Chaka Khan describes singer/songwriter Sandra St. Victor as one of the best vocalists and songwriters she knows. In fact, given St. Victor’s extensive musical career (the 50-year-old songstress has worked with Curtis Mayfield and had some of her own music recorded by Prince and Tina Turner), she could easily be your favorite singer’s favorite singer.
The Dallas-born, opera trained diva can best be described as bit of Grace Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald and generally a soulful funky musical gumbo. The former Family Stand lead vocalist currently resides in Amsterdam. EBONY.com caught up with her to chat about her third solo album Oya’s Daughter, her musical inspiration, and how her autobiography work-in-progress.
EBONY: What’s the concept behind Oya’s Daughter?
Sandra St. Victor: Originally I was calling it Spirit Talk. And as we started closing out the album, I just did a courtesy googling of “spirit talk,” and kept coming up with so much that was so vague. There were gyms called spirit talk and pet stores. I said, “ok, I have to be more disciplined about what’s more closely related to what spirit is talking.”
And so I listened and really meditated on those songs, and what hit me was the spirit of Oya. The spirit of Oya is that of change, of forward motion and bringing to light things unseen. And once that idea sparked in my mind, it was like a fire. It was obvious that that was clearly where that energy was coming from, so I recognized that.
My entire career, even as a little girl, I always said I wanted to sing message music. That, of course, if you want to put it that way, isn’t a popular career choice. But it’s what I’ve wanted to do since yea high. And this album seems to be for me the personal culmination of that idea as a 7, 8-year-old child, based on who I am what I’ve gone through—my experiences and what I’m seeing now from a human and spiritual perspective.
EBONY: How are you able to maintain that type of creative spirit in an industry that seems to be more about formulaic concepts?
SSV: What you said is the truth; I don’t try. The reality is, there has to be darkness for there to be light. And I can focus on either/or. We all can, and in some of my songs, I do. It’s not about focusing on the darkness, but I will look in that direction to show that it exists and that I’m not afraid and that I’m aware of it. Because being aware of it gives you the ability to bring about the light, the positive ideas and changes you want to express.
So I acknowledge that it’s there. That only makes the light shine brighter. So as far as I’m concerned, what I’m singing about is my perception, my ideal view of life, music, love, relationships, heartbreak, pain, daily life. And at the end of the day, for me, all of that is necessary for us to continue to move forward as a species and as a soul unit, so to speak.
EBONY: You’ve been around such amazing people in your career. Do you ever plan to write a biography?
SSV: I do get that a lot. [laughter] I do have one chapter of the book written, and then I have several notes. That was because there was this sister that was doing a book about adopted children and how that affected them and made them who they are. So I wrote this chapter called “Hope Cottage”—that’s the name of the adoption home I was adopted from. I told her as I was writing that this will absolutely be a part of my book, so understand that I’m loaning you this chapter, but it will be a part of my book.
So I have a lot of stories, and I sort of waffle back and forth about how it should be, whether it should be fictitious or what. Because some of the stuff is like, do I really want to call names out? I’m a loyal friend, so I’m not sure. Some of the stuff that would be most interesting to people is like… Yeah, I’m not sure how to go about it yet.
EBONY: Describe an interesting or cool moment from your musical life that you can share.
SSV: When I was a teen in high school, I went to a performing arts school in Dallas. It’s the school Roy Hargrove came out of, and Erykah Badu, Norah Jones and several other people. It was a magical period. We had so may crazy experiences. But this time we had a workshop going in our school, and Ella Fitzgerald’s bass player came to give a workshop. He invited us to come to the concert that night.
As far as I was concerned, I was Ella Fitzgerald’s number one fan. The school jazz group and I had recorded an album and I was taking this album and I wanted her to sign it. That was my goal. The bar she was playing at was on the top floor. So I got in the elevator, I’m standing there, and here comes Ella. I’m breathless. I’m like, “Ms. Fitzgerald, hi, I’m one of the students at the school and I love you. This is my album and uh… you want me to sign it for you?”
I totally screwed up the thing, and she said, “Of course baby,” and I signed the record and gave it to Ella. What kind of shit is that? [Laughs] She was so sweet but I felt so stupid. Like, I wanted her signature! Why did I give her my autograph? So that’s one of the safe stories I can tell.
EBONY: What do you hope fans take away from Oya’s Daughter?
SSV: For people that are fans of my music over the years, I really hope they feel what I feel. This is the most cohesive, expressive album of my career, which is what I feel. This piece of work really says who I am, and I want people to walk away going, “Daaamn!” Even if they were already a fan, I want them to go, “I get her. I know exactly where she’s coming from.” Because it absolutely is the most clearly I believe I’ve expressed myself on a project.
Starrene Rhett Rocque is a pop culture junky who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun toting B-movie heroine, and aspires to save the world from the impending #ZombieApocolypse… In reality she’s a freelance entertainment journalist/blogger who muses about music, TV, movies and love. Follow her on Twitter@GangStarrGirl.