As a 50-year percussionist/singer, Sheila E. finds creativity by surrounding herself with interesting people. Prince, Ringo Starr, George Duke and Sy Smith are among them.
Her recent album, Iconic: Message 4 America, features guest appearances by Starr, Freddie Stone, Candy Dulfer, Bootsy Collins, Israel Houghton, George Clinton, her father, Pete Escovedo and brothers Juan and Peter Michael. The cover tracks include “Come Together,” “Everyday People,” “Blackbird,” “Pusherman” and “Respect Yourself.”
“Two years ago, I put together a folder of songs or projects I wanted to do,” says Sheila E., best known for the songs “Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” with Prince.
“The way the election as happening, I decided, ‘Look, I can’t put this dance record out. I have put out something that has substance.’ The lyrical content is so relevant, it’s like are we talking about then or now. It was perfect to go back and find these songs.”
The 15-track studio album of politically charged anthems landed Sheila E. on the Billboard charts after a 26-year absence.
“I don’t do projects and create music to win awards,” Sheila E. says. “I do it for the people and I love that we love what we do. I didn’t even know it had been 26 years. That’s crazy.”
The song choices were easy, Sheila E. adds, but joining some of the original artists was the icing on the cake.
“We all grew up listening to these songs,” she says. “To record these songs with the artists who have written the music was very cool and inspirational. I was really, really happy to be able to do that.”
For “Come Together,” she merely picked up the phone and dialed Ringo Starr.
“I called him and he didn’t answer the phone,” she says. “I left a message asking him if he would perform on ‘Come Together,’ mixed with a bit of ‘Revolution.’”
He sent her a message saying, “I would love to enhance this song that you have.”
She hopes through Iconic: Message 4 America, voters will feel inspired.
“For 2018, I’m very hopeful our country will be in a better place than it is now,” she says. “That’s what is inspiring about the record. I want to encourage them and go out and vote. People should fight for change by protesting—not in violence, but in peace. And voting for things we’re not happy about.
“A lot of people walked away and got lazy and we ended up not going out to vote. Not voting caused a lot of division in this country. I don’t stand for the division in what’s happening. I stand for the peace that unites the people.”
Sheila E. is grateful for what she has, including the fans and her life.
“We’re all here for a split second,” she says. “Sometimes I have to check myself and go, ‘Wait a minute. I have to do and say the right thing as much as I can.’
“I don’t feel happy all of the time. I try to. I just say, ‘Thank you, God, for waking me up and pray for the people who need prayers.’ Today, I’m really tired—but it’s a good tired. I’m working hard. I love what I do.”
Sheila E., The Rialto, 318 E. Congress Street, Tucson, 520.740.1000, rialtotheatre.com, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, January 14, $31-$46.