The Soul Seen: Rahsaan Patterson

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.

image

The enormously talented and highly regarded, singer/songwriter Rahsaan Patterson, granted ISPYSOUL two interviews early in its initial run. In fact, his first was the first full interview feature that appeared on its pages. The New York born Patterson, who got his start as a child actor as part of the cast of the popular television show, Kids Incorporated in the eighties and later went on to writing hits for artists like singer/actress Brandy (“Baby”), released his self -titled debut, RAHSAAN PATTERSON, in 1997. imageThe widely acclaimed project with gems like “Stop By”, “Spend The Night”, and “Stay Awhile”, helped stoked the fires of a resurgent soul music movement that would be deemed, by many, as “neo-soul” and also seduced a legion of fans with cult-like obsession, eliciting sold-out shows around the country.image
Patterson would later, in 1999, follow up the debut with LOVE IN STEREO, another fan favorite steered by his emotive, multi-octave ranged vocals and flaunting superlative songwriting, incredible production and infectious grooves.
We caught up with Patterson a couple years later as he was working on his next project and in retrospect, our candid conversation was perhaps prophetic as he shared his views on his career at that point, the LOVE IN STEREO record, the industry, the label he was then on and the artist he was intent on being. Below is that interview:

From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2001

ISPYSOUL: You had already done a great deal of recording prior to releasing your debut solo CD, but was there still any anxiety?

Rahsaan Patterson: It was a natural progression for me to get to the point of making a record so when I was making it, it felt natural, you know, like the next phase. I was definitely excited about releasing an album.

ISPYSOUL: With that first CD, musically, what were you trying to accomplish or show?

RP: That I’m not a follower, that I don’t choose to be a follower unless I want to be lead by someone. I knew that I had to make some kind of impact and in doing so, I had to be me.

ISPYSOUL: I’ve always felt that an artist is only as good as their second project. Is there a great deal more expectation for your second CD than there is on your first?

RP: I believe there is on the second project. Definitely. People have more of an expectation. They want to at least see if you can live up to what the first one was. I believe it is true in that sense. I know for myself, I am always changing, growing rather and getting to places within myself where I feel comfortable with exposing other sides of myself to people through music. So with each album it just gets a little deeper for me that way. I feel that with each album, it’s for people to get to know the artist, maybe a little more in depth – See some other sides instead of that same side for twenty years.

ISPYSOUL: The first single off of the second CD, LOVE IN STEREO, was “Treat You Like A Queen. Because this was your important follow-up CD and because of the nature of the song, dealing with issues of abuse, was there any hesitation by the label to release this as the first single and to choose another?

RP: Well the interesting thing is, “Do You Feel The Way I Do” was the last song that I recorded for the album and I recorded that song, with those producers, basically because that was supposed to be the first single. For some reason, it ended up not being – after spending an astronomical amount of money with two hot producers of the moment – for a song that was suppose to be the first single because they were hot at that moment and the production style of the song was suppose to be the hottest. It was crazy for it not to be the first single after all of that, but there are certain areas that I don’t control. But in terms of what I write and what I sing and who I do it with, I have control over that.

ISPYSOUL: Along with the song “Treat You Like A Queen” you started a foundation called Soul Survivors [dedicated to the rebuilding of condemned houses into new shelters for victims of abuse]. What brought about you being moved to record this song and to start this foundation?

RP: Growing up around it. Growing up around physical abuse – Being exposed to it and realizing the effect that it has had on my life and my view of relationships. I knew that it was something that a lot of people could relate to and I know definitely a lot of people that come from the place I come from and could relate to it. So it really stems from a healing place and a place of putting out what’s real and something for people to think about. I‘ve always wanted to give back and in doing that, I just started the foundation and hopefully within the next few years we’ll be able to embellish on that.

ISPYSOUL: With now two CDs under your belt and with now a third soon to be released, can you give us an idea of what we’ll hear that will reflect your growth and experiences since the last CD?

RP: It’s another side of Rahsaan. Not that you haven’t had glimpses in the two previous albums. It’s definitely the next album after Love in Stereo. With “Get Here” being the last song on that album, it segues into the new one.

ISPYSOUL: I, like a number of other people, believe you are just half way over the wall of full- blown stardom. How do you feel about that assessment and does it really matter that you become a “star?”

RP: Well, like Sly [of Sly and the Family Stone] said,  “Everybody is a star” and my level of success is not defined by what is most commonly assumed being successful is. You know, like having platinum record and all that kind of stuff. For me, my success is everyday, waking up cool with myself, and cool with my decisions and my choices – Always maintaining true to myself and artistry first. As long as I can stay true to that, I feel that I’m extremely successful in this industry.

ISPYSOUL: Because that‘s a hard thing to do, stay true to yourself and still stay on a label.

RP: Yeah, yeah, but then there’s always a reason why they keep you. Beneath all of that there has to be a reason why they keep you.

ISPYSOUL: Why is it, you believe, that your label has kept you especially since your CDs have done well, but haven’t been the multi-platinum successes they usually look for? Also keeping in mind, there have been other artists that have been dropped for similar situations.

RP: I can’t really say, because I’m not them and any perception I have in my mind is just a perception. I know that what I bring to the table is credibility and strength in music- Individuality, hope and truth. I guess, in the end, its just because I’m Rahsaan and I’m not anybody else. I’m me and what else should it be. And I guess, as difficult as it may be for them to try to understand me or understand what to try to do with me or my music – that’s on them, but there’s obviously some reason why I’m still there.

ISPYSOUL: With this whole Neo- Classic Soul. . .

RP: (laughs) I can’t believe that’s, like, still the phrase.

ISPYSOUL: I can’t really believe that there is a phrase, quite frankly.

RP: Well, outside of that, what I’m saying is that same phrase was around in 1996, so I guess we’re still in this.

ISPYSOUL: Well we’re hearing it more,  its seems, because ironically enough, there’s been a succession of artists, new artists, that have come out that have been conveniently plugged into this classification.

RP: Well, that’s bullshit really, because the bottom line is its music, period. When it’s not hip- hop or when it’s not bubblegum pop, then they’ve got to give it something – Another label. It’s just unfortunate that they have to label it Neo-Soul simply because it takes people to a time when songs were strong songs and had melodies and were more memorable because of the sentiment or melody or lyric.

ISPYSOUL: But like it or not its an acceptable stamp now. . .

RP: And now, it’s a gimmick. Now it’s a way to be to fit into this new genre to sell records that are supposed to be hot right now and its all a bunch of bullshit.

ISPYSOUL: Now, with that being said, does that hurt or help you? I mean, you’ve been doing your sound, this sound, since you’ve been doing what you do. . .

RP: And being that I’m who I am and have always been, I never go with the rest of the grain. That just doesn’t appeal to me at all. So on this third album you won’t be hearing “Spend The Night”(song from his debut CD, Rahsaan Patterson). You won’t be hearing that because “Spend The Night” was in 1996.

ISPYSOUL: When I came to check you out at S.O.B.’s in New York, I was very surprised to see the lines waiting outside the door and the place packed. But the thing that impressed me the most were people standing there, being able to sing word for word every single one of your songs. Can you give me an idea of just how you feel when something like that happens?

RP: It’s a beautiful feeling and it’s nice to know that people appreciate it and are there for you. On the other hand, it sometimes felt like I was not either existing on this planet or the other people involved in my career were fucking crazy. Because you know, it kept being said that people weren’t feeling me and coming up with all these excuses why my records weren’t selling and why people weren’t feeling me. To do a show, sell it out and have people standing there, singing every song. There were times when I’m like, what the fuck is going on? Am I buggin’ out? Or like, what’s really going on? So it was always comforting to get to that point and know that I wasn’t losing my mind and that basically other people were just talking trash and making excuses.

ISPYSOUL: So now with this third CD coming up, what changes in that respect?

RP: What changes? I have no idea because I’m not in the position that those people are in to sell records -To make them number one records. I don’t know how to do that. Those people get paid five hundred thousand dollars a year to do that, so they should know how to do it. What I know how to do is write songs, and present Rahsaan Patterson. That’s all I know how to do. I am a point now where I’m not as moved or bothered by the excuses and opinions that in the past made me the reason for lack of, you know, lack of listeners. Now I’m just like, whatever, I’ve got to do me. I’ve got to do what I’m doing and that’s it. Not that I have deaf ears to other peoples opinions or anything like that, but number one, I have to respect your musical knowledge in order to even check for your opinion. I’m 27 years old and I am a young black male who lives in this society and who is very conscious and aware of the state of music and the youth mentality. For me, as an artist, its about being original, but yet, using what I’ve learned from growing up, listening to people that I grew up listening to, and incorporating that knowledge and manifesting it into some kind of strength and power for myself so that I stand apart. I’ve always felt that I wanted to show people that I’m just like they are. It’s interesting because, I don’t know if its people’s perception of what an artist is or what, but I know that I’ve always been perceived as something different and that’s fine, but I always felt like I wanted to let people know that . . .

ISPYSOUL: I’m just like you

RP: Exactly! That we all are capable of achieving greatness and we all have the power to do and be whatever we want.
I’m at a point now where I’m cool with being here, with everybody else without having to prove anything, – without having to prove anything.

Rahsaan Patterson would ultimately part ways with his then label, MCA and his third project, AFTER HOURS, was released in 2004 on the independent label, ironically called, Artistry. The move has become a sign of the times for many renowned and successful as well as incredibly talented upstart artists frustrated by the bureaucracy, limitations and short-sightedness of the major music behemoths. Patterson has since had several other successful, Billboard-charting projects including WINES & SPIRITS and BLEUPHORIA,  as well as continued collaborations with A-list artists and producers. And yes, he’s still selling out shows across the country and overseas. Catch him if you can!

For more on Rahsaan Patterson go to his website, Not-of-this-world.com. Of course!

© ISPYSOUL 2017

The Soul Seen: LARRY GOLD

The Soul Seen is a retrospective of features that appeared on ISPYSOUL during its acclaimed initial run. These features provide a snapshot in time of key moments in the careers, from fledgling to legendary, of several creative and talented artists. The projects featured are older now, but no less significant. The insights and perspectives they shared, speak to their success and as you will find, still resonate today.

image

From the original ISPYSOUL feature segment, IN FOCUS, 2003

Larry Gold The Midas Touch

The story of arranger, cellist, and composer Larry Gold is one that should serve as an example to many in the music business or for that matter, in any business. Why you ask? Because his success is a result of his sincere love for what he does, a desire to grow, the recognition of talent around him, and of course, his own outstanding ability.

Check out the whole interview with Larry Gold above

His story is also one of irony because although many of you aren’t familiar with his name, you and scores of others have experienced his “touch”. Gold’s amazing body of work is punctuated by his tenure with the legendary label, Philadelphia International, as first, part of the house band MFSB that propels the treasured classic soul and R&B hits by folks like the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Spinners and Patti Labelle to name only a few. And later, as string and horn arranger on hits from Teddy Pendergrass, McFadden & Whitehead, and more. That experience, while concurrently siphoning the knowledge of Sound of Philadelphia architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and renowned producer, Thom Bell, accounts for the prowess that has since driven both, major acts and emerging artists to engage his services. The list is both impressive and diverse, boasting such artists as Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Jill Scott, Brandy, Jay-Z, Monica, Gerald Levert, The Roots, Kindred, Common, Vivian Green, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, Boys II Men, Glen Lewis, Kelly Price, and more. It’s also impressive because it shines with the glow of Platinum and yes, gold selling success the records from these artists enjoy.

But there are things that stand out in the story of Larry Gold that could perhaps be seen as the basis his for longevity, success, and the respect he’s garnered- things such as his readiness to embrace new situations that ultimately unveil opportunity. Another is his love of the place he was born, bred and still calls home. You guessed it, Philadelphia. And the two go hand in hand. It’s what attracted a very young and gifted cellist with initial classical aspirations but a fondness for popular music, to the emergent label that was to become the fervent soul source, Philly International. “I always wanted to be more than just a cello player,” says Gold. “I was always involved with popular music. Even from a little child I was learning Elvis Presley tunes on the guitar. So it was both. It wasn’t just one or the other.” He continues, “I must have been anywhere from thirteen to fifteen [years old] when I met Leon Huff for the first time, playing cello.” 

Ultimately his vast experience, love of both, a broad range of quality music and the art of making records over the years is what fueled his opening of a small studio in 1985. That would become the prototype for the State of the Art recording facility now known as The Studio, used by many of Philly’s brightest young talent. When asked if the young artists who are flocking to his studio now fully know the depth of his impressive resume and ties to the legendary Philly sound, Gold responds, “It depends on who they are. Certain people do and certain people don’t. He continues, “I know enough young producers that they might say to other people, hey, he’s been making hit records since he was a baby.” And he adds, “I think that people like Timberland do. I think they’ve learned after working with me now a bunch of times that its not just random. I think Rodney Jerkins knew. I think that Amir (Questlove of The Roots) knew. A lot of these young producers are big fans of old music,” Gold asserts. “There’s a lot of respect or else I wouldn’t be working quite as hard as I am.”

So when he was approached by the UK label, BBE, to do a record, the concept was a no-brainer – an homage to the rich and legendary Philly music scene he has been a part of for so many years. The result, Larry Gold presents Don Cello and Friends, a imagecornucopia of some of Philly’s finest, past, present and future, submitting lyric, voice and song to Gold’s lush and affecting arrangements.

Busy with arranging gigs seemingly around the clock and running a popular recording studio, Gold hadn’t given much thought to doing a record of his own and really had to ponder the offer from BBE. But as he explains his decision to go forward with the project, he says with a chuckle, “ I think at the time, a whole group of people were recording at the studio and I thought to myself, ‘well I can get the young kids to help me make it.” Indeed the assiduous 55-year old Gold called upon a range of talents from young and little known to legendary with the criteria for selection being pretty simple. “First of all I wanted everyone to at least have some roots to Philly. The whole concept was to keep it local if I could,” says Gold. “I wanted [the project] to be a touch of the old, but also with some new people. Some [artists] that people never heard of.” He explains, “My intention was to make a nice blend of old and new and not just famous, but also introducing some younger artists.” Don Cello and Friends is the mission accomplished starring a cast which includes Floetry, Kindred, Gerald Levert, Black Thought of The Roots, Jaguar Wright and Philly music royalty McFadden & Whitehead and Bunny Sigler sharing the stage with lesser known, but solid talent like Carol Riddick and Eric (ERRO)Roberson to name a few. The musical goal is achieved as well with infectious dance and up-tempo grooves flowing there way through to warm, sensual and tender moments all providing a hearty glimpse at Gold’s masterful, mood setting, string arrangements. On Don Cello and Friends he successfully whips up the spirit of the classic Philly sound while displaying vibe of the current Philly music scene.

The making of the CD could be seen as one in a multitude of things validating what Gold had a hunch would eventually happen – And that is Philly’s return to prominence as a major music town. When asked about the renaissance Gold says, “I had a sense. I had a very strong sense. I kind of smelled it at the beginning of the 90’s.” But he is also quick to give cudos to the revered Philly unit, The Roots for being a huge catalyst. “The Roots had a lot to do with the city coming back,” says Gold. “Because The Roots really kept playing. They were a band. And when there weren’t other bands playing, they were playing. In a way, they folded into the into the neo-soul movement.” In the end, what he believes is, “No matter what the other markets do, we do our own sort of style and at this point we’re having success with it.”

It’s clear Larry Gold has had a hand in that success both times around. Or you might say, he’s still shining bright on the Philly music scene.

Bert Caldwell

Copyright ISPYSOUL 2017

Check out Larry Gold presents Don Cello and friends below

Robin & Gil Small welcome you to Groove City!

image

Dynamic vocalist and songwriter, Robin Small and producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Gil Small are music industry vets – accomplished, classically trained, and incredibly talented. Between the two of them they have done work and performed with artists such as Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Jones, Chris Jasper of Isley Jasper Isley, Hezekiah Walker, De La Soul, Lalah Hathaway.
Freddie Jackson, Cassandra Wilson, Usher, Ronny Jordan, and Angela Johnson to name a few. They are also husband and wife. Since meeting in college, at the prestigious Berklee College of Music – graduating and ultimately getting married – they have had continuous discussions about a “home” for the brand of music they knew they wanted to create. A “home” that would allow them to realize their full creative vision – One built on a sturdy, spiritual foundation – with integrity and plenty of soul.

As time went on and their vast experiences in the industry made them privy to the limitations and pitfalls in the “home market,” it became clear, they were going to have to “build” the musical home they desired. So that’s what they set out to do. But while in the process, they ran into other like-minded artists – talented vocalists, songwriters, producers, and musicians and just as importantly, good-hearted folks, who were looking for homes much like the one Robin and Gil, dreamed of – Artists such as brothers, Laurone and Antonio McClendon, Serina G, Issac Clemon, William Finley and Charlene Michael-Imobioh. Needless to say, the Smalls’ talent and experience enamored these artists, but they were also moved by their sincerity and strong faith. So Robin and Gil got to thinking that perhaps they needed to go one step further and not just build a home, but also build a “city” – A place for them all, where the sounds of the “streets” would ring with Gospel, R&B, Jazz, Funk and Soul. A place where your heart would not only be moved by the spiritual messages, but your body would be moved by the infectious grooves. And what to call this city? Well, Groove City, of course. And so about three years ago, the blueprints were drawn up and the work got started. Upon completion, they did what most would do, excited about their new place – a place that took hard work, long hours, sacrifice and a great deal of faith to create – they invited folks to come and celebrate. The impressive musical “invitations” were released to all who would enjoy top-notch production, dexterous vocals, and a sound that ranged from faith-filled, uplifting joy to silky smooth seduction. And they read, WELCOME 2 GROOVE CITY, Volume 1. Here’s our conversation with the “King and Queen” of Groove City, Robin and Gil Small.

Filmed at La Maison d’Art in Harlem, NY- Special thanks to Stephanie Calla

Check out the first single from Welcome 2 Groove City, Vol. 1

For more about Robin & Gil Small, Groove City and the other talented artists on Welcome 2 Groove City, Volume 1, go to groovecity7.com

JSWISS debuts his “No Music”mini-doc on ISPYSOUL!

image

Hip-Hop artist and consummate emcee, JSWISS, who was recently featured here upon the release of the stellar first single, “I Wish”, from his collabo with talented band, Temple 5, is rounding out 2016 very much in the same fashion he’s been doing it all year – busy. Fresh off a formidable performance as an invited emcee on Huffington Post’s Black Voices, weekly cipher series, BARS, he moves into a highly anticipated, return show headlining at legendary club, the Bitter End – a guest appearance with talented, future soul collective, The Love Experiment, in celebration of the upcoming U.S. release of their self-titled, debut project, on which he is featured- and then on to another anticipated, year end, recap show with the acclaimed, hip-hop phenomenon, the Pitchblak Brass Band. Needless to say, all of the growing and impressive activity happening for JSWISS has certainly made him an artist to watch going into 2017. But the event that was perhaps the greatest boost and catalyst for it all was the release of his critically acclaimed EP, No Musicimage

The recording, done with a cast of stellar musicians and vocalists, was heralded by a number of noted hip-hop tastemakers including The Source, 2DopeBoyz, and Ambrosia For Heads to name a few, helping to raise his name to the radars and playlists of new fans and industry peeps alike. For him, the project was also a big artistic step, full of personal insight, reflection and optimism that drives him towards his goal of being a long-tenured, impactful and respected artist on the scene.

With a desire to share the impetus for the tracks that appear on No Music and the overall concept behind it, JSWISS teamed up with 1221 Media to put together what was first presented as a limited video series on his on-line platforms- very well done and engaging- but now, as a mini-doc jewel, with some cool new adds and insights that we’re debuting for you right here on ISPYSOUL. This is just another example that JSWISS is a hip-hop artist not willing to be defined by rigid, predictable parameters, but is a descendant of the creative, adept wordsmiths, and storytellers who knows nothing about boxes.

Emcee JSWISS & Temple 5 team up for “I Wish.”

JSWISS

Photo: Robert Adam Mayer

image

Gifted young emcee on the rise, JSWISS, has had a very good and impressive year. The New York native released the EP, NO MUSIC – his most ambitious, successful and acclaimed project to date – with a packed out show this summer at the legendary Bitter End in New York City and an already healthy buzz and activity got “turnt up” a couple of notches and a growing number of radars, lit up. The impressive project, which features production and performances from a cast of talented and accomplished artists – multi-instrumentalist/producer, Brady Watt, keyboard extraordinaire, Nick Rolfe, multi-award winning, powerhouse vocalist, Maya Azucena and members of the very talented and burgeoning jazz/funk/fusion squad, Phantom Pop of which, JSWISS is also the resident emcee – drew praise from leading hip-hop tastemakers including, The SOURCE, who wrote, “Simply put, No Music is an imageincredible introduction to an artist determined to rise higher than where he was yesterday and is achieving his goals one well-executed project at a time.” Accolades like that fueled a steady schedule of performances, including a recent multi-city, double bill with Phantom Pop, an appearance in Brooklyn’s noted Northside Festival, guest spots with standout guitar ace, Marcus Machado, and the amazing hip-hop infused, PitchBlak Brass Band, and an opportunity to open for legendary hip-hop duo EPMD, where the “green-eyed bandit” himself, emcee/producer Eric Sermon, proclaimed, JSWISS is “what hip-hop needs!”

JSWISS’ growing rep as a top- notch lyricist with a dexterous flow has also encouraged some hot collaborations in keeping with his penchant for a creative, eclectic, and musical canvas on which to drop insightful bars. This includes his work on the self-titled project from, Brooklyn-based, mod soul/jazz clique, The Love Experiment (recently released in Japan and scheduled for a U.S. drop soon) and on this new jewel, dropping today, with talented hip hop/jazz unit out of North Carolina, Temple 5, called. “I Wish.”

image
Artwork: Nadia Westcott

JSWISS met members of the 7- piece collective while attending UNC-Chapel Hill and in the midst of establishing his rep as well as honing his skills in the NC area. After working with some members on some of his previous projects they decided to collaborate on a full-length project with “I Wish” being the first track from it.

On this super-cool, clever track, JSWISS displays strongly, yet again, why he should be a talent to not only watch, but to desire on the hip-hop scene as a much needed foil to the over-prevalent sameness of the commercial fare – a young hip hop artist who’s part of a growing fraction creatively pushing the boundaries of the genre, infusing their brand with a mix of jazz, soul, R&B and more, as a backdrop for substantive, thought-provoking words a la Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar.

In the song, JSWISS “rubs the magic lamp” clean with a delivery that seemingly and simultaneously houses both a melancholy and optimistic lilt, churning out a varied dream list of desires that go from playful to the crucial worries of our society, likely to light all buttons of your emotions and represent shared sentiment. In the opening lines alone the astute wordsmith proclaims, “I wish the Giants win the Super Bowl/I wish a crystal bowl can show me what the future holds/scratch that, lets just keep it a surprise for the time now/I wish I live long enough to find out/I wish we can do away with murder or at least never had guns/ so if you want to kill someone you had to earn it/I wish, if there was one murder in a week/It would be world news and not a hundred everyday occurrence.”

When asked, JSWISS described the impetus for “I Wish” this way:

“I feel like “I Wish” is the perfect medicine for a world that has collectively had a rough 2016. We actually wrote the music and the lyrics more than a year ago and recorded it in the early part of 2016, but it sounds like it could’ve been put together just in the past few weeks. It just feels that relevant.

I’ve been performing the song for basically the entire year. I’ve had the chance to perform for it for crowds in several different cities, and whether it was longtime fans of mine or people just hearing me for the first time, “I Wish” really connects with people every time.

So I’m excited to finally release it because I’ve been performing it for so long and it’s done so well live, and because it feels like it couldn’t come at a more perfect time. I was able to write it more than a year ago because some of the issues and emotions will probably always exist, but some of the specific lyrics really do feel like they were just written in November or something. 2016 represented loss and tragedy for a lot of people and this song coming at the end of the year recognizes that, but gives the feeling of hope for the future that also comes with resetting and starting a new year.”

So here’s what you do. Close your eyes and open them. Click on the link below and listen. If your wish was to hear one of the brightest young talents on the hip hop landscape, its likely JSWISS has granted this one for you.

 For more about JSWISS go to JSWISS music.com

Maya Azucena:Unleashing a new song and a new vision!

image

The very talented vocalist, songwriter, actress, and artist, Maya Azucena, has been featured here twice before and with good reason. She is indeed, the full embodiment of the ISPYSOUL concept and because of individuals like her, why the platform was created.

The multi- award winner is the consummate artist- independent, incredibly gifted, amazingly creative, passionate, and genuine – with a work ethic and commitment to her craft that is unsurpassed. She literally travels the world on the regular – Africa, Russia, Turkey, Europe, Croatia, etc. – enduring, seemingly, round the clock travel and weather extremes to perform for audiences that range from small to stadiums with tens of thousands, all with the same fire, joy and expertness. The music she creates has a consistent strand and does, in every way, come from her soul- unflinchingly honest, revealing, and emotional – seeking always to uplift your spirits, empower and extend a musical hand laced with love to walk with through the darkness of your doubts and challenges or celebrate your joy. But as much as Azucena’s beautiful, powerful and 4-octave ranged voice and music are for entertainment, they are also her tools. Combined they are her megaphone to rail against injustice, domestic abuse, and inequality the world over. But even then, she leaves audiences with gloves to climb the rope of hope out of their situation- out of despair and to a mindset that change and great things are possible. And so, on that note, it is apt that Azucena would release her new single, entitled, “Unleash Me.”

On this driving, pulsating track, as all great artists do, she reveals more of her musical and artistic range and through her inspiring lyrics, encourages others to unleash their owns gifts and be the person they want to be. In Azucena’s own words she explains the impetus of “Unleash Me” this way, “Many times, I feel like a bird in a cage. When I try to be what I am, I feel held back and bruised by my confines. I long, with all my heart, to soar free and unfettered. I long for the seen and unseen obstacles to be removed. I desire not to hold in the fire that burns within. I see myself with wings, fully stretched to their capacity, obstacles fallen away, so that I can fly and be who I am, without hesitation. Empowered. I feel this personal account of my feelings is relatable to anyone whose greatest potential burns inside. This song is an anthem for all who’ve had to overcome dark challenges in order to fly. This song speaks to the greatness we walk with, that may have been undermined, hidden, or forbidden. It is a celebration of our greatness. And WILL be unleashed.”

Maya Azucena is indeed “unleashed” and ready to fly high!

Check out the song “Unleash Me” and the great promotional video talking about Maya Azucena, the new single and upcoming project, below:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/unleash-me/id1181866096?i=1181866100

For more check out Maya Azucena.com

Marlon Saunders: Dancing again!

image

It’s been several years since singer/songwriter Marlon Saunders was featured here on ISPYSOUL, first as part of the soulful, eclectic clique, JAZZHOLE and upon the release of his acclaimed and successful solo debut project, Enter My Mind. As solo artist and as part of Jazzhole he was a solid contributor to the then burgeoning and vibrant independent soul movement. By that time Saunders had also already become an established session and touring vocalist with an equally impressive resume that boasted the likes of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Sting, Barry White, and Lauryn Hill to name a few. Add to that being tabbed to be a part of the imaginative vocal ensemble Voicestra created by the phenomenal vocal genius, Bobby McFerrin and it was clear Marlon Saunders was becoming a fixture on the music scene one way or another.

So flash to present day and imagine the delight when wind and then the eventual release of a new song and video from Saunders called “The People Are Ready To Dance Again” emergedThe funky, soulful, joy-inducing jewel is an ironic, and timely assertion in the aftermath of one of the most contentious, volatile, pivotal and downright craziest presidential elections in our country’s history. As Saunders explains at the top of the video, the song was already inspired by the challenging times many face around the world – The recognition of the “hate, anger and fear” that lives amongst us and the need for something to “shift our thinking, shift our minds, shift our spirits and lift us up.” But Saunders himself didn’t know it would serve as an even greater clarion call to many once the results were in. “It’s funny,” says Saunders, “because when I was going back and forth with the team about when to release The People Are Ready To Dance Again.” In my mind, I wanted to release it on November 1st and Adolfus Amissah, who did the video, had to go out of town and he said ‘you know brother Marlon, I’m not going to be able to get it back to you by the 1st’ and I was mmm, I really want it on this date,” Saunders laughs. “So he said, what about the 6th and I said nah, it’s too close to the election. People aren’t going to be paying attention to something then, you know? And then I just kind of backed away and meditated on it and thought and it kind of came through and the spirit was like, the 10th, and I called up the people and I said, it’s gotta come out on the 10th because either way we’re going to need to dance! You know the spirit just had its way in the end.” Needless to say, as daunting as the future may seem to many, the song, video and Saunders’ performance in it will, if only for a few minutes, make a great case for you dancing the angst away. And by the response he’s received it’s doing just that. “I have to tell you, from the very first day, even up until now, the emails, the texts, the phone calls, the responses and the sharing of it online has blown my mind,” says Saunders. “People saying ‘I was in despair, someone shared the song with me. It lifted me up, thank you so much.’ That’s a blessing in itself.”

The release of “The People Are Ready to Dance Again” may seem like a return to the scene for many familiar with Marlon Saunders, but in the immortal words of hip-hop legend LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback” because he has indeed been doing impressive things on the scene over the years. His voice has and continues to be heard on stage, the small and big screens as he continues to get steady session and touring calls from an array of top shelf artists and media entities. Saunders also appears in the hit Disney film, Enchanted singing opposite actress Amy Adams the Academy Award-nominated song, “That’s How You Know.” His emergence as an experienced and successful vocal contractor and conductor no doubt bolstered by his work with Voicestra, as co-founder of soul/jazz vocal ensemble Sepia, and being a veteran vocal instructor, have lead to major looks with artists like vocalist Sam Smith and the dream opportunity for many artists, touring with the incomparable Stevie Wonder for his recent legendary, Songs In the Key of Life tour, an experience he simply and aptly calls “the icing on the cake.” There were chance encounters with the renowned artist over the years – a time while Saunders was working with Sting and Wonder showed up at the session – and a time in passing when he was part of a tribute to Wonder some years later. But he had no idea he’d later, actually have the chance to work with him by way of a referral from a colleague and the key, preparation. “I was originally called just to contract for the New York gig,” recalls Saunders. “We got up there [in sound check] and Greg Phillinganes, the musical director was like, ‘You need us to go over the parts?’ and I said no we got em, because before we went I made sure we rehearsed and had everything together. And he [Phillinganes] goes. ‘You don’t need us to go over it?’ And I said, nope. ‘What about the lyrics, you’ve got that?’ No we’re good, I said. And so we started and the moment we started Stevie raises his hands and goes ‘Okay, that’s great.’ So then I got the call the next day and they invited me to join the tour.” Says Saunders of the opportunity, “You kind of just look up and say God, God, God, thank you. It was just a blessing. You know one of those things that just, everything works out as it’s supposed to work out. And working with him and having him trust me, was just phenomenal. Just to be able to spend time with him and to be able to reach back and help young artists that are coming in as well as some of my peers, being able to pull them into the gig and to tour and to share that time and to create a family from that. That’s a blessing. That’s really, really a blessing.” And he adds, almost needless to say, “And to watch the master at work.”

That experience as much as all the others throughout his career are the kind that have enabled him to do something he always desires, which is to not only grow at his craft, but to also mentor and share his experience with young artists coming on the scene. “If it’s space in the place that may be new, where I feel that I can learn from that opportunity that’s always a good thing,” says Saunders. “When I got the call to work with Sam Smith that was an amazing opportunity for me to contract it, but what it did was it allowed me to hire young singers that were coming into New York and allowed them to be a part of something that just kind of started from the ground up when he [Smith] came into New York and watch him take off. Then they were connected to that and from that be able to get into the music business and then move, which is a great thing to be a part of. And to be mentoring them the same way that Tawatha Agee, Fonzi Thorton, and Darryl Tookes, all of them mentored me when I came into the industry. Now it’s time for me to do the same.”

And creatively, the approach has stayed the same over the years. “When I’m working on something, particularly when it’s for me, I just have to be motivated from the things that kind of resonate with me. And for me, that sits within that soul context. That soul context for me is just kind of there. You know, I love the music, I love the references, I love being able to interweave that with some jazz influences and of course, gospel influences. Then on top of that I always want to be able to or I try to at least, give the lyrics some type of message of hope or some type of message of an experience.” He continues, “I love the idea of being an artist. And being able to celebrate that experience without any other reason except that it’s an experience that’s beautiful and wonderful and needs to be celebrated.”

When asking Saunders of a moment in his impressive career that stands out thus far he points to one that caught him quite off guard while at the same time revealing a desire had unknowingly been achieved. “A lot of times you’re putting the music out and you’re trying to hustle and your hope is it’s reaching people,” says Saunders. “I remember I was actually in New York and a girl came up to me and said, ‘You know what? I listened to “Inspiration” [from Enter My Mind] and it saved my life’ and I just thought, wow. Wow. It stopped me and made me think, like wow, people really do listen and people are paying attention and people are connecting and that was really just magical.”

Now that’s he’s got the solo artist hat back on Saunders will be following up “The People are Ready To Dance Again” with another song he’s planning to release in the new year that celebrates soul music and will, he hopes work toward convincing folks that “soul music and black music is not dead. Is not gone. It’s still here.” And as for this past election and the times ahead? Saunders believes it will and should awaken all people, but artists in particular. “What I’m hoping is this will be the impetus that will allow us to really, really, really create music that speaks for what we’re seeing, what we’re being a part of. This is a great time for us to really have some social meaning and bring about messages so people can have hope.” Marlon Saunders is indeed dancing again. Are you ready to join him?

Bert Caldwell

copyright ISPYSOUL 2016

For find out more about Marlon Saunders, his music and the other projects he’s a part of go to Marlon Saunders.com