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Soul Sisters With Purpose

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A new wave of soulful sirens have embraced the so-called alternative R&B movement -- that musical convent for songstresses like India.Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Angie Stone. Joi, Ledisi, YahZarah and Karen Bernod are innovative voices, characterized by a strong sound and lyrical creativity. And they offer music lovers a refreshing alternative to the bump-and-grind sensibilities that dominate the airwaves.

ESSENCE.com gives a respectful nod to these sisters who are making music their own way -- sensual, bold and uncut.

Joi

This rock-n-soulstress has been called a modern day Grace Jones with a southern-fried twist. The Nashville belle's, racy hip-hop punk-inspired style is befitting her retaliatory third effort, Star Kitty's Revenge (Universal Records). "Star Kitty }]is a part of me. She performs, makes appearances, talks {trash} and gets down and gritty," says Joi, who has been married to Altanta's Goodie Mob Big Gipp for two years. "I used to just be that way {naturally}, but now I'm 30 and I have a husband, child and other responsibilities. I just can't wild out all the time. I have to present an appropriate appearance and my stage persona Star Kitty offers me an outlet." This time around, Joi is committed to breaking out of her underground status to reach a broader audience. "I'd like to share  {my music} with the masses," she says.

Ledisi

Ledisi doesn't like labels. But if the industry classifies her sound as neo-soul, "then so be it," says the 20-something New Orleans native. "None of this is new. It's just recycled from Chaka Khan and Rufus, Roy Ayers and jazz." Her sophomore indie album, Feeling Orange, but Sometimes Blue (Le Sun Music) -- a musical potluck of jazz, funk and soul, is a fitting follow-up to her 2000 debut, Soul Singer, which has garnered her a cult following domestically and abroad. Along with her talented keyboardist and partner-in-rhyme, Sundra Manning, Ledisi has created a solid foundation for innovation. "Our music was created to inspire people," says Ledisi. "I hope that's what we've done -- inspired people to love themselves."

Karen Bernod

Everybody knows that behind every great singer, there's an even greater back-up singer. Erykah Badu, Luther Vandross and Mos Def are a few of the superstars who can attest to Karen Bernod's talent. If her name doesn't jog your memory, then her performance on Erykah Badu's 1997 Live CD should. Bernod riffed and scatted so fiercely that some have dubbed her Ella Fitzgerald's incarnate. Now, the siren has emerged from the shadows with her indie debut, Some Othaness For U (Natively Creative Music). "I've been offered deals, but I didn't want to get mixed up with all the political stuff that goes on with record companies," says the 30-something Bernod. "The indie approach offers more for autonomy."

YahZarahDana

"YahZarah" Williams may be young, but she is wise beyond her 22 years. "I believe if you let your fruits speak for themselves, you'll be seen by the world," says the former backup singer for Erykah Badu. Yahzarah's indie debut, Hear Me, (Keo Music) is a melodic brew of gospel, funk, soul and hip-hop. "I'm moved by the music of the church," says the Washington, D.C.-based singer who's been performing in the church since she was 11. With influences like Parliament, Sly Stone and Aretha Franklin, Yah's performances are electrifying. "My shows are like a funky, juke-joint experience -- we go from hot church to {funk} in a heartbeat," says the soulstress. "I just want to bring grittiness and personality back to music."

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