Raul Midón – It’s all in a name 

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Often the words used to describe singer, songwriter and guitarist, Raul Midón are likely along the lines of amazing, phenomenal, incredible or just plain “ridiculous.” That is to say, of course, you’re not just rendered speechless after hearing his music or especially witnessing his artistic wizardry and virtuosity live. However, for his many ardent fans those superlatives still may not seem to be enough.

Well, there is now a description that may best sum up the marvel Midón is or at very least be added as an apt “go to” on the list – “Bad Ass.” It’s half the title of his brand new release. The other half is a fact that may possibly get lost in the midst of taking in his brilliance – and Blind. The moniker is perfect because both parts are simply fact and cannot be denied.

Blind since birth, Midón is confident in his abilities and proud of his accomplishments, as well he should be. Bad Ass and Blind, his ninth project, is a proclamation he was comfortable making and believed was the right time.

We caught up with Raul Midón to talk about the new project, his influences and why he thought that title could be important for others as well. Check out our interview below:

 

Click here to check out and purchase Raul Midon’s Bad Ass and Blind

And to find out when Raul Midón will be performing near you and more go to Raulmidon.com

© ISPYSOUL 2017

 

 

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

JSWISS

Photo: Robert Adam Mayer

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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.”

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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

Heston: Mind, Body and so much Soul

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My first interview with Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, artist, Heston Francis, commonly known as Heston, was in 2004, around the time of his self-title EP, which made quite a splash on the independent soul/R&B scene featuring jewels such as fan favorite, IF, Angel and Radio, to name a few. The project was an introduction to a soul singer in the truest sense of the word – a voice infused with passion, sincerity, empathy and life experience – adeptly employed and immensely engaging. Heston himself in that interview affirmed, “My emotions are on my sleeves and nothing that I write or nothing that I sing is meaningless. Everything that I say out of my mouth and every word that I write is through experience. It’s heartfelt. It’s my life. It’s my release.” On every subsequent and acclaimed project since (three including his full-length debut smash Storyteller) happily really nothing has changed in that regard. It’s no doubt the reason for the success and loyal fans he’s garnered, with a healthy touring and performance schedule around the world as a by product. But even at a time now when use of the word soul often seems more like a popular promotional catch phrase than a real strand in the music or artist its employed to describe, Heston is savvy enough to embrace the recognition of the qualities without need for necessarily adopting the label, “soul singer.” “I’ve not really given myself that label, but yeah, if you are to take the true meaning of the word, I would have to agree,” says Heston. “Because it’s [his music] heartfelt, it’s not phony, it’s not made up, its just what it is.” He goes on to explain, “Because for me, the people that I’ve always loved are like your Otis Redding, or your Beres Hammond or Marvin Gaye and you can tell that they bleed music and I know for me, behind the scenes, behind the curtains, I bleed music. Like it’s some kind of curse and a blessing for me because I love it so much.”

Needless to say, when searching for what name to give to his new project, now days away from its U.S. release, the genuineness in his music that everyone has come to love is what inspired it being aptly titled, Transparency. “When I speak to people even if its just a friend or family member, a music lover, a music writer or someone conducting an interview, I’ve just always continued to hear through the years that there’s an honesty to the music, there’s a sincerity in the music, there’s true passion, there’s honesty in your performance. If there’s a review for a live show, it’s always saying the reason why people connect is because it seems sincere, so I think it was just appropriate for me to name the album Transparency because it’s just an honest interpretation of my experiences through music.” Indeed Transparency, which will be released in conjunction with the highly regarded Purpose Music Group/Nia Distribution, is all that, with Heston’s cleverly poetic take on life and love amidst a musical backdrop that blends soul, R&B and hints of Caribbean flavor on some tracks, which is not a stretch for the native of Dominica. On the project are the ebbs and flows in relationships as with the intensely moving Every Time I Look Around Here and the additively, up tempo, Contradiction in which he ironically proclaims “You’re my contradiction/with you/ I lose/even when I’m with winning.” There’s also the impassioned romantic desire displayed on tracks like the seductively persuasive, Stay, one of the several tracks sure to serve as a soundtrack for intimate opportunities.

Mind, Body and Soul, the official first single from the release, and another fuelled by his own personal revelation, scores a journey many of us make. “I think I’ve gotten to a stage in my life where I’m definitely able to value relationships much better than I used to some years ago” says Heston. “Same thing with When A Man Knows [another track from the project], it’s just that I’ve gotten to realize – you have to pick someone- you have to make a choice – that there’s a women out there [for you]. You turn around and you look and you can find someone and when you do, you have to put all of yourself into that relationship if you want to make it work.”

And then there is Dear God, which Heston reveals was actually released as a kind of song to test the waters and prep the fan base, but might likely speak most to the title of the project. “It probably is the most transparently honest song on the album,” says Heston. He then goes on to describe a moment one might call magical or perhaps in this case and more appropriately, spiritual. After sharing some interesting background of his family’s heritage and visit back home on a reservation in his native Dominica, Heston recalls that time. “I went to sleep in a very, very small wooden house, I wouldn’t even call it a house, it’s just boarded it up with wood, floor, ceiling, no kitchen, no nothing and I must have woken up at three o’clock in the morning, pouring rain and this song just literally came right out, and the moment I was done the rain stopped. But I was just honestly; I was just crying and crying. I don’t know where it came from or what the purpose of it was, but the moment that the song was complete, the rain just completely stopped. What was even crazier, by the time I woke up the next morning the ground outside was completely dry.”

The fact is, true to Heston’s assertion and the title of the project, personal back-stories, his thoughts, desires and beliefs make up Transparency. It’s really the only way he knows how to do it. And what he hopes to accomplish each time out is still now what it was in 2004 – Make quality, entertaining music, that stands the test of time and is a true representation of himself. “For me, it’s just about making sure that the integrity of my music last and it’s consistent and so far I can honestly say that’s been the case,” he maintains. “Anything that I’ve put out, I’ve honestly been proud of. Obviously, I always want to grow as an artist. I always want to grow as a writer. I always want to grow as a singer. But the quality of the music that I leave, and you know, the story has never changed. It’s always been about the integrity of the music for me.”

I think it’s fair to say Heston’s all in with Mind, Body, and so much Soul.

 

Bert Caldwell

copyright ISPYSOUL 2016

 

TRANSPARENCY is available now on iTunes! Just click here

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And to learn more about Heston go to his website @hestonmusic.com

The Soul Seen: Omar

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.

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Omar Haven’t You Heard

“When I grow up I want to be like Omar.” When asked about that comment, England–bred, singer, songwriter and musician, Omar replies with a humbled chuckle and flattered lilt, “I take it with a pinch of salt because there was an obvious laugh when he was saying it.” The “he” in this case is the one and only, Stevie Wonder and although the statement was made with his storied comic flair it’s also obvious it packed a wealth of sincere admiration. Why you say? The legendary icon will appear on Omar’s next project and he made the call. “He called me up twice in two days in fact, to say he had a song for me”, recalls Omar. “I had to wait seven hours in the studio for him to turn up but hey, I would have waited two days. It was one of the most memorable times for me.”

Viewed by many as an icon himself on his home turf, Omar’s artistry has actually incited similar accolades from artists and fans this side of the pond -Folks like India.Arie, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Maxwell and more who are often in attendance at his sold-out shows in places like Atlanta, Chicago or New York. In addition, his collaborations boast a list that includes Lamont Dozier, Leon Ware, Erykah Badu, Common and more. On his CD, BEST BY FAR, now being released stateside, soulstress, Angie Stone and hip-hop/jazz weaver, Guru show the love with flavorful guest spots adding to a gem-filled collection of classic grooves and maestro-like orchestration.

Best By Far is actually Omar’s fifth release over a career spanning thirteen years. While it carries such a definitive title, many of his faithful followers would probably proclaim this just another in the string of creative hipness he’s become known for. But again, aside from keen soul searchers here in the US, known about mostly in the UK. The domestic drop of this, his latest, he feels will serve as a good first introduction to his uniquely soulful sound as opposed to waiting to put out a new CD here later with a name only relatively few know. Hopefully there will then be a more sizeable American contingent, captured and thirsting for the new project planned for completion this year. “[Best By Far] hadn’t been released out here,” explains Omar. “It’s only been available as an import. There’d never been any promotion with it. So rather than just stepping over with a new thing, I thought it would be easier to introduce people to the latest stuff. Because there’s the stuff on there like the duo I did with Angie [Stone] that no one’s ever heard. So it’d be cool to give [people in America] the opportunity. The hard core fans obviously know it, but it would be cool to introduce it on a bigger scale.”

For many of those same hard-core fans Omar also carries the distinction of being at the forefront of what’s now been labeled, neo-soul. When asked about being bestowed with the tag he is guardedly grateful for the assessment, but has astutely put it all in perspective. “It’s a flattering thing and it’s great for people to mention my name in the same breath as some of the others who have been credited in that way or to say that kind of thing,” he says. “But that’s as far as it goes. I’m not sitting down saying, I’m the founder of this so what’s my next song going to be. It’s an accolade I receive very humbly, but that’s as far as it goes. That’s not how I sit down to write the music. It’s what I’m vibin’ about at the time.” Indeed Omar’s vibe is one emitted by artists motivated most by the opportunity to create something unique, lasting and stimulating. And the moment in time dictates the focus. Best By Far, a masterfully woven tapestry of grooves, sounds and incredible arrangements, is the mission accomplished. Think classic soul with pumping rhythm sections, in the pocket and funky – a vibrant section of horns juiced with the sweet growl of trombones – strings – lush, beautiful and stirring – Background harmonies layered to perfection and Omar’s lead – super cool and utterly hip. And that moment in time dictated the direction – a lean to cinematic score writers of the 60’ and 70’s. “I always have this idea about who I want to work with on an album,” says Omar. “I like to work with icons. I’ve worked with Leon Ware, Lamont Dozier and Syreeta Wright. But this time I was gunning for Lalo Schiffren, Burt Bacharach, and John Barry.” He continues, “In essence what I’m trying to do is have a funky beat with strings and orchestration over the top of it.” The result is something reminiscent of the slick soundtracks for Shaft or Superfly – jewels from maestros like Barry White, Issac Hayes or vintage Quincy Jones – the magic provided by Philly’s MFSB, with a hint of mod, Austin Powers- like flavor – Funky, hip and oh, so soulful.

It seems unimaginable that with the formal introduction of Best By Far to U.S. ears Omar won’t continue to draw mounds of new found love and recognition beyond the discerning music miners. But of course, that remains to be seen. However for Omar, his task is simple. “I just try to enjoy myself when I’m making the music,” he says. “I try to make music that everyone else will enjoy.” That is the bottom line. Haven’t you heard?

Bert Caldwell

copyright ISPYSOUL  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED