[ sweet, sexy, sassy, chunky, chocolate bitch ]
For years the Dallas, Texas-born Sandra St Victor led The Family Stand. While the New York-based group attracted a small band of loyal followers with their blend of rock, jazz and soul, they only ever enjoyed the one hit single, 1990's Ghetto Heaven. Dismayed at this lack of mainstream success, St Victor eventually quit. 'It was a mutual decision between the three of us,' she explains, indicating that initially the trio decided to split. 'We just felt like we were banging our heads against the wall and we didn't want to do that anymore - it was too painful.' However, V. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Lord have since regrouped (with St Victor's blessing), recruiting singer Jacci McGhee (best-known for her duet with Keith Sweat, "Make It Last Forever"). But there's no looking back for St Victor. Now happily solo, she's returned with a velvet-smooth R&B album, "Mack Diva Saves The World".

As with credible newcomers like Me'Shell Ndegeocello and Erykah Badu, St Victor actually has something to say. Mack Diva is a formula-free zone. Integral to the album is the P-funk Mack Diva persona that the singer adopts, although the role is perhaps more spontaneous than the artificial word 'persona' implies. 'She's an alter ego,' St Victor says of the Mack Diva. 'When I put on my platforms I'm transformed into this alter ego. I have this thing I say which is that, "The Mack Diva is a sweet, sexy, sassy, chunky, chocolate bitch."' St Victor breaks into laughter.

It was actually Black Rock Coalition pioneer Greg Tate who came up with the Mack Diva title. St Victor teamed up with the New Yorker, who, coincidentally, also plays in a band named Mack Diva, to write a song around the phrase.

If nothing else, the attitude-driven Mack Diva represents an enlightened guide to female conduct in the nineŠseven. It's an album for all women, regardless of race, creed or colour. 'For whatever reason it seems that we've been taking steps backwards these last five or six years instead of taking steps forward,' St Victor remarks. 'We're relegating ourselves to second-class citizens. And not just politically, I'm talking about at home. I just think we need to recognise our power, recognise our strengths and capitalise on that; recognise that we are in control of our own destinies. We write our own histories; we write our present, we write our future.'

Pictured inside the CD booklet, striking bold poses in flamboyant costumes, the flyer-than-fly diva is above all not afraid to celebrate her own sexuality, but at no point does she compromise her autonomy or self-respect. 'It's a thin line between confidence and cockiness, or having confidence with your sexuality and being called a slut. There's a very thin line, but it's how you go about it,' she observes. So what does St Victor make of hardcore rapper Lil' Kim, aka Queen Bitch, who appears to be somewhat

misguided in the way she promotes female empowerment through sex? 'Lil' Kim is very young and I think when she gets older she'll use that confidence in a much more positive way. Right now I think she's drawing upon the only experience that she has, which is just sex. She's not a woman yet, she's still a very young lady. I think she'll mature into a very strong woman for us to look up to.'

At the moment St Victor is also keen to establish herself as an R&B songwriter/producer, joining the ranks of multi-talented sistas like Andrea Martin, Missy Elliot and Faith Evans, all active behind the scenes in a still male-dominated field. It's not entirely a new role for St Victor, who has worked in a similar capacity with The Family Stand, producing Des'ree and Paula Abdul. Indeed, the trio guided Abdul at a crucial point, overseeing the bulk of her sorely underrated second album, "Spellbound" . 'It's hard for someone who's such a pop icon for that brief flash to come back and try to be creative,' St Victor says of Abdul. 'They want you to remain in the same vein, but she didn't want to. She wanted to grow. And neither the public nor critics were ready for that. They wanted her to be just a bubblegum dance singer.' Shortly after the album release Abdul's label, Virgin, was sued by back-up singer Yvette Marine, who claimed that some of her vocals were dubbed over the leads. 'I was there when Paula did her vocals so I know she sang,' St Victor recalls. 'She's so vulnerable.

I know what she was going through -- to be accused of such a thing when it wasn't true.'

But when it comes to career highlights, St Victor maintains that nothing eclipses her recent collaboration with Curtis 'Superfly' Mayfield, especially since he's had such a significant impact on her 'socio-funky' writing style. St Victor sang a duet with the legend on "New World Order", his first album since a freak accident left him quadriplegic in 1990. 'He's the most beautiful spirit you could ever meet. He's so gentle, thoughtful, kind, comforting and nourishing. I cannot think of sweeter adjectives,' she says with emotion. 'He's just one of the most wonderful people I've ever met. That was such a life-affirming experience. I grew up listening to and feeling the words he spoke and the melodies he sang. I felt them so deeply. He's had a huge influence on my writing and my interpretation of things.'

"Mack Diva Saves The World" is out now through Warner. Check out << www.wbblackmusic.com/sandra_st_victor >>

Sandra & "Soul Sanctuary"

While Sandra St Victor's outstanding new solo album, "Mack Diva Saves The World", deserves wider recognition, it's interesting to know that she previously completed another album for Elektra, which never saw the light of day. One of the songs the former Family Stand singer recorded, Whatever You Want, was later passed on to Tina Turner. Warner Brothers also brought together St Victor and (The Artist Everybody Still Calls) Prince for the ill-fated project.

Speaking about their collaboration, St Victor recalled, 'In all his weirdness he is a creative genius, so it was a great honour to be even a part of that.' As it turns out, the admiration was mutual -- Prince was familiar with The Family Stand's work. The pair recorded several songs, some of which are now gathering dust in Paisley Park's legendary vaults. 'There were five songs that we did together,' St Victor revealed. 'We were writing for my album, but we didn't use any of the songs because of the whole political thing.' Proving that [ the artist ] is nevertheless a great recycler, one of their songs, Soul Sanctuary, materialised on his first post-Warner set, Emancipation.

Soul Sanctuary got a mention in Spike Lee's interview with [ the artist ] ("Interview", Special Music Issue, May 1997).

'SL: Right now I have a copy of your Emancipation CD and my wife wanted to kill me because I had "Soul Sanctuary" on repeat. I played that song for two hours straight. It's four minutes long. Divide that into two hours. She was about to go upside my head. But tell me about that song. I love it!
[ the artist ]: Sandra St Victor helped with that one. The melody is basically mine, but the lyrics were inspired by verses that Sandra wrote. I love the idea of an ex-lover leaving her reflection in the mirror after she's gone ...'   [ s e v e n ]