You may have noticed a progression of talented female vocalists from the Bay Area recently: Ledisi, Goapele, Mystic, LaToya London, Jennifer Johns, Femi. All are stylistically diverse artists who have redefined the urban soul genre. And while their emergence may seem sudden, Femi begs to differ. She and her singing peers are not “fly-by-nighters”; every one of these artists has done it the Bay way, manifesting the region’s independent, entrepreneurial spirit while furthering its soulful heritage. “We’re the kids that were watching the Tonys and the Pointer Sisters growing up,” she says.
A veteran of the local scene, Femi recalls freestyling as “Catapilla” at open mics at Dusoleil’s in the early ’90s, when Afrocentric hip-hop was in full swing. Since then, she has served a stint as musical director of erotic performance art collective the Punany Poets, collaborated with a host of local luminaries (among them Rico Pabon, Marc Bamuthi Jacobs, A+ of Hieroglyphics, Baby Jaymes, Co-Deez, and Boogie Shack), formed a live band (Level Seven), and begun the arduous task of writing and recording her own album, whose working title is Taste the Love, Feel the Passion.
With a range encompassing everything from jazz to neo-soul to reggaetón, Femi says she’s simply listening to her own inner voice. “My songs are about love, passion, energy,” she explains. Her fiery spirit reflects both her astrological makeup (“I’ve got five houses in Leo,” she notes) and her Puerto Rican/African-American heritage. She’d prefer to “let the music categorize itself,” she says, adding that “as a creative person, you want to experiment with different forms.”
That’s just what she’ll be doing Saturday evening at Love Jones at Emeryville’s Linen Life Gallery (375 Park Ave.), where she’ll be performing live between spoken-word segments. The singer feels much more comfortable doing shows than being in the studio; onstage is “where the magic happens,” she says. And if anyone has any questions about the phenomena of powerful soul sisters from the Bay, she says, “Guess what? There are ten more after me. And we are hungry.”