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The best kept secret in music


Blues explosion
The sexy sounds of Shikasta
Wednesday, May 19
Liberty Lounge
The members of Shikasta are no strangers to good press. The band's website is littered with rave reviews. Unfortunately, every article has the same bittersweet message: This homegrown talent is being so blatantly overlooked by the music industry that it's starting to border on criminal negligence. Granted, it's an old rant, one that music writers try to avoid because they knows it's futile. But once in a while, the injustice is too great to ignore and this is one of those cases.

After a few listens to their impeccably timed, perfectly executed 2001 release, Gold, signing this act to a recording deal seems like a no-brainer. The album was the quintessential blues explosion, making Jon Spencer seem tired – and he's the one who resurrected the genre. Shikasta’s live show is nothing short of legendary. You would think that label reps would have been wooing the Toronto trio with Crystal, coke and limber geisha girls. Not so. The offers have been few and far between.

"We did a tour with the Bellrays and the closest we came to having something was TVT Records wanted to sign us the day of (seeing us), but it just dwindled," says lead singer-vocalist, Russell Fernandes. "It was just a lot of hot air."

As long as Fernandes has music in his soul, he's going to keep plugging away. The new plan is to try cracking a new market.

"Now we’re looking for Europe because I think that we work out a little bit better there," he says. "I just feel that there's a lot less cynicism over there. I've seen audiences there and it just feels that people are more free."

Now I know what you're thinking – isn't the blues explosion thing, like, so three years ago? Not to worry. Fernandes's talent is endless and very adaptable to the changing times.

"We wanted to put more emphasis on the groove," he says about the band's sophomore effort, The Weight of the Sun. "We wanted to have something a little bit different from Gold. Gold was straight-up. There was no restraint. Here we actually wanted to get some sort of a pocket going and make it more dancey. I wanted to make more of a sex record than anything."

And he succeeded in doing so. Now record labels don't have any excuses left. After all, they can't argue that sex doesn't sell.

- ffwd weekly, calgary AB

Canadians with soul? This you gotta hear, right? Shikasta got soul, baby, hot buttered bucketfuls of the stuff, and they lay it all out like the king daddies of swankville on the aptly named "Gold". The formula is simple, but white-hot effective- big helpings of 70's groove metal seduced and tamed by Reverend James Brown. Well, Reverend Russell Fernandes actually, but a close approximation, at any rate. Shikasta rock and roll the hell out of this record. It's got all the slither and energy and black-eyed gospel revivalism of a Bad Wizard gig, only locked down on tape, which can't be easy. I don't even know how they did it. I mean, they don't look like pimps or scoundrels, and I already mentioned that they're from Canada. So maybe they made a deal with the devil. However they did it, this is one of the most righteous displays of super soul power I've heard since the Bellrays laid down their 5 point plan for a horny new freak powered revolution. Brothers and sisters, this is a testimonial you don't want to miss. "Gold"? Yeah, exactly.

I'm screaming into the phone: "Why the hell aren't you guys huge yet?" to Shikasta bassist and singer Russell Fernandes. I mean c'mon, at least get a record deal or something.

Ever since I heard the pure soul rock power on this Toronto threesome's debut release, Gold, I have been screaming from the highest mountain that this is Canada's greatest living band right now and once I saw them live, fuhgetaboutit. For a band of such obvious greatness and with two Canadian tours under their belt you would figure...huge, right? But still no record label has touched them with a ten foot pole. Think I'm blowing this out of proportion? Just ask anybody who has ever seen them live. "Well we finally just got distribution so that is a first step. We have been sending stuff out but just not getting any bites but ah, what are you going to do?".

Things are going to be turning around for this band soon. The tours of Canada they've logged in has started an avalanche of hype due to their live show, ripe with a James Brown meets Humble Pie heavy soul sound. "I sent out copies of the record to promoters and venues and they were all over the album and then press people started hearing the record so now we have been getting good press as well. I think the real reason that anybody knows about us though is through word of mouth."

Shikasta's success is imminent though with die hard fans all across the country and a live show that is guaranteed to start most people talking. Shikasta is more than ready for it too, while sitting on over 26 songs to choose from. If "Gold" was the best Canadian independent release last year (and it is!), then the new record that they will start working on in the winter should be a real bomb. "We are really adding more space to the music now, and soul as well as a lot of emphasis on songs, but still heavy and balls out. We have been playing a lot of the new stuff live and people have been really loving it. I put a lot of hope in music and I don't want to waste my time working for a bank but I'll take it as it comes."

-Johnson Cummings - Nightlife Montreal Magazine

Soul stirring
Shikasta Stax their sound

Last summer, a friend and I visited a local club for a pint and a little live music by a band whose name we didn’t know quite how to pronounce. That night, the soul-infused bluesy rock ’n’ roll of Toronto’s Shikasta set off a musical firestorm that ignited the whole place. Since then, the sheer ferocity of their live show has only been sharpened by constant gigging.

When I spoke with singer/bassist Russell Fernandes from Toronto, he and the rest of his crew had recently returned from playing SXSW (South by Southwest, a talent showcase for music industry types held annually in Austin, Texas):"It was intense. It was pretty heavy. There was no mediocre rock around there."

Despite playing a successful Sympathy for the Record Industry showcase, Shikasta didn’t receive that golden offer from a "good, caring label" which they are currently shopping around for. "The buzz [at SXSW] was Japan and Sweden as usual," Fernandes explains, "Canada doesn’t usually get a hold out there... they’ll usually skip the Canadian bands."

Fernandes, guitarist Dave Samuels and drummer Wade Sheedy also recently finished a two-date stint with rock ’n’ soulers, The BellRays. "That was amazing. It was like going to church. People were kneeling down and stuff like that to her [Lisa Kekaula, singer and high priestess for The BellRays]. It was just out of control," Fernandes enthuses. "And they really dug us and want to take us on [tour] with them, which, hopefully, wasn’t [just] drunk talk."

Shikasta is currently working on the follow-up album to their acclaimed debut CD, Gold. A slight departure from the sound of Gold can be expected on the new album, which will be released next fall. "We’re kinda going for another sound: pretty heavy, but less garagey, for a more old Stax soul kind of thing," says Fernandes. "We’re just basically trying to get our version of soul and honesty out there in a really, really disgusting music industry era."

- See Magazine, Edmonton AB

Maybe I'm a little more lonely than I care to admit, or maybe it's just the wine talking, but seeing Shikasta live can only be likened to a really good fuck. I want more and want it all night long. If listening to lead singer/bassist Russell Fernandes gring out all the sexually-driven blues he has in his soul doesn't make you randy, then you need to adjust your anti-depressant cocktail (may I suggest a little less Lithiuim and perhaps a tad more Paxil in your diet).

The blues trio from Toronto worked harder on May 6 than almost any band I've seen at the Pic (and trust me, I've seen more that I care to admit). The Immortal Lee County Killers come to mind-the first time, when they openened for Bob Log III and made him look like a has-been novelty.

Sandwiched in between Hotwire and Nast On and possessed with the soul of James Brown, Fernandes exploded through every song as though his whole body had been aching to get that lyric and bass line out of his system. Yet for some reason, the rocketing acceleration of blues didn't seem to phase most of the patrons. Many chose to remain seated like they were listening to Lee Aaron sing "Mack the Knife" at Cloud 9 and not a kick-ass blues band at a packed smokey bar.

Aside from the lame reception from the very same Vancouverites who always complain that ther's not enough live music in this city, it was a near perfect show. Except, Fernandes didn't play my favorite song, "Anyone Else". Just as well; the words "I want you to know I came to get down" only makes me pine for someone I haven't mey yet, a combination of sad and horny - i.e., lonely. I guess there are some voids rock can't fill, but seeing Shikasta live comes pretty damn close.

-Phyllis Oats - The Discorder - Vancouver, BC


upcoming release fall 2004 - "Weight of the Sun"
Catch n Release record compilation - 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


The current line up started in 1999. All of us in bands before know, it was not by chance that we get together and make our kind of music . Soul has so much hope, and honesty that we work as hard as we can to get to that level.
We have continuosly toured Canada and the North Eastern States. We have been priveledged to share stages with The Bellrays, Nebula, Tricky Woo, the Immortal Lee County Killers, detroit Cobras, Luna, and many more. We also opened up for none other than James Brown at the Ottawa Bluesfest.
We have showcased in various festivals , including SXSW for sympathy for the Record, CMJ, and NXNE
and were nominated for Best ALBUM Indie award in Toronto.