EV soul singer stays upbeat during a down time - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

EV soul singer stays upbeat during a down time

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 8:07 am | Updated: 9:45 am, Thu Apr 19, 2012.

Andria Bunnell is a self-proclaimed graduate of the School of Funk and one who is “allergic” to negative people during a time when it would be easy for her to be a negative person herself.

The East Valley-based singer of the soul funk and blues band, Hot Birds & the Chili Sauce, is remaining positive through a trying and scary time as the local music scene is rallying around her.

About a year ago, Bunnell, 36, was diagnosed with large uterine tumors known as fibroids — noncancerous tumors that develop in the womb, believed to be brought on by an imbalance of hormones that can be aggravated by chemicals in food, according to medical websites.

It was during a routine physical exam when the doctor noticed Bunnell’s stomach was somewhat protruding and felt hard; Bunnell just thought she had gained weight.

However, the tumors are growing and putting pressure on her bladder and other organs, causing pain and discomfort.

The condition is one of concern as Bunnell needs surgery to remove the tumors in hopes that the procedure also can completely remove the 50 percent chance of the tumors returning in the first year following surgery.

On March 31, Bunnell’s band as well as three others — the Sugar Thieves, Two Tone Lizard Kings and Discombobulator — held a fundraiser for her that was attended by more than 200 people and raised $1,800 to help cover the $10,000 cost of a surgery which Bunnell could undergo in June or July. The bands are planning to play another benefit for Bunnell sometime in May, likely again at the Sail Inn, so stay tuned.

In the three years of the band, Hot Birds has had a large following, performing in other East Valley venues such as the Yucca Tap Room in Tempe as well as the Rhythm Room in Phoenix.

When she’s off the stage, Bunnell has been spreading an educational message of diet, better physical well-being, being stress-free, and the importance of going to the doctor. About 50 percent of all women have fibroids by age 50, according to statistics.

“I’m finding out that this is bordering on being an epidemic,” the bluesy and somewhat raspy-voiced singer said. “Women in my own inner circle have come to me and have told me about issues they’re having. My problem is that I didn’t have insurance, and I wasn’t regularly going to the doctor, so I didn’t find out that I had fibroids (the tumors) until I did go to the doctor.

“Now, I’m somewhat on a crusade, and trying to get the word out to others on the importance of watching what you eat and knowing what’s in food, exercising more and staying in better physical shape,” said Bunnell, who is being helped by a physical trainer.

Bunnell, who also works as a server and bartender at the Gallo Blanco restaurant and bar at the Clarendon Hotel in downtown Phoenix, is among millions of Americans who do not have health insurance but also being hindered from qualifying for some kind of assistance.

Because of state budget cuts, Bunnell also was among many Arizonans affected in July when the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) eliminated assistance for single people without children.

The state “froze” new enrollment in the AHCCCS Care program for childless adults, beginning July 8. However, childless adults still can apply so the Department of Economic Security can review one’s application to determine whether one can be eligible for AHCCCS Health Insurance in another program.

“It’s been tough,” Bunnell said. “Even to qualify for AHCCCS, you had to make less than $11,000 a year. Bloodwork and tests can cost thousands of dollars alone, and I already was paying a lot out of pocket.”

So what else did Bunnell do?

She has done a lot of research into her condition and situation.

Bunnell also is hoping that she can qualify for a pre-existing condition insurance plan (PCIP) to help cover a portion of the costs of surgery or possibly be a candidate for a robotics surgery, a myomectomy, as one of her largest tumors reaches 16 centimeters. The PCIP program will be in effect until President Obama’s “Obamacare” health care plan could take over.

Bunnell, whose parents and grandparents also were musicians, became the cornerstone of Hot Birds & the Chili Sauce in May 2009. Hot Birds now features three singers (Bunnell, Chanel Bragg and Venessa Mendez) and a 12-piece band, capable of rattling the cold longneck bottles on tables out to a bar’s patio and shaking some of the paint off the wall.

Bunnell said she came up with the name of Hot Birds & the Chili Sauce when she was visiting friends in Brooklyn, N.Y. and saw a sign for a soul food restaurant that said, “Hot Bird three blocks this way,” and thought it would be a good name for a band, but knew she needed to add something to it.

She then took the phrase “chili sauce” that rapper Chali 2 Na snaps out in an Ozomotli song. From there, the band burst onto the Valley music scene performing obscure B-side tunes from bands such as Dyke and the Blazers (a 1960s Phoenix soul band) and songs from Lyn Collins and Marva Whitney who sang for James Brown.

Hot Birds & the Chili Sauce, a band definitely worth checking out, has more than 700 fans on its Facebook page and also has a website for upcoming appearances, www.hotbirdsandthechilisauce.com.

“I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had,” Bunnell said. “It’s been important. I’m glad that other people have helped. I’m living with a positive attitude through this and hoping for the best.”

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