Musician Sheryl Youngblood Speaks About Performing In India At The Mahindra Blues Festival

Musician Sheryl Youngblood Speaks About Performing In India At The Mahindra Blues Festival

The festival is flipping the gender script this year with an all-woman line-up

Kasmin FernandesUpdated: Saturday, February 10, 2024, 05:41 PM IST
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Sheryl Youngblood |

Those who think blues music is about soulful men crooning about life’s hardships, prepare to have your mind blown. Blues owes as much to the pioneering women who've strummed and hummed their way into the heart of this genre. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Big Mama Thornton are women whose voices and stories have shaped the foundation of the genre. The all-female line-up at the 2024 Mahindra Blues Festival is a standing ovation to these trailblazers and the untold number of women who have contributed to the genre's legacy from around the globe.

The line-up for the 12th edition includes who's who of female blues artistes in the world. Vanessa Collier, with her electrifying saxophone performances, blends funk, soul, and blues into a luscious concoction. Grammy-nominated Beth Hart’s performances are the kind that leave you captivated, emotionally stirred, and possibly in need of a good cry in the best way possible. Closer home, Soulmate’s Tipriti Kharbangar brings a unique cultural perspective, along with Kanchan Daniel, known for her powerful vocals.

Continuing the tradition of nurturing Indian blues artistes, Mahindra Blues Band Hunt winner Big Bang Blues from Delhi will be under spotlight. The Garden Stage will host Kanakia Beatz Crew and Nanhi Kali Choir ensemble as part of the ‘Blues In Schools’ initiative. The Free Press Journal caught up with Gospel Grammy Group Award winner, vocalist, drummer and keyboardist Sheryl Youngblood, who’s also in the Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame. Her vivacious presence and lifetime of singing gospel, R&B, and the blues promises to embrace the audience like a warm hug. Watch her at the Soul Strat Saloon today.

Excerpts from the interview:

What is on the setlist for MBF?

Our set list is based on the audience the people of India. It’s a Blues party! We’ll bring something for the seasoned, the young, the dancers, the foot stompers and the sing-a-longs.

Is this your first time in India?

Yes, I’m excited. I want to explore the culture, the customs, the colourful garments, the buildings...

What drew you to the world of gospel, R&B, and blues?

I’ve been around music all my life. My mother played piano at our church and that’s where the gospel came from. While my parents tended to the business of the church, I was able to go into the sanctuary and play the instruments there. My oldest brother played the clarinet, my sister the flute, and my younger brother the drums. Growing up we listened to all types of music and subsequently fell in love with R&B and the Blues along with gospel music. We found that all that music was relative. Understanding where the blues is from, how deep it goes, what it means and says is the road less travelled.

Are there any artistes or experiences that have influenced your evolution?

There are so many artistes that have kept me hungry. Watching Prince, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Denise LaSalle, Buddy Guy, Taildragger, Bobby Rush, and working with musicians like Artie “Blues Boy” White, Bobby “Slim” James, Koko Taylor, Otis Clay, Floyd Taylor (son of Johnny Taylor) inspired me. During a conversation with Buddy Guy, somehow we ended up talking about money and how they were paid 25 cents to play but they didn’t care because it wasn’t about the money, it was about being in your feelings and playing what you feel… which is why a lot of times a song could be played every day but depending on the musician, it would never be played the same because you don’t feel the same every day. All these stories have influenced my evolution.

You’ve described performing on stage as ‘the ultimate high’. What makes live performances so exhilarating?

When I’m on stage, it’s not about me, it’s about everyone around me. No matter how long or short our play time is… if I can bring a smile or a little bit of happiness to just one person through my music, then it was a great time. If I can help someone forget their problems even if only for a little while, it’s worth doing what I do and it makes it that much more special. For instance, the other night a lady came to me after my performance and she said, “You don’t know what you do with your music… you made me forget I had cancer. You made my stress go away, I took you in and I feel so much better.” I felt like I had done what I was there to do.

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