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The Sisters: Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge | © Camilla Camaglia
The Sisters: Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge | © Camilla Camaglia
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Sledging It In 2016: An Interview With Disco Legends Sister Sledge

Picture of Henry Oliver
Updated: 9 November 2016
It’s happened to everyone at some point: you’re nodding along to someone who’s boring you to tears, the incessant drone of a forgettable song drowning your conversation fades out and the unmistakeable opening bars of “We Are Family” kick in. The second those piano chords and that funky bassline reverberate around the room an atmospheric change is immediately noticeable. People’s faces light up, hips are set in motion and the inevitable euphoria of disco ignites the dance floor.

Sadly, the heady days of bands like Sister Sledge and Chic’s ubiquity are now behind us, but the sisters are still around, sledging it as they always have done. 1997 saw the release of their self-produced album African Eyes. Although it didn’t quite achieve the same commercial success as the hits they’re known for, the album was widely critically acclaimed, and was nominated for a grammy award. Now the sisters are bringing the funk to London for International Women’s Day, where they took part in the Walk In Her Shoes march to raise awareness for underprivileged women alongside Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger. The event was also a chance for fans to witness them perform as well as a preview of their new single “Women are the Music of the World.” I spoke to them about music’s power for change, performing for the pope, and life at the dizzying heights of the disco era’s zenith.

The Sisters: Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge | © Camilla Camaglia
The Sisters: Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge | © Camilla Camaglia

You’re here at the moment in London for International Women’s Day and have the Walk In Her Shoes march coming up. Is feminism something you’ve always been particularly passionate about?

Yes it is something that we’ve always been passionate about. It’s awesome for us that we have the opportunity to actually take part in something that makes a difference and that we’re able to show our support for this very important cause and statement.

Feminism’s become a very prevalent issue in pop music recently with big stars the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyonce bringing it to the fore, but also receiving criticism for hopping on a market opportunity and sexualising themselves unnecessarily. What’s your opinion on music’s power to make a difference with issues like feminism and do you think people are really using it to its maximum potential?

Well I’ll start by saying that we have a campaign which is even more important than our music which is that nothing is greater than love. We feel that in the position we’re in we have the opportunity to express love in many different ways, and we have the opportunity to receive it from so many people. We just feel like there’s nothing in the world more important than finding a way to heal and to spread love, finding a way to exchange and to express it in forms other than music. So we really feel grateful, and we do think that we’ve had an influence. It’s a beautiful experience too, to travel internationally and find that love is the same everywhere.

And also: yes, music is an effective tool. We’ve been given this privilege to take something that we love, and to sincerely spread a message of unity in the spirit, a bond of peace between, not just women but all people. Being able to use the vehicle of music to bring this about is an honourable privilege. It’s where our hearts are, and music can do that. There are many people that do it, some people do it with not the greatest sincerity, but most importantly, the message is getting across, so that’s a good thing.

After the Walk In Her Shoes March you’ll be performing and there’ll be a preview of your new single, Women Are the Music of the World. Can you tell us some more about the new single and what sort of sound we can expect from it? Will it be self-produced like African Eyes?

Thank you. Yes, as a matter of fact it is produced by us and also by our conductor. Our musicians play on it, we have a really great camaraderie, friendship and love with our band. We encourage them and lift them up any time that we can because they’re just phenomenal musicians. We had a lot of fun creating and producing the song with them.

What you can expect from the song is, of course, to dance. We will be sledging it. It’s got lots of harmony and a lot of personality, because it’s about bringing life and freedom in the house with love.

Can we expect a new album soon to follow the single?

Oh yeah, absolutely! This song, about the music of the world, that’s actually the last one we did. We’ve got all the stuff, you can expect a full album. We have been correcting and writing songs for a couple of years now under the theme of nothing’s greater than love, so the songs feature a lot of colours and varieties of love – like tough love, painful love, joyful love. There are all kinds of rhythms and sounds that we’ve been exposed to as we travel so it’s really great singing. I believe you will love it.

What was it like when you guys performed for the Pope recently?

Oh, it was incredible performing for the pope. It was just an honour representing the world. To be asked to do something like that, we were just blown away. I thought some of the highlights were, for one: we saw the nun’s dancing – they were just kickin’. I’ve never seen anything like it before, they were rockin’. This man just seems really, really full of genuine agape love for all people, all nations. We just felt like wow, what an honour for us to be even in the presence of the pope himself.

Have you guys heard his album he brought out recently?

We haven’t heard it yet but I heard that he was. That’s absolutely incredible!

Maybe you could do a collaborative album with him.

Oh yeah right.

What advice do you have for any budding singers or musicians who are just starting out their careers now?

First of all I think you have to have really tough skin. Don’t let anybody discourage you. If you are gifted then that is a privilege and you should really respect your gift, learn as much as you can from the business side as well as the performance side. Stick to it, the only way to fail is to give up. It is a gift to be shared, not to be kept to yourself. Honour your gift. The body is a temple that’s been given to you, so use it wisely. There’s a whole lot out there when you’re in this industry, but don’t get caught up in all that stuff. Take your wonderful gift and use it and nurture it, keep yourself healthy and spread it, cause people are out there waiting for what you’ve got.

One of the ways your music gained widespread recognition was when you worked with Nile Rodgers and made We Are Family. I was wondering what it was like to work with Nile, as one of the world’s most renowned producers. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience was like?

Nile is a very pleasant person, he’s pleasant to work with in addition to his creative genius. You don’t often have that combination. He’s a real gentleman, he’s very professional and he’s fun, he’s really fun. He makes you laugh. And he’s also a genius – a great combination.

Do you guys miss the disco era at all?

We do this every night what are you sayin’?

I mean it’s hard to find those disco nights anymore. Maybe it’s being brought back a bit with songs like Get Lucky and Nile’s still doing his thing of course, but do you miss it being everywhere, like in the 80s?

I know what you’re saying. But you know what? It’s all dance, it’s all a dance party and dance is happening right now. But I know what you mean though, that whole era – I think it was so amazing to see people, I was telling someone today, there was even a couple that used to come to our show when we were doing the clubs in New York, and they were in their eighties. They were decked out for disco, and they’d be out on the floor with everybody else.

That is amazing.

Yeah, so that was a fun part of that and you could wear what you wanted to wear, it was freedom! No culture, no colour, just all dance you know?

When you guys collaborated with Nile on We Are Family you were launched into superstardom really quickly. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like at the peak? I read there were two years where you only had two weeks of not constantly working and touring every day.

That’s true, it was a very busy time. I don’t think we realised just where we were then, we were just in the midst enjoying ourselves. It was a lot of work but when you’re having fun you don’t realise, it’s not like work.

What do you have in store for 2016?

Sister Sledge 2.0.