A power-packed second edition of the NCPA Soulful Blues will feature Oakland blues singer and songwriter Terrie Odabi and Chicago blues singer and songwriter Demetria Taylor.

By Anurag Tagat

As much as we can spend endless hours debating the scope of the term ‘soul’, it is fair to say that the blues are inextricably tied to soul. Yes, the blues have got soul and one doesn’t have to look very far to experience this. On 16th and 17th March, the NCPA Soulful Blues festival returns for its second edition, bringing two roaring examples of blues and soul powerhouse voices— Demetria Taylor and Terrie Odabi.

Following the inaugural 2023 edition of the NCPA Soulful Blues with host Brian Tellis, the upcoming concerts will feature these award-winning artistes for their first shows in India. Taylor, who is the daughter of the late blues legend Eddie Taylor, is the 2022 winner of the prestigious “KoKo Taylor Queen of the Blues” award from the Jus’ Blues Foundation. San Francisco-raised Odabi, for her part, is a seven-time Blues Music Award nominee with albums like My Blue Soul from 2016 that keeps the Bay Area blues lore going strong.

Having had wholly different journeys, Odabi and Taylor are part of the NCPA Soulful Blues because of their extraordinary ability to sing the blues in a way that soars and shines. When asked what’s in store for her performance, especially since it’s the first for an Indian audience, Odabi says, “I am what you would call a soul blues artiste. My songs are stories mostly from my personal life and experiences or songs I strongly relate to and am passionate about. I love delivering a good message in a song, but I also love songs where the music just makes you feel good. So, when I’m performing, I’m really sharing my soul. I would say expect a heartfelt performance.”

In terms of her knowledge about the blues in India, she name-checks her U.S.-based Indian-origin musician friend Aki Kumar, a blues artiste from Mumbai. “He’s a harmonica player and singer who refers to his music as Bollywood Blues. But to be quite honest, India is not a place where I expected blues music to be popular or appreciated. I was very delighted and pleasantly surprised to be invited to come perform in India,” she adds.

Having performed in Europe, Odabi is now heading has previously said about performing the blues, “I feel that singing is something I was born to do. Sometimes on the stage my eyes tear up as I feel the music I’m singing. I love to listen to all types of music, but the blues caught my ear. I will never give up my dream.”

Born to Eddie and Vera Taylor, both blues musicians, Taylor grew up surrounded by the style. Originally a drummer at the age of 14, she recalled to Blues Blast Magazine that she was often just singing around the house, much like her mom. “So it was only natural that I pursued vocalising as a craft,” she said. She counts her entire family as mentors (uncles, aunts and musicians from the Chicago blues community) and while her father was an important figure in American blues history, Taylor makes it a point to credit her mother as well. She said in the same interview, “She was a singer songwriter with a huge impact on my dad’s and on our family’s music. She’d often write the music to my dad’s songs. She inspired me to sing and, upon her passing in 1999, I dedicated myself to making it happen for me in her and my dad’s memory.”

In 2011, she arguably had her first big break as a vocalist with the album Bad Girl which featured songs like ‘I’m a Woman/Hoochie Coochie Woman’, ‘All Your Love’ and ‘Big Boss Man’. Her 2022 album, Doin’ What I’m Supposed to Do, featuring Mike Wheeler and Deitra Farr, features songs like ‘83 Highway’ and ‘Blues Early This Morning’. The latter was written by her mother Vera and features veteran vocalist Farr, whom Taylor calls a big sister and major influence.

With the release of her recent album, she also received multiple Living Blues Awards nominations, including Artist of the Year and Best Blues Album. Taylor is more than happy to go international and play in India. In a Q&A with Blues.gr, she said, “I want people and other cultures to love my music. I’ve put in a lot of work over the years, and I hope to reach all cultures.”

All things considered, the performers coming for the 2024 NCPA Soulful Blues are seasoned artistes who stay as passionate as ever about their craft and plan to bring that to the country. Odabi says as she signs off, “I am extremely excited to lay foot in India for the first time. My eyes and my heart will be wide open to the different sights, sounds and beauty of Mumbai. Even if it will be for a brief time.”


This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of the On Stage.