It’s a breezy spring night, and Sonya “Sonee” Ratliff, accompanied by her four-piece band and three bright-eyed background singers (hello, Alyssa!), graces an intimate crowd at the candlelit Iguana Lounge in New York City. Clad in a floor-length lavender dress, designed specifically for her by Jovan Lebron, the R&B soulstress struts to and fro, belting love-stricken lyrics that rival those of Mary J. Blige. As 9:30 approaches, strangers from the above floor start wandering downstairs to get a glimpse of Sonee, and soon they cheer for her as though they were her biggest fans. Sonee’s assitant manager, sitting nearby at a small table in the back of the audience, perhaps pleased with how the night has turned out, sips champagne and smiles at me.
The evening’s setlist, I soon discover, was taken straight from Sonee’s debut EP, Can’t Shake This. Amongst a couple cover songs (“Don’t Walk Away” by Jade and “If You Play Your Cards Right” by Vicky Harvey, to be exact) are also original songs plucked straight from Sonee’s heart. According to her, the title track was inspired by a time when she believed she was in love for the first time, but she wasn’t sure what to do (something many of us can relate to).
“I just wanted to be happy,” she tells the crowd honestly, her hand clutching her heart. “That’s all.”
Other original songs include “Took Too Long,” whose introduction about a gentleman in her life gets the crowd roaring with laughter, and “On My Nerves,” a much angrier, borderline rock’n’roll track (at one point, I was certain she was going to kick over her microphone stand). From soulful ballads to a drum-heavy anthem, Sonee’s Can’t Shake This EP has something for everyone.
One round of coconut shrimp (highly recommended) and a tall glass of champagne later, I managed to pull Sonee away for a few questions.
Cliché: Have you always wanted to be a singer?
Sonee: Yes, I realized at the age of 5. I would perform in all the talent shows at the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club. I took it more seriously at the age of 20.
Who are your musical influences and what have you learned from them?
There are a few musical influences: Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, and Mary J. Blige. I’ve learned how to put your heart, soul, and emotions into every song you sing, and how to connect with your audience and possess passion.
What original song is your favorite to perform live and why?
My favorite song to perform is “On My Nerves” because I can release all of my frustrations.
Tell me a little about your album due out in July.
The album is entitled Fill Me Up. It has an R&B/Hip-Hop feel. The project depicts the different situations that women go or through and maybe put themselves through. Being in love and then falling out of love… [and all the] emotional highs and lows you will feel.
Read the full story on p. 114 in our June/July issue!
Photographed by Harold Waight, Styled by Navoj Boutique