Meet Adia Victoria, Blues’ Heiress Apparent

In one of the most male-dominated genres in the rock pantheon, she knows how to establish the mood.

Adia Victoria. Courtesy of Grandstand Media

There’s a particular moment in Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s fiery 1964 performance of “Didn’t It Rain” where she noodles her way through a sharp solo, then looks at the crowd and goes, “Pretty good for a woman, ain’t it?”

Sixty-odd years later, Tharpe is still pretty good — with or without the caveat. Despite the overwhelmingly male roster of names associated with blues history, Tharpe and her pioneering blueswomen counterparts — Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Minnie, and Ma Rainey among them — could always do everything the boys could do, only in a backward sexist society and heels.

Many of the luminaries who defined and refined blues remain more or less household names: Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, all remarkable talents in their own right. But through the annals of rock history, the basic blues narrative skews male, and later, white: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jimmy Page made careers and names for themselves as blues rock guitarists.

As rock history lumbered forward, early and mid-century blues growing ever smaller in the rearview mirror of a car driven by hair metal bands, then grunge bands, then indie types, Tharpe and her counterparts seemed increasingly relegated to its sidelines and footnotes. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a shaky-at-best barometer of relevance, included Tharpe in its 2018 class, however — some 45 years after her death.

Enter Adia Victoria, a South Carolina-bred songwriter with a penchant for Southern Gothic writers and rural blues, who arrives at Cafe du Nord on Saturday, March 9. Raised by Seventh-day Adventists, she initially left the South for New York only to change course and relocate to Nashville. There she honed a raw, gritty modern blues-rock sound proudly indebted to her foremothers. A longtime poet and writer, her lyrics ring timeless and moody but never tacky: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / But I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell,” she sings on “Stuck in the South.”

It’s not supposed to be pretty. The blues hinges not only on particular chord progressions and songwriting schemes but the establishment of a particular mood. Victoria’s own interpretation shines on the hazy new single “Dope Queen Blues,” in which she combines classic blues lyrical tropes — “My landlord’s knock, knock, knockin’ on my door / Mr. Bill Collector callin’ but I don’t answer no more,” with sentiments of a wild youth tinged with desperation: “I had a thought / I am a god / And I take another sniff.”

But Victoria is hardly revivalist. She’s a student of the plethora of soul, pop, and rock of the last several decades. She dabbled in smoky French classics (including Serge Gainsbourg’s “Laisse tomber les filles”) in her 2017 EP How It Feels. In a Nashville scene typically overcrowded with talent, she’s managed to stand out. And she’s become a songwriter poised to not only carry the torch of her foremothers, but keep it lit.

Not bad for a woman, ain’t it?

Adia Victoria, Saturday, March 9, 8 p.m., at Café du Nord, $13-$15, swedishamericanhall.com/cafe-du-nord

Five Other shows We’re Excited About

A$AP Rocky
Feb. 2, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Back for more after headlining last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival, A$AP Rocky will get a chance to try out some new jams (including his sugary-sweet new single “Sundress”) on an eager Bay Area crowd.

Half *Alive
Feb. 8, Rickshaw Stop
A recent beneficiary of YouTube’s mysterious algorithm — a likely result of the band’s mind-bending visual aesthetic — Long Beach trio Half Alive is thriving in and out of the comments section with surrealist electropop swagger and disco beats galore. Expect to dance.

Petit Biscuit
March 1, 1015 Folsom
Nineteen-year-old French wunderkind Petit Biscuit found his wavelength early and — to the dismay of directionless adults everywhere — his effortless ambient house only seems to get better with age. Turns out precise and melodic dance music delivered with a soft touch is ageless.

Noname
March 15, Fox Theater
A rising star in the ongoing golden era for young women in hip-hop, Chicago rapper Noname won us over with her smooth, self-assured flow and luminous, neo-soul-fueled production.

Amyl & The Sniffers
March 22, Thee Parkside
Between their addictive throwback punk sound and deliriously fun performances, it’s unlikely Amyl & The Sniffers will remain relegated to small bar venues for much longer. Arrange to meet your date in the pit.

 

Read more from SF Weekly’s Winter Arts issue:

Still Squicky After All These Years, 1980’s Grimiest Movie Is Coming to the Drafthouse
William Lustig’s Maniac arrives at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Expressions of Exuberance: Michael Light’s Aerial Desert Photography
Hosfelt Gallery’s “Michael Light: Great Basin Autoglyphs and Pleistoseas” is nothing short of transfixing.

The African Dream, in Mfoniso Udofia’s America
Two plays in her “Ufot Family Cycle” make their Bay Area premieres this season, showing the Nigerian Civil War through one clan’s experience.

Columbine Author Dave Cullen Sees Hope in Parkland
The esteemed reporter returns with a new book focused on a group of students who refused to let others tell their story.

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