When St. Petersburg-born artist Siobhan Monique Roland sings, injecting her classically trained voice into multiple genres including R&B, jazz, neo-soul, funk and gospel, people always ask her what type of artist she is.
So she came up with the term Ancestral Funk, which refers to the voices of her ancestors. It’s blossomed from a description to a record label and a movement. Under her stage name Siobhan Monique, Roland, 31, uses her performances to create change by bringing people together.
“(Ancestral Funk) is a representation of the sound, the community and the movement,” she said. “That change is love, unity and enlightenment.”
That’s the goal of an upcoming performance and community event, Motherland. On Nov. 6, Siobhan Monique and her 11-piece band The Negro Ninjaz will play at the Black Lives Matter Mural in front of The Woodson African American Museum of Florida in St. Petersburg.
Roland will also release her album, Jane Doe, featuring original music and covers of Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill. Fire dancers, drummers, live painting and vendors will also be featured during Motherland.
Community is at the heart of the event. It’s co-sponsored by Ancestral Funk and RaceWithoutIsm, a local “dialogue generation organization” that holds frank discussions about race. Roland is the official spokesperson for the organization.
Danny E. White, president and founder of RaceWithoutIsm, started working with Roland as her publicist. But when he discovered she uses her voice as a social platform, he thought she was a natural fit to become the spokesperson. The organization is trying to reach her generation, he said.
Roland started singing when she was just 3 years old, before she was even talking, she said.
Music runs in her family. Her uncle, Buster Cooper, was a jazz trombonist who played for a decade on the road with Duke Ellington and delighted local audiences at the Garden in St. Petersburg.
Cooper helped Roland with her first public performance when she was 12, inviting her to sing at the Garden. She was nervous, but he pushed her, standing her up on a table with a microphone. When she opened her mouth, she found her voice.
“The love for singing and performing happened instantaneously in that moment,” she said, “and I’ve been performing ever since.”
She started classical voice training at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. After receiving a degree in classical voice from the University of South Florida, she headed to New York City to try her shot at Broadway. She landed a leading role in an off-Broadway production of Freedom’s Song.
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After two years in the role, she decided to come back to St. Petersburg, where her Uncle Buster’s health was failing. He told her he was passing the family’s musical legacy to her.
She didn’t know how to break free of the structure of classical music and Broadway, so she started a band. She found her own sound, look and message to continue the legacy.
Siobhan Monique and The Negro Ninjaz started playing shows, major productions that she and a team orchestrated, from venue rental to costumes. But just as they started to hit their stride, the pandemic halted live performances.
Unable to perform or make money, Roland regrouped and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked on projects. But the solitude of being away from her family and the inspiration of the California mountains led to a moment of self-discovery.
“This is what Motherland is a representation of,” she said. “It’s the return. It’s the renewal. It’s the release.”
She said the event is essential for the time we’re living in right now.
“This is going to be a human moment for everybody involved. And I want the people to be there ... I’m doing this for the people.”
If you go
Motherland. 6-10 p.m. Nov. 6. Black Lives Matter Mural, 2240 Ninth Ave. S, St. Petersburg. $50, free for children 12 and younger. Sponsorships and donations are available. ancestralfunk.com. For information about RaceWithoutIsm, visit racewithoutism.com.