While jazz singer Akua Allrich is a born-and-based Washington, D.C., gal, she finds time to share her talents with us Triangle folk every now and again. She’s practically a regular at Durham’s Beyu Caffe, where she will be performing on Saturday.
“Durham has ended up being kind of, I guess, my North Carolina home,” says Allrich, 37, on the phone from her home outside D.C. “I’m really excited to be there every time. There’s a wonderful energy, great food. It’s just, you know, a lot of fun.”
She also loves coming down to North Carolina because it’s home to one of her idols, Tryon’s Nina Simone. Allrich is such a huge fan of Simone’s that for each of the past eight years she’s done a show in D.C., belting out tunes from the late jazz great. And while she’s a big fan of the 2015 Netflix documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” she has not seen “Nina,” the critically reviled biopic (starring Zoe Saldana as Simone!) which was released earlier this year. “I refuse to see it,” she says, laughing. “I won’t do it.”
Simone isn’t the only dearly departed singer Allrich pays tribute to in her show. She also gives props to South African vocalist Miriam Makeba. Just like Simone, Makeba was also a civil-rights activist.
“It kind of came together very organically,” says Allrich. “The first year was just Nina Simone. And then, the next year, I wanted to just add another person who was really a mainstay in my household growing up.”
You can hear both Simone’s jazzy consciousness and Makeba’s Afrocentric awareness in a lot of Allrich’s music. Echoes of Simone and Makeba can definitely be heard in her latest “Soul Singer,” which was released last year. As someone who studied both jazz vocal and social work at Howard University, Allrich and her band strive to bring a unique blend of vocal daring and socially-alert subject matter to audiences.
“It just merges perfectly – social consciousness and, also, social sensitivity and being sensitive to my audience and really trying to embrace them and bring them into the circle of energy that we create as musicians,” she says. “I make it a point to involve the audience as much as possible and, you know, kind of pay attention to their energy and see how receptive they are to being a part of the process.”
Allrich has been performing professionally for eight years. “I started when Obama got into office – that’s how I remember,” she says. Did seeing Obama as president make her get her Yes-We-Can on and go into singing? “No, it was serendipity. It just happened that way. … It was definitely not planned. I’m not that kind of person.”
If anything, Allrich is looking to follow in the footsteps of not just her idols, but her parents, who taught her that a person can be both an artist and an activist.
“We aren’t just doing art for art’s sake,” she says. “You are an artist, which means you have a big responsibility.” She’s now instilling those values in her two kids, who are also performers. (Her daughter, 12, is a dancer, while her son, 9, is a drummer.)
So, expect Allrich to come with the soulful truth at Beyu Saturday night. But, don’t worry – she’s not looking to lecture you. She wants you to have a good time with her music.
“My biggest goal is for people to walk out feeling affected in a positive way.”
Who: Akua Allrich
When: 8 and 10 p.m.
Where: Beyu Caffe, 341 W. Main St., Durham
Info: 919-683-1058 or beyucaffe.com