babylon and It's Cold Out There . Stranger, her latest single, is produced by Davis.

There was not much reggae in Empress Akua's home in Watts, which was the scene of bloody riots in 1965, at the height of Civil Rights struggles in the United States. Watts, and her family, also had strong links to the Black Panther Party.

Growing up, she heard her family playing the blues and rock and roll of Muddy Waters, B B King, and Chuck Berry. It was not until she met Jamaican singer/songwriter Haile Maskel during the early 1990s in Los Angeles that she discovered Judy Mowatt, Joseph Hill of Culture, Black Uhuru, and The Gladiators.

“He took me in like a little sister, taught me a lot about reggae and Rasta,” Empress Akua recalled.

She hopes to release her yet-titled debut album in the first quarter of 2020.


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