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Ghetto Child

6 July 2007

Born in Harlem, recently moved to Chicago. Shemekia Copeland gave a concert at the Imatra festival in Eastern Finland on Thursday. Blues-Finland.com met with the young singer, who has already cut four strong albums.

Shemekia Copeland is not only known as a power-voiced blues singer, but also as a tough defender of her chosen genre. "The blues is a small genre in the music world, so it must be well taken care of", Shemekia said to Blues-Finland.com prior to her show at the Imatra Big Band Festival in Eastern Finland. "Hopefully, sooner or later, people get tired of the no-use electronic pop, and find the real stuff."

In Copeland's case, this is no idle talk. In addition to her dense gig calendar, she hostesses a blues show for the Sirius Satellite Radio every Saturday. She tours a lot and travels around the world, so how does she do it? "The radio's production system is completely internet-based. So it makes no difference where I am in the world, I can build a complete show with the help of a computer and web access", she reveals. Sirius can also be listened to online.
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For her age she is only 28 years old Shemekia has hoarded a staggering eight Blues Music/W.C. Handy Awards. Her four albums, all on Alligator Records, have been well received. Copeland's latest album is called "The Soul Truth" (2005). Many a song from the record was enjoyed by the full house in Imatra, too. "I am very satisfied with the album. I wanted to make a strongly soulful record. The amazing Steve Cropper produced it, and I also had the chance to work with some amazing musicians." Among others, Cropper (guitar), Steve Potts (drums), and Chuck Leavell (keyboards) appear on "The Soul Truth". Shemekia is not under a record deal right now, but she insists she is in no hurry to cut a new album, either.

Born and Raised in Harlem

"My childhood was great. Music was all around", Shemekia remembers. Blues legend
Johnny Copeland (1937 1997) was her father. Family life was safe and sound, which can hardly be said about her living environment: she was born in Harlem, New York City. "Well, it was actually quite dangerous. A lot of drugs were about. Fortunately, the change for the better had already begun by then, in the 80's and the 90's." Nowadays, Harlem is a considerably safer place to be. Shemekia herself has moved to Chicago, though.

Ruth Brown, aptly nicknamed "Miss Rhythm", was a really close person for Shemekia. Ruth supported and gave advice for her younger colleague both in music and in life. "She was a true friend. When I heard about her passing, it really hurt me inside." Ruth Brown died last November at the age of 78.

Shemekia also remembers performing with
Robert Cray as an exceptionally nice chance. Backed by an all-star band, they sang the classic "I Pity the Fool" at a giant blues celebration at New York's Radio City Music Hall in 2003. The beefy performance was captured for "Lightning in a Bottle", which has been released both as a movie and a cd.
Now We're Goin' to Have Some Fun

Horn sections have often been heard in Shemekia's music, but nowadays she tours with a four-man band. The backbone of the group is fellow New Yorker
Arthur Neilson, who has been the guitarist for Copeland already for nine years. At the Imatra gig, songs from all her four albums were heard. Particularly hot were the opening track of her latest album "Breakin' Out", the Handy-Awarded "It's 2 a.m.", and "Ghetto Child", a song made famous by father Johnny.

After the Imatra show, Shemekia made an appearance in Norway and headed back to the States. Many festival concerts are in the offing, and a joint performance with
Koko Taylor is scheduled for 23 August.

Shemekia Copeland does not worry about tomorrow. It is rather obvious that the lady, who made her mark in the top of the blues world as a youngster, now wants to taste the fruits of success for a while. "Now we're goin' to have some fun! I have no clue as to where I am in ten years. A message for the Finns though: Don't leave it too late to have me again", Shemekia commands. The singer appeared at the Lakeside Blues Festival in 2000, and she remembers her first Finnish visit was a wonderful one.
Her first name closely resembles the Finnish word for seer or wizard ("shemeikka"). Shemekia finds this very cool. Her face returns to a serious mode kind of quickly, however: "I am a musician, not a magician."

Shemekia Copeland, Shemekia Copeland MySpace, Imatra Big Band Festival
The future of blues music is not in doubt, as far as Shemekia Copeland is concerned.
Shemekia pleased the crowd in the packed house at the Imatra Big Band Festival.