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Righteous Babe: With a commanding voice and stage presence, Toshi Reagon blasted the Kuumbwa Jazz Center Feb. 3 with a tough mix of rock, blues and soul.

The Reagon Era

Daughter of a superstar Sweet Honey belts out her own awe-inspiring and euphoric sound

By David Espinoza

BEFORE HEADING DOWN to go see New York-based singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon at the Kuumbwa Feb. 3, I made a conscious decision not to bring earplugs, reasoning that Kuumbwa shows are never that loud. Big mistake. Without even getting 20 feet from the Kuumbwa doors, I could catch the sound of a full band groovin' away. Is this the right place?

"We have toned ourselves down," Reagon joked a few minutes into the set. (This was actually the truth, as I later learned. The volume during the sound check apparently was twice as loud.) Surrounded by her "gentlemens"--a drummer named "Chicken" to her left, guitarist Adam Widoff on her right and a bassist behind her--Reagon sat in the mush-pot middle, holding an acoustic guitar. All of my preconceived ideas about Kuumbwa volume levels were thrown to the wind as Reagon and her band belted out a euphoric mix of rock, blues and soul for the near capacity audience.

Definitely not one to be shy, Reagon has a stage presence that is like her music: righteous and bold. On songs like "Happy and Satisfied," Reagon slyly sings, "I think I want to have your baby, and I want you to have mine." She is a commanding performer, whose voice is a potent tool that at times can be overwhelming but always awe-inspiring. During the Thursday show, Reagon's vocal prowess tended to outshine her own band, who, as tight-knit as they were, couldn't match her soulfulness.

Between songs, Reagon addressed the crowd about relationships, incorrigible friends and life in general. Looking mighty comfortable in a grey beanie, red Fubu shirt and black pants, Reagon had all the demeanor of someone who was just as happy to be on stage as the audience was to see her. Perhaps her positive disposition had something to do with being the daughter of Bernice Johnson Reagon, founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Regardless, the younger Reagon knew how to please her fans.

One of the best moments of the night came with the song "Livin After All (Big Mountain Blues)" off her latest album The Righteous Ones when Reagon coached the audience how to sing the different harmonies beforehand. The result was a impressive singalong that had just about everyone in the room participating or dancing in the aisles--or both. Taking advantage of a broken string, at one point, Reagon put her guitar down and got up to dance.

Still More Soul

Just announced is a monster Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium show headed up by soul, R&B and funk hero Me'shell Ndegéocello. Joining her for the March 3 benefit show are hip-hopper Mos Def, Reflection Eternal and Aztec dance gods Ozomatli. Tickets go on sale Saturday (Feb. 12) at 10am.

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From the February 9-16, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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