It's becoming harder and harder to find American R&B that satisfies my soul.
I grew up on Chicago's Southside during the 50s and 60s. I danced down the aisles of the Regal Theater to all the hottest R&B performers of the day. I discoed down in the 70s, and kept on dancing right through most of the 80s and 90s, even after moving to the Southwest.
But as the soul got slick and fledgling hip hop moguls became more interested in singing about their bling, boats and "bitches" than giving me something I could feel, I, like songstress Leela James, began to wonder where the soul had gone.
In fact, wanted more than that -- I wanted a new soul sound entirely. Something intriguing, unique. Last.fm came to my rescue, dropping some new names into a "Neo Soul" station featuring Jill Scott and a handful of artists who still give me something I can feel.
Some of those names were familiar. I've loved Middle Eastern Rai for decades -- Cheb Khaled's Funkedelic-flavored E'Dir E'Sseba, was the first cut to convince me to explore this rai even further. I am now a devotee of NRJ Rai Radio, and was delighted to find all of the annual Sony/S.M.A.L.L.compilations of rai, hip hop and R&B on Spotify, to introduce me to artists like Cheba Maria and Harage MC.
Last.fm was also my first introduction to Asian Underground star Rishi Rich, born Rishpal Singh Rekhi in Croydon, England of Eastern Indian parents. You probably heard him dozens of times during the Olympics -- remember that commercial with people from all over the world murdering songs playing on their car radios? One of those songs, sung, badly, by the young Eastern Indian girl, is Tere Jiya Hor Disda one of my favorite Rishi Rich cuts.
The biggest shock, however, was the SERIOUS Eastern European soul -- Polish, mostly -- that surfaced soon after, on the same station. It was Jarecki's Love Story that got me up, dancing, in front of my computer first. It was one of the most dance-worthy "retro" funk concoctions I'd heard in years, a steady stream of familiar and whimsical "winks" by an artist with a deep knowledge -- and love -- of the the genre.
I was later introduced to bands like Sofa and the now defunct Sistars. And Kayah, whose mesmerizing Santana, made her one of my favorite jazz/soul vocalists. A live version of that song is included here. It's hard to keep current with some of these stars, but these samples, though audio only in some cases, are a good introduction.
Want more? Start with Spotify -- enter the names of any artist, then click on the links to related ones. And don't sweat the lyrics. Funk is a "universoul" language.