Their "Better Days/Treat U Right" is getting dance floor plays. But who are TRUCE? George Luke finds out.
The all-girl vocal group has been a big part of R&B music ever since Berry Gordy Jr took the Primettes off the streets of Detroit all those years ago and transformed them into the Supremes. In the '90s they seem to be multiplying even more rapidly; it seems as if everywhere there's a microphone, you'll find women in groups of three or four behind it, usually with a snappy set of initials (check: T.L.C., E.V.E., S.W.V., or even 7-6-6-9). But as the songs and the images have been getting progressively raunchier and with more than an uneasy silence from groups like the Escofferys, discerning R&B gospel fans have been left asking, "Where are the Christian R&B girl groups?" Well, no sooner had we received the first complaints about Out Of Eden's shorts, when news reached us about a hot, new - and British - act. Step forward Diane Joseph (aka Nia), Janine Linton (Jay Jay) and Michelle Escoffery (Shele, pronounced lshel-lay'), who make up the trio known as TRUCE (To Reach Universal Cultures Effectively).
For anyone well acquainted with London's black gospel circuit, all three should be familiar. Jay Jay used to sing with other members of her family in a group simply known as the Linton Family, while Shele was the youngest member in the Escofferys (featured in CR10). Nia, like the others, has been singing practically all her life. They have all sung in one choir or another at various times in their careers.
Three years ago, Lawrence Johnson from Nu Colours felt that there was a need for a female group with a vision similar to that of his own (ie, to be a positive influence on the mainstream R&B/club scene), and brought the three of them, who were already good friends, together to form the group. Their first outing on vinyl was a track featured on 'Street Hype', a soul compilation album produced by hip London DJ Steve Jervier. The group are now signed to Big Life records and released a seven-track EP in late January, followed by a single, "Treat U Right", in February. So, apart from the purpose indicated by their name, what do the girls hope to achieve?
"We want people to grasp a bit of us," says Jay Jay. "It's gospel music we're singing; we believe we have a message for people and we want them to reach that." Says Nia, "We chose our name because we felt that the word 'truce' in itself talks about people breaking down their barriers and coming together, and that in itself is already a message." "And we hope to project a bit of our personalities in our music," continues Jay Jay. "We like listening to music; we're into R&B, hip-hop...we like different flavours."
Wanting to reach the party crowd with the gospel is a good intention in itself, but one that is frequently misunderstood by many in the church. So exactly how well prepared are the threesome for the brickbats that are bound to come from other brothers and sisters? "I think I'll let Shele answer that!" says Nia. Shele cuts up the word into syllables, and says it slowly. "Crit-i-cis-m...we haven't really had crit-i-cis-m yet, because people haven't really heard our stuff fully. I think the best way to describe what we do as far as the church background is, is 'controversial'. It will bring a lot of stares, and a lot of sighs and (puts on 'granny' voice) 'What is this?', but we're prepared for that. Totally prepared for it, because we believe that what we're doing, gospel music, is basically good news and music is universal. It's not about the music; it's about the lyrics and our lyrical content is what is important. Music is for today; that's what we're dealing with here, and we're trying to reach people who don't know, rather than people who do. So that's cool if we get ridiculed; if we get the criticism, it's cool, because we know why we're doing it." (deep breath)
Ask them who their own influences and favourite artists are and you end up with a list of names synonymous with 'good quality'. All three are Clark Sisters fans and also like Andrae Crouch, the Hawkins and Aretha. Also Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, the Perri Sisters and, says Jay Jay, "A lot of the new groups out there, like Jodeci." Shele's current favourite? "Mint Condition - they'd have to be the ones!"
Although it's still early days, things seem to be going to plan for TRUCE. Already, as they'd hoped, their beliefs and the message in their songs is setting them apart from the million and a half and counting girl groups out there (one newspaper recently referred to them as 'the R&B girl group that keeps their clothes on'). They're also privileged to have been given a great amount of artistic freedom by their record company. All the songs on the EP were co-written by the group and by the producers (who include Lawrence, Don-E and remix team the Ethnic Boys). Looking back a year from now, what will they hope to have achieved, I asked. Nia replies: "We'd like to look back and say, 'That's where we were then, we've climbed to a certain part of the ladder.' Not to say that we've gone right to the top yet, because we feel that you can never get to the top; you've always got to keep climbing. We hope that we'd have touched many lives and changed people's ways of thinking; maybe if someone was at the point of suicide, something we would have said in our records would have changed their minds - changed a life somewhere. That means so much more to us than fame and fortune, the fact that we could have influenced someone's way of thinking in a positive manner."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.