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West Side native's got soul

Courtesy photo
"I would consider myself to be a jazz/soul singer. But listening to 'Twenty Twelve,' you'll hear the soul and neo-soul music in the music as well as a little gospel," says Charleston native Nicci Canada, who performs alongside the Bob Thompson Unit at a Saturday fundraiser for the Arts Council of Kanawha Valley.

WANT TO GO?

Love Art

An Arts Council of Kanawha Valley fundraiser

WHERE: Columbia Gas Auditorium, 1700 MacCorkle Ave. SE

WHEN: 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday

TICKETS: Individuals $25, couples $45 (at www.artskv.org or Taylor Books)

INFO: www.artskv.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nicci Canada came relatively late to the realization that in the spotlight was where she belonged.

"It didn't cross my mind until I was, like, 28," said Canada, who grew up on Charleston's West Side.

A friend planted the seed after hearing her sing.

"Nicci, I think you missed your calling. You should be singing," Canada recalled the friend saying. "And I thought, 'OK, I'll do it.'"

She is speaking by phone from Charlotte, N.C., where she now lives and plots the ongoing development of her career. The 37-year-old's first CD, "Twenty Twelve," came out in August. She'll showcase her jazzy, soulful voice this Saturday with the Bob Thompson Unit as part of Love Art, the inaugural fundraiser of the Arts Council of Kanawha Valley.

"I'm just excited to come home. I love West Virginia; I love my people. I'm a Mountaineer girl at heart -- always have been, always will be."

Hometown acquaintances not clued into her reinvention will know her as Shawna Nakia Reese, but Nicci is her longtime nickname while Canada is her husband's name she took when she married. She grew up singing in the Greater Emmanuel Apostolic Faith Church in Charleston where "my first solo was in the kiddie choir," she recalled.

"You grew up singing. It was just a hobby. I was a preacher's kid. It was what you were expected to do," she said.

Her sultry, crystal clear voice amply reflects qualities of her personal musical icons and inspirations: Jill Scott, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday.

 "I love those singers," she said. "I would consider myself to be a jazz/soul singer. But listening to 'Twenty Twelve,' you'll hear the soul and neo-soul music in the music as well as a little gospel."

After the album came out, it landed a spot on the UK Soul Chart Top 30 on Starpoint Radio for eight weeks straight, she said.

After moving to Charlotte, Canada sang as much as she could. "Churches, pubs, open mics -- wherever anyone would have me, I would sing. You meet up with other people that take you to another level."

With businessman Mitch Vaugh, she started up Jevenity Music Entertainment, which released her debut CD. "The puzzle all came together. It's still coming together. It's a journey to me," she said.

She still has a cleaning company in Charlotte, she noted. "But we're not taking clients because the gigs are picking up.

"My goal is to dive completely into entertainment. I'm probably out maybe twice a week. I'm still promoting my album and trying to develop a fan base in the Charlotte area. Sometimes it can be a slow process, but I believe in what I'm doing."

Her dream is that her music and message gets heard globally.

"I never felt like I was just a singer. I'm a motivational speaker. I'm actually working on two books right now. The music accompanies what it is I do. I've always seen myself traveling the world and sharing the gifts I have."

Love Art also features music by the Liberty World Percussion Ensemble, Tofujitsu and Qiet; poetry by Granny Sue, Kent Shaw and Robert Wallace; scenes from "Lend Me a Tenor" by the Kanawha Players; short films from the West Virginia International Film Festival; dance instruction and a fine art exhibit from regional artists plus drinks and appetizers.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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