Whilst most of the interviews I conduct usually take place in trendy, creatively decorated venues across East London or at the head offices of major labels across the capital, occasionally I step out of the norm and into something quite different. This was one of those times and an incredibly regal and up market hotel in the centre of West London’s affluent Gloucester Road area was the venue for my chat with three legendary women who are true icons of the music world – Sister Sledge.
As I wait my turn down in the exquisitely decorated hotel reception, feeling a little under the weather, I wonder how these ladies who have seen it all and done it all will manage the tiring and repetitive nature of a press day. Surely they’ve been asked the same questions for the last four decades and must be tired of having to think of interesting and differing responses? Would they be jetlagged from their flight to London and prove to be difficult subjects for my eager questioning?
Being a lover of all music, I was naturally excited and my mind was put at rest as soon as I entered the brightly lit room in which the interview was to take place. Kim, Debbie and Joni Sledge were sat side by side on a grand, baroque style sofa and I couldn’t help thinking of the chorus to ‘We Are Family’ as I entered. I was greeted with beaming smiles from all three ladies who seemed keen to welcome me to their space where they’d been based for the majority of the day.
Our conversation flowed from the off as my questions about their thoughts on London sparked some memories of the past. “It’s like a second home” claimed Kim before Debbie informed me that they have people that live in London who they practically consider family – or fam as they playfully put it, embracing their London surroundings. Kim tells me that the first time they came to London she wanted to try all of the things that she’d read about,”yorkshire pudding, fish & chips, earl grey and the lamb!”, before they all exclaim in delight at the memory of when they first tried scones. It’s a real honour to be in the presence of a group who have had such a strong influence on modern music and hear them discussing something so trivial as scones. It doesn’t happen everyday so I was determined to make the most of it.
International Women’s Day was the main reason for their trip over to the UK. The group were taking part in the ‘Walk In Her Shoes’ event, in support of women and girls in poor communities around the world, where they would unveil a brand new song ‘Women Are The Music Of The World (WAMOW)‘. “This is such an important and necessary charity. There are so many women around the world who are struggling and have to walk miles just to get clean water” Joni tells me, her passion for supporting the cause flowing through her voice. “We’re taking part alongside people we respect so much like Annie Lennox, Bianca Jagger and Helen Pankhurst”, each of the trio visibly moved by the fact that the great-granddaughter of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst would be standing alongside them.
For a group who have performed for The Pope and President Clinton and can count the likes of Patti Labelle, Diana Ross and Nile Rodgers as friends, it was inspiring to see how much this event truly means to them. “They asked us to headline the event and sing ‘We Are Family’ and I think it’s a really appropriate song; sometimes that song is just the right one” declares Joni with a real sense of pride that her music can help to motivate and empower people more than thirty years after its creation. Debbie lights up when she talks about how the content of the group’s new music fits in alongside the event, saying “We’re also gonna debut our new song ‘WAMOW’ and it actually works so perfectly with this event. All eyes around the world will be on it and it’ll give people the opportunity to understand what’s going on around them and participate in making changes.”
I was intrigued to know what the 2016 version of Sister Sledge would release musically. Would there be newly embraced Grime sounds involved or would a trap beat make an appearance? “You can expect to dance and you can expect a Sister Sledge sound” claims Kim, with Joni adding, “We’re risk takers. We don’t necessarily just copy what we did before. We’re not trying to be commercial but we just want to say something strong. So it’ll have dance, rhythm, world influence and harmony”. The belief in their ability to still put out music of a high caliber is clearly visible in the way they enthuse about the track, which is a beautiful thing to witness.
With the notion of supporting women around the world being so evidently important to the group, I ask them about the women who have inspired them over the years. “First of all our mum and our grandmother” responds Debbie, eager to inform me of their history, “We have strong women in our family. Our aunt is in her eighties now but she has been creating organisations and raising funds for charities that she’s very passionate about. She’s been working to improve the lives of her community and the people around her.” Joni interjects, “One thing about our grandmother is that she was one of the first African American generation to go to college and travelled as a singer with Eleanor Roosevelt. When I think about the time she grew up in, the struggles she had to go through and the fact that she excelled in all these things I just have to say wow.”
What strikes me most about these three ladies is that they don’t seem to believe their own hype. Whilst they’ve been lauded by millions around the world as music superstars, they’re still firmly focussed on supporting a new generation in achieving their goals and are keen to pave the way through leading by example. “Behind every great WAMOW Queen is a great WAMOW King, or MAMOW” explains Debbie jovially before all three burst into laughter. I quiz them to find out whether ‘MAMOW’ is going to be the name of their next track and Joni chuckles whilst telling me that that track is more likely to be released by serial parodist Weird Al Jankovic than Sister Sledge.
Branching off from the topic of supporting a new generation, I ask the group about their thoughts on the much discussed subject regarding the lack of female bands/artists featuring on the line-ups of music festivals across the UK. Debbie tells me that she’s noticed that she and her sisters have become a rarity as a female group but that that wasn’t always the case. “I’m noticing that now” she ponders, seemingly attempting to think of some other acts which she could reference as examples, “I’m hoping that we can inspire and encourage more women to go into the field of music and also encourage them to realise the influence and power they can have in a unified effort to both bring music and make change”. Kim proceeds to inform me that the group really love performing at festivals though, breaking the serious undertone that has encompassed such a meaningful topic.
These light hearted remarks from all three ladies ensure that the interview moves along smoothly with some deep and honest conversation punctuated by witty and humorous comments. It shows me that these three pro’s have been doing this for a long time and answers my earlier questions on their feelings about press days, as well as helping me forget that I was feeling ill. After a very brief chat about their aptly named positivity blog ‘Nothing Is Greater Than Love’, the interview comes to a natural conclusion, although I could easily have spoken to them all day having been engrossed by their brilliant conversation.
As I walk out of the elegant hotel reception and back into the breezy surroundings of the real world, I can’t help but feel invigorated and energised by the group’s positive outlook and dedication to help those less fortunate than themselves. It’s truly motivational and even though I was only in their presence for around thirty minutes, I still managed to gain a real insight into why they’re so loved by both fans and fellow artists alike and am now full of belief that if we all work together, we can achieve anything.