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Unsung Heroines Set Out to Prove They Can Make It

November 14, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — Identical twins Babidiye and Nakato Abernathy, 28, are the unsung heroines of San Diego's black music scene.

Up in Los Angeles, the singing duo, called Allure, is considered a prime candidate for future stardom. Last year, Allure's debut single, "Why You Wanna Cry Boy?" on the tiny independent West Rock Records label, attracted a fair amount of critical acclaim.

Ever since, the sisters have been recording more original rhythm-and-blues material with a Los Angeles studio band--fronted, ironically, by a pair of identical male twins--for a demonstration tape in which several bigger, nationally distributed labels have already expressed interest.

How strange, then, that in San Diego, their adopted hometown, the Abernathy twins have yet to land their first nightclub booking.

"San Diego's black music scene is very weak, especially if you do original music," Nakato said. "The only places in town where you see black musicians are jazz clubs and piano bars.

"As far as rhythm-and-blues goes, forget it. San Diego is a beach town; the only thing people want to hear is 'Twist and Shout' and whatever's on the current Top 40."

Consequently, the Abernathy sisters plan on holding onto their day jobs--Babidiye is a clerk at a retail clothing store, Nakato is a fitness instructor at a local health club--until their recording chores are finished, their demo tape is sent out, and the hoped-for record offers start to pour in.

"If you go to Chicago or Philadelphia, there's a real stable, consistent culture in the black community," Babidiye said. "But in San Diego, there isn't, maybe because everybody here is from somewhere else and the black community simply hasn't had enough time to develop its own culture.

"So instead of wasting our craft by playing Top 40 covers in local lounges and clubs, we're supporting ourselves in other ways and recording our originals in our spare time.

"San Diego's black music scene needs to change, and the only way it can change is if we do something about it--if we prove to the other black musicians in town that it is possible for a San Diego group to make it, in spite of all the obstacles."

This isn't the first time the Abernathy sisters have put their singing careers on the back burner.

When they left their native Delaware eight years ago for the West Coast--and the bright lights of Hollywood--they had grand visions of conquering the world of pop music.

But when they discovered that the only black acts that were making it at the time "were into disco instead of the soulful rhythm-and-blues we were doing," Nakato said, they realized those visions had been nothing more than delusions.

"Our biggest influences--Stevie Wonder, Phyllis Hyman, Nancy Wilson--had been around long before disco," she said. "Their songs had depth and substance and heart; there was real life behind the music, not just a dance beat."

"Disco was a fad, a phase black music was going through," Babidiye added. "It was fine for the time, but it really wasn't for us. Disco was artificial; our music had heart."

So instead of compromising "our musical integrity," Nakato said, she and her sister turned to dancing. For the next four years, while living in San Diego and studying at United States International University, they regularly commuted to Los Angeles to dance professionally in clubs and theaters.

They also appeared on several nationally and regionally televised dance programs, including "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train."

By the time the sisters graduated from USIU in 1983 with bachelor's degrees in fine arts, the disco fad was over and rhythm-and-blues was back in vogue, thanks to a new wave of black artists like Jeffrey Osborne, Billy Ocean and Sade.

So with a renewed sense of commitment, Babidiye and Nakato--their names, in the Luo language of Uganda, mean "older female twin" and "younger female twin"--resumed their singing careers.

They formed a band, Twin Experience, and for the next two years performed in nightclubs and hotel lounges and on military bases, all over San Diego and then in Los Angeles.

In 1985, they decided to take the natural step toward originals by setting out on their own as Allure. After finding San Diego recording studio and nightclub owners unreceptive to this new direction, they started to commute to Los Angeles on weekends--and promptly found acceptance.

Between their regular day jobs and weekend recording ventures, Nakato said, she and her sister "somehow find time" to perform with the San Diego Rockets, a local dance troupe, at Chargers football games, conventions and charitable functions.

"But our first love is music, and we're not going to give up until we get that recording contract and put San Diego on the map as far as black music is concerned," she added.

"We're convinced we can do it, and now we've got to convince everybody else."

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