- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Three soulful women whose debut albums were the must-have recordings the year they were released will be performing this week in the Washington area.

When Sade first appeared on the scene with her 1984 debut, "Diamond Life," her understated vocals and sophisticated persona (tailored, feminine outfits, hair pulled back in a tight bun) were a far cry from the vivid, kinetic fashion statements that other chart-topping artists such as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were popularizing at the time. Though the notoriously publicity-shy singer wasn't squealing for our attention, she got it anyway. "Diamond Life" spent 81 weeks on the Billboard album charts and earned her a Grammy for best new artist.

Over the following eight years, she released three more original records "Promise" (1985), "Stronger Than Pride" (1988) and "Love Deluxe" (1992) which, combined, sold more than 40 million copies.

After "Love Deluxe," with its ubiquitous No. 1 single "No Ordinary Love," Sade quietly stepped out of the spotlight for nearly eight years. During the break, she moved from Madrid to London to care for an ailing relative, and in 1996 fell in love with Jamaican record producer Bobby Morgan, with whom she had a daughter, Ila, now 5.

In 2000 she returned to the studio to record "Lovers Rock," which came out late last year to debut at No. 3 on the Billboard album chart. The music of "Lovers Rock" is much like the music of her four previous albums: languorous, seductive vocals about the pain of heartbreak, the joys of motherhood and the ecstasy of love set to meticulously lush arrangements. Gorgeous and chic at 42, she still wears her hair pulled back, too.

Sade's current tour, also her first in eight years, stops in at the Nissan Pavilion tomorrow night.

• • •

Opening for Sade's night at Nissan is Atlanta-based singer-songwriter India.Arie, 25, whose own 2001 debut, "Acoustic Soul," was certified gold within six weeks of its Billboard entrance.

Given her CD's title and her instrument, guitar, one might expect a revamped Tracy Chapman, but songs such as the electric, sensual "Brown Skin" or the gospel-tinged "Strength, Courage and Wisdom" make it clear her roots and her soul lie more with artists such as Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott and other black women of the neo-soul movement.

"I don't use the term 'neo-soul.' It's all just soul music, period. Soul music is just sincere music, it's just heartfelt and that's my definition of it. Erykah, Jill and I are in the same vein, but music is like a fingerprint. All my songs are me talking about my opinions … like, I can't sing Erykah's songs," says the woman whom Prince called, "The coolest thing since the other side of the pillow."

On her first single, "Video," Miss Arie eschews the glamorous materialism of hip-hop divas and rap vixens in favor of simply being comfortable with who she is: "I'm not the average girl from the video/And I ain't built like a supermodel/But I've learned to love myself unconditionally."

Her sentiments are ones that many women share, and those women are applauding, loudly. "I get to look at a lot of people's faces," Miss Arie says, "and when they say, 'I identify with that song,' I say, 'Good.' "

Miss Arie says she also learned a lot about herself during the making of "Acoustic Soul."

"I had to learn how to communicate with people or else my album wouldn't get done. I had to learn how to be organized, or I'd have run out of money. I had to learn how to be patient, or else my stomach would start to burn. And I had to learn it it wasn't something my mom could teach me. The experience of making this album really separated me from being a girl and growing into a woman."

Working with a band was also new for the singer, who had grown accustomed to accompanying herself while on the club circuit in Atlanta. For this tour, Miss Arie performs with drummer Khari Simmons, bassist Forrest Robinson and two backup singers, Kerisha Hicks and Anthony Harrington.

She and they were were part of the Atlanta artists' collective Groovement/Earthseed. She says one of the sweetest benefits of her success is that she's been able to bring these close friends up with her. Her mother is also part of her team, making costumes for Miss Arie and her band.

"I love touring and performing. Sade and I are perfectly complemented. I love her music and the people in her band. I love it that the stage is carpeted. I love the bus. My bus is like my grounding point. I have all my stuff in my room on the bus, and all my best friends are with me. I love this."

• • •

Singer and poet Jill Scott, whose platinum-selling debut album "Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1" made her last year's anointed female neo-soul artist, performs Saturday and Sunday at DAR Constitution Hall.

A best new artist Grammy nominee, the 29-year-old Philadelphian gets props from everyone from rocker Melissa Etheridge to Miami rapper Trick Daddy to neo-soul sistah Erykah Badu. She was captivating onstage at the Grammys in February, accompanying Moby on his "Natural Blues," and she is even more mesmerizing performing her own material on this tour. One gets a contact buzz just listening to the songs of "Who Is Jill Scott," whether they are spoken-word affairs or fluidly sung. Nearly all revel in the sheer delight of being in love. Miss Scott's music has a realness, and it is that honesty that makes her so appealing.

Mike Phillips, her labelmate on Hidden Beach Recordings, opens.

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