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June 2, 2015Feature

Over the past 40 years Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge have been responsible for some of the greatest parties in the world. Since the release of their first album in the mid-seventies their music has been an integral part of nightclub culture. Now performing mostly as a trio, Eric Davidson speaks to them about their illustrious career

“Nobody is exempt from the dance floor”

 

So what is it about disco that gripped the world so strongly? What catapulted it onto every dance floor in the 70s, and what keeps it returning every decade since then?

“Nobody is exempt from the dance floor,” explains Joni Sledge. “Disco is a genre that ultimately brought people of different creeds and colours together. It’s about the freedom to express who you are without any excuses and to forget the stresses and strains of the day.

“This music is uplifting and euphoric and we’re living in an ever chaotic age when release is essential in recapturing what’s good in the world. A lot of old school music has a simple message. It’s about the freedom to enjoy the simple things in life. Music, dancing, love and togetherness.”

A strong message, but, of course, behind this pressure release for the listener is a lot of talent and perseverance. Sister Sledge found moderate success in Europe with their first two albums, however they were largely overlooked by fans in the US.

"We are so very thankful be enjoying the legacy built with Nile and ‘Nard to this day"

It was only when two legendary producers called Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards took the reigns that the magic really happened. Speaking on this, Joni says the group owe a lot to not just their own talent, but the skills of Edwards and Rodgers.

“A majority percentage of the success of ‘We Are Family” was due to the the marriage of the two entities. A combination of a genius team of producers, who wrote amazing, timeless songs, and an act who were talented, genuine and real. This pairing is reflected in the joy of this album and we are so very thankful be enjoying the legacy built with Nile and ‘Nard to this day.

“Nile is one of the pillars of the genre. He and Bernard had such a golden formula of producing. Simple, slick and classy music with the strongest hooks imaginable. Bernard was the king of groove and Nile, the king of rhythm. Their music translated internationally. It seems every nation in the world knows ‘We are Family’. That says it all really.”

“The music business, much like life, is unpredictable and turbulent”

From a plethora of smash hits, to influencing modern artists like Beyoncé and Janet Jackson, the sisters have been through a lot in their decades long career. However, for the group it has been travelling the world and meeting their countless, devoted fans that has been the real highlights of their careers.

“Performing in six of the worlds seven continents is something to be truly thankful for. In Sicily, in a public piazza, we performed our song ‘Brother Brother Stop’, a song Joni wrote in protest against gang violence. At the end of the song people began lifting their children up above the crowd as a sign of unity. It was a deeply moving experience that we’ll never forget. So many significant memories are of when we’ve connected with people in a life changing way. We have sisters and brothers all over the world.”

Debbie then recounts another story from one of their many international adventures.

“In the early days, before we reached the heights of fame, we were headed to Japan for the Tokyo Music Festival. As we disembarked the plane, we were blinded by press and completely overwhelmed by an unexpected legion of fans who showered us with gifts and praise. As far as we knew we were just four school school girls who sang as a hobby.

“It was our first taste of fame and it was wonderful. Amusingly, due to an altercation with our mom on the plane, Debbie still had her rollers in and subsequently featured on the front page of the Tokyo Times the day afterwards!”

“You never have a loss of energy when you enjoy what you're doing so much”

Ten albums, five labels, a whole host of producers and collaborators and hundreds of thousands of fans later, I wonder how they keep their momentum.

“You never have a loss of energy when you enjoy what you’re doing so much,” Debbie assures me. “Only last week Joni was down with food poisoning but she literally rose from the dead to perform a 90 minute show! There is nothing quite like connecting with an audience that emanates such love.

“There was a young lady up on stage with us at the end of a concert recently and she was hugging us so tight and telling us she loved us and that we were her sisters. We’re honoured to be in a position to invoke such passion. It’s a magical experience and so very humbling at the same time.”

Debbie says with a smile that their schedules (and people) have gotten more and more hectic over the years, however they’ve found a way to deal with it.

“After a while crazy becomes normal and we’ve learned that we have a license to be divas and to kick some butt when necessary! Seriously though, touring all over the world certainly has it’s drawbacks but we also feel so blessed to have had such opportunities. We wouldn’t still be doing it if it wasn’t a ridiculous amount of fun too. As with life in general, it’s all about balance.”

 

Sister Sledge will be returning to Ireland on August 10th 2017, playing Bulmers Live at Leopardstown Racecourse. 

Click here for ticket details.

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