This year has been challenging for Sheila E., who plays at Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday, September 15. “It’s a process. There are good days and bad days, but this has been really hard for me,” said the incomparable drummer and singer, who lost her longtime friend and collaborator Prince earlier this year. Having known him for 38 years, there’s a lot of sorrow to come to terms with, though having also lost family members, she is not unfamiliar to grief and its cycles. “It’s always a reality check. You take a moment to just appreciate where you are, what you have, what you really think is important,” she said.
But now more than ever, Sheila E.’s music — funky, fiery, full of passion — seems all the more like an antidote to life’s more grim aspects, a continuance of spirit and vitality through revivifying rhythms. Having been lucky to see the standout drummer perform with Prince at The Forum several years ago, I can attest to the lightning-bolt quality of her music and stage presence, with rapid-fire solos that are awe-inspiring and joltingly joyful.
And Sheila E. is not letting the hardship of loss stop her from jolting joy into her life and the lives of others as well. She looks to her parents as continual role models, both musically and athletically. “They’re in better shape than I am, they love life, and I’m so encouraged,” she said, adding that her music-mentor father continues to be her number one teacher and inspiration.
What’s more, she has quite a festive occasion sailing on the horizon: the Glamorous Life Latin Cruise, departing February 2017. Sheila E. said the weekend-long trip to CocoCay and Nassau in the Bahamas will be a nonstop party, with music the inspiration — spontaneous jam sessions are likely on the itinerary. “That’s how I grew up: ‘Let’s just jam.’ On a boat, it never stops,” she said. With George Lopez, Tony Succar, Debi Nova, Ozomatli, Judith Hill, Pete Escovedo, and Unity all aboard, plus a musical tribute to Prince and Michael Jackson, Sheila E. recommended passengers adopt a modified rest regimen to make room for all the entertainment: “People should be prepared not to sleep.”
It’s also a year for knocking items off her bucket list, such as creating a clothing and shoe line, working on a movie (she’s currently involved with a documentary), and accomplishing other goals, some over decades in the waiting. Her music, of course, continues its positive forward push. As a musician, she sees herself as doing what she can to alleviate the “shared struggle” of the black and Latino communities, for whom she is an icon. “I’m offended by the things that are happening. This country has been built by blood, sweat, and tears of color, and whether someone is straight, gay, white, black — how dare anyone disrespect and degrade any person. It’s sickening,” she said.
She wants to serve, and music is her means, like her new song “Girl Meets Boy,” dedicated to Prince and free via her website, as a way of “giving back.” With other songs in her catalog that address abuse and rape, she has always believed in music as a healer. “However I can help in doing things to bring hope and encouragement to keep us together, to help someone change their thought of something that has happened and help start the healing process — music is healing, absolutely.”
Sheila E. plays Thursday, September 15, 8 p.m., at Chumash Casino Resort (3400 E. Hwy. 246, Santa Ynez). For more information, call (805) 686-0855 or visit chumashcasino.com.