The harsh reality of the contemporary country blues is that it is predominately the domain of white males over fifty, the aging baby-boomer generation that found the blues through the 1960s folk and blues revival and embraced the music. There is a small audience of young people that show an interest in the genre, but the demographics are undeniable. Even the younger musicians, many featured in this website, tend to draw an older audience. Go to any blues festival, club or show and it is easy to see.
There are some musicians who shake up the comfort level of the traditional white, aging blues fans, and that may well be the draw needed to reignite interest among the 20 somethings. One of them is Sunny War, born Sydney Lyndella Ward, up until recently a street busker. She expresses not only heavy thematics of social criticism, but she sings critically about the system and culture which many of the old-school blues fans are so happily part of. She is anti-establishment, and that includes the blues music establishment, and that might be just a bit heavy for some of the stoic old crowd. She is personally shy and reserved, but unreserved with her radical politics and her brash, in-your-face expressiveness and strong artistry. This is not your grandma’s blues.
The blues has many faces. When first glimpsing at Sunny War, who now resides in L.A., she looks like an edgy street-punk. She definitely makes an impact on every level, as a young black woman, as a musician and as a social critic. Sunny War is anything but the typical blues-cliché.
She has been busking on Venice Beach, where many others have found their fame, most notably the late Ted Hawkins. Musically, she carries an idiosyncratic, unconventional and highly individualistic style that is hard to describe or emulate. If you are looking for standard blues forms and conformity, forget it. You won’t hear the same old 12-bar and mimicking emulation of old songs. Let’s call her style “free sophisticated folk music”, reminiscent of Joseph Spence, if you have to explain it. Comparisons will never suffice because she sounds completely unique, both as a singer and guitarist. Some writers described her guitar style as banjo-claw-hammer style, it’s in someway correct, but not fully. Yet others refer to her as a Mississippi Delta style player, which is also not really on target. She is on her own. You can’t really cram Sunny War into any pigeonhole. She plays alternating bass patterns typical in the blues and Appalachian folk, but roughs in odd patterns and timing with beautifully syncopated finger-picking and an almost modal, entrancing rhythm. Pity the musician who will try to emulate her. It is a s if a musician was completely cut-off from the world and developed a self-taught unconventional style and got really, really good at it. It sounds simple but is actually very complicated.
Sunny War still plays is one of the most exciting new voices in the acoustic blues. Not just because she is edgy, with an undertone of anger and rebellion, like the punk players, but because she is so deeply rooted in the blues and because she has something to say– original, powerfully expressive and creative. Her voice carries undertones of anguish, agonizing struggle and hardship, yet a raw sensitivity and vulnerability. This is a very young woman who has made it as a musician on the streets, who has roamed and rambled.
She is very heavy, very deep. She will be very important.
Right now she is not yet plugged into the international commercial blues scene, no CDs, no tours, but she is on the rise and definitely the one to watch. She is now touring and getting wider attention, definitely a star n the rise, Rumor has it that she has signed a sponsorship deal with Gibson guitars and that some major recording sessions are underway.