“The Year of Living Stevie” is host Daryl Bean’s biweekly podcast about life, creativity, and the music of Stevie Wonder. In each episode, musicians explore Stevie’s influence, and the affect his music has had on them.
In this episode, musician/vocalist/songwriter/producer Nadir Omowale and his band (Steve Caldwell, guitar; Phil Whitfield, keyboards; Chris Spooner, bass; Lauren Johnson, drums) talk about political activism through music, their deep well of experience in the industry, and what made Nadir want to throw his bass at a drummer (not Lauren). Plus they perform two deep Stevie tracks, “That Girl”, from Original Musiquarium, and “Let’s Get Serious” (a hit for Jermaine Jackson, but written and produced by Stevie).
Why is there still a need for Black History Month? Our panel of experts listed the continuing removal of black contributions from American history, America’s fear of black men, and the whitewashing of Detroit as just a few reasons.
Originally Published in Ambassador Magazine
Written by J. NadirOmowale
Photos by Andrew Potter
The January/February 2015 Ambassador Magazine Roundtable convened at a pivotal moment in American history – and in the history of Detroit. As we gathered to discuss the importance of African American History Month with an esteemed group of historians and scholars, race occupied the center of our national conversation.
The public erupted into spontaneous protest after a series of high-profile killings of African American men and boys by police, highlighting the longstanding American tradition of police violence against the black community. And instead of ushering in a post-racial era in America, racial tensions were intensified and will forever color the legacy of Barack Obama – the country’s first African American president. Hashtags and slogans like #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe and #WhitePrivilege peppered social media and the nation’s consciousness.
Closer to home, as a resurgent Detroit emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history – forever the phoenix shaking off the ashes – questions and accusations surrounded the complexion of the city’s latest renaissance. Was there room in the whiter, more affluent “New Detroit” for the city’s majority population of working-class African Americans?
If there were two things learned in the boardroom at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, one was that history is about more than assorted dates and facts. Understanding the historical context of an event is often as important as the study of the event itself. The second was that, often, the histories that are excluded from our textbooks give a more accurate representation of what really happened. Continue reading
That first album by Saxappeal, also known as LaDarrel Johnson, blends hip hop and new soul sensitivities with a sultry contemporary sax sound that is meatier and more adventurous than typical smooth jazz fare. The prominence of the horn, however, ensures that Saxappeal’s music won’t be played on most R&B, urban contemporary or hip hop stations, where all songs must feature singing or rapping.
He could have bowed to the pressure and churned out a second album that conformed to the dictates of the almighty programmers. Instead, he stayed true to his art, titled his new disc “Unmarketable” and set about creating an album of music that he describes as “delicious jambalaya.”
My name is Nadir, and I’m an addict. I’ve been addicted to playing music for a very long time. And being addicted to music is like being addicted to crack.
Okay. I’ll confess. I’ve never smoked crack.
But the rush of being onstage… When I’ve got the mic in my hand, and the band is killing it, I am high. At that very moment I am completely myself. Not acting or posing for the crowd, but telling my story, singing from the depths of my soul. There’s nothing like it except…
…The high of creating in the studio. When the song is strong, and the rhythm track is hot, I catch a buzz. All of a sudden I start dancing uncontrollably in the middle of the control room. I feel like I’m stoned.
I’ve had some success with the work I’ve produced for myself and other artists – awards, radio play, international tours, licensing for movies and advertising, scoring indie films and more. Each accomplishment brings new validation.
But if you’re really passionate about your music as I am, you don’t do it for the money or the acclaim. You do it because you’re addicted to the rhythm.
In his bestselling book, This is Your Brain On Music, music producer/neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains that the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the pleasure centers of the brain when we listen to music we enjoy. Dopamine is most famous for its role in the brain’s pleasure and reward system. It is involved in mood regulation and coordination of movement.
According to Levitin, “When drug addicts get their drug of choice, or when compulsive gamblers win a bet – even when chocoholics get cocoa – this is the neurotransmitter that is released.”
On top of that hit of “dope”, when I’m playing music that I like, on an instrument I enjoy, with a tone that is pleasing, I begin to care, and I pay more attention. Levitin’s studies show that dopamine is released again, enhancing emotions, alertness and mood. My brain creates a neurochemical tag for every aspect of the experience to make sure I remember what this buzz feels like.
So if I’m really excited about this 16 bar verse I’m spitting, and the hook is hot, and the beat is knocking, my brain could be infused with enough dopamine to pack a Phillie blunt. If I’m truly passionate about my music, if I’m feeding on the energy of a crowded club or a packed arena, and I’m on, the high can be like taking a hit of freebase cocaine.
Okay, the science isn’t perfect, but I do know that the more I get that feeling of playing great music, the more I want to feel it. I’ve gotta have it… every day, all day, all night, if possible. I keep chasing that high, hoping for the same feeling or a better, more intense high.
And that’s why I will never quit. It’s not because the pay is great, that’s for sure. Even major label artists struggle to make ends meet. The rest of us make due with day jobs or odd jobs or, if we’re lucky, jobs playing music for a living.
Those artists who are most successful are driven like crack heads. The difference is they know how to balance the business with the buzz. They create a lifestyle that allows them to get high by playing as much music as possible, while keeping the bills paid, and (puff, puff) passing the feeling on to others who get a dopamine infusion when they hear music they enjoy.
So yes, I’m a professional musician and producer. I’m in control. But the first step to control is admitting that I’m an addict, and music is a drug that I will never quit.
Are you an addict? Do you have your high under control? Hit me up and tell me your story…
For decades, Detroit has maintained arguably the most influential music scene in the country. Yes, awesome musicians, incomparable vocalists and mesmerizing performers learned everything they knew here. But this city’s influence on music is attributable not only to the iconic singers whose names we all know.
The D is also musically influential because of the people you don’t see. Detroit has contributed some of the most innovative and gifted music producers on the planet.
From early Motown staff producers like Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield, to funk maestro transplant George Clinton, to techno pioneers Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, to rock legend Don Was, to hip hop genius J Dilla—these and other local producers have set the global standard for quality, creativity, musicality and innovation.
Whether or not lovers of soul, gospel, R&B, hip hop, jazz or electronica know it, producers from Detroit consistently reshape and reinvent music. Year after year, they are leaders in the development of new sounds that resonate with music fans around the world.
Because the nature of record production is behind the scenes, producers tend to be unsung heroes. They are often more responsible for the sound of a hit song than the artist whose voice is on the record, but their contributions may go unrecognized by the general public.