3 p.m. Dec. 17----
Nadirah Shakoor's stint with the hip hop group Arrested Development came in handy for her current role as a vocalist in Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band.
His audience is in a perpetual state of arrested development.
Now, after 13 years on the road with Buffett, Shakoor has released her first solo CD. It is called "Nod to the Storyteller," (www.mailboatrecords.com) which of course features seven Buffett songs. I don't need to hear someone else cover "Margaritaville" so what hooked me was the non-Buffett material such as J.J. Cale's intense gospel-swamp composition "When This War Is Over."
Buffett duets with Shakoor on "When This War Is Over" as a modern day Belafonte-Miriam Makeba.They are adroitly backed by Louisiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth and his band. It is the record's highlight track and far too political to be heard at a Buffett concert.........
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....Nadirah Shakoor joined Arrested Development in 1993 while living in Los Angeles. She moved with the group when they relocated to Atlanta and remained with the group until they disbanded in 1996. (They reformed in 2000).
Shakoor neded another singing job in 1996. She had three offers:
Maybe Spearhead + Yanni = Buffett.
"Initially I was going to go with Spearhead," she said in a conversation from her Atlanta home. "I liked their music and I knew them. But it was a short gig. Yanni would have been great, but I would have sung one song per show which would have been boring." (For me, any Yanni song is boring).
So she chose Buffett.
"Nod to The Storyteller" seems conceived as a Buffett tribute CD, but what worked for me was how Shakoor's soulful sensibiilty has the potential to push Buffett. Shakoor can sing in a lilting Caribbean cadence, but also stretches into scat on her own composition "Give Henry The Receipt," the best jazz number I have heard about a CPA.
Buffett and Shakoor had talked about doing a solo record for years. "I do solos in his shows and the response is cool," she said. "I've built up a fan base of my own amongst his fans. Of course, he had like 300 to 400 (of his own) songs to choose from. It was overwhelming. Instead of listening to all of them, first I went to his daughter Savannah and asked what she would suggest."
Savannah Jane Buffett, who hosts a radio show on the online station Radio Margaritaville, gave Shakoor a list of about 28 songs. That list was taken to Buffett, who refined the slate. Shakoor said, "Then I went to one of the Parrott head sites---www.buffettnews.com/ (the web's largest Jimmy Buffett website) --to ask fans to tell me what songs meant something in their life and why." Besides "Margaritaville," the Buffett covers include "Creola," "Makin' Music For Money" the beautiful La Vie Dasante," and "Volcano." Buffett and Shakoor eloquently duet on Buffett's "Son of a Son of a Sailor."
But Shakoor also picked a soulful ringer like Art Neville's "Why You Wanna Hurt My Heart" because the oohs-and-ahs-backgrounds reminded her of the Four Tops. "I know it sounds silly, but that's why I chose it," she said. "At first I didn't realize it was an Art Neville song. (It also has been covered by Buffett). Once I found that out we added a New Orleans flavor, but Mac (McAnnally, producer) is from Muscle Shoals (Ala.) so we added that R&B flavor too."
Buffett's stage show is full of musical ideas, ranging from former Belafonte-John Lennon percussionist Ralph McDonald to Robert Greenidge, a master steel drummer from Trinidad who has also played with J.J. Cale and Taj Mahal. "I've been to Trinidad three or four times with Ralph and Robert," Shakoor said. "Ralph's parents are from Trinidad too, even though he was born and raised in Harlem. That encouraged me too, the first time I went to rehearsal met Robert and heard more of the Caribbean flavor in Jimmy's music." Ralph McDonald also has a new solo record out called "Mixty Motions," which features guests like Ashford and Simpson.
Shakoor was born in San Antonio, Tx. and raised in Los Angeles. Her mother Anna worked for the phone company and her father Rasheed was a carpenter who also played guitar and trumpet. In 1992, while working outdoors in Los Angeles, her father was shot and killed by a stray bullet.
"I think about him every day," Shakoor said. "I remember him telling me to never give up and just keep going. I'm not 24 anymore, but I'm still going."Shakoor was first attracted to Arrested Development after hearing their 1992 breakout hit "Tenneseee." She had just gotten off the road singing in the Janet Jackson "Rhythm Nation" tour. "My brothers and I had a group similar to Arrested Development in that there was singing and rapping going on," she said. "A little more pop and less hip hop. When I bought their CD "3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in the Life Of...." I was looking for Dionne Farris on the cover (she sang lead on 'Tennesee') and discovered she was a guest artist. I wanted to be a part of that group. I liked their music, the women and men together in hip-hop and I liked the positive message."
Shakoor checked out the entourage when they came through Los Angeles. They shared a bill with En Vogue, who ironically was Janet Jackson's former band. Shakoor had an in. She auditioned for Arrested Development in the arena's catering room. "Speech hired me and next thing I know I was on the Grammys with them," she said.
It was a bit different than playing in front of throngs of Parrotheads every summer.
"I first thought Jimmy was a jazz gig," she said. "(Buffett saxophone player) Amy Lee lived in Atlanta. She made me feel comfortable. She told me how people had been in the band for years. It was a family type atmophere. All the drugs and that craziness was past them." There are 12 members in the Coral Reefer Band including Buffett plus a crew of 39 people, not including the truck drivers. Shakoor explained, "They talked to me how important it was for Jimmy's people to have open personalities and good attitudes." You can hear the results in "Nod to the Storyteller," a project that radiates warmth on these long December nights.