Today’s Afrobeat: Founded by father, Fela, and continued by son, Femi Kuti takes this genre into a changing world

Femi KutiFemi Kuti, Head Shot, Press Photo carries his father’s – Fela Kuti – legacy of Afrobeat graciously and humbly. Developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Afrobeat blends elements of Yoruba music, jazz and funk rhythms with an instrumentation that emphasizes African percussion and vocal styles (New World Encyclopedia 2015). American musicians have come to appreciate the sounds of Afrobeat pioneered by Fela and expanded by Femi.

Throughout his 26-year career, Femi has toured with large rock and roll acts in the U.S., including Jane’s Addiction and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and collaborated with Mos Def, Common and Jaguar Wright on a song for the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV (Ridgefield Press 2015).” As I interviewed Femi for the Music Historian in the lounge above the Brooklyn Bowl stage, minutes before his rehearsal, I asked him what it is about Afrobeat that artists from other genres admire.

“Understand,” Femi begins, “that it has always been there. In fact, in 1970s, when my father was making all of his hits, I think diplomats from Nigeria were taking records [of Fela’s music] to America. People like Miles Davis, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were listening to him. So many great musicians were inspired, but his name was never mentioned. What probably happened was that someone had been listening to his record, and they said, “Wow, this is great. Who is this?” Someone else would respond, “It is this cat from Nigeria,” and they would say “Wow! Great music.”

“In 1977, when Nigeria hosted the Festac Festival, I know Americans came to the shrine and played with him [Fela], jammed with him, and loved his music. I would [also] say 50-60% of Hip Hop came from the Afrobeat. So, it would not be surprising to hear people say my father inspired them. Then there was a musical about him on Broadway. I think this is a just a manifestation, but he was never mainstream. He was always on the ground and inspired American arts, culture, and music.”

In Nigeria, Fela had a very strong fan base. Femi got his start in music by playing saxophone in his father’s band at the age of 15 (femiakuti.com 2015). The fan base often asked Femi when he was going to play music and be like his father. When Femi decided to leave his father’s band, this was a taboo.

“In Africa, you never fight your father, especially if he was Fela Kuti,” explained Femi. Further, the musician admits he had a stressful period of trying to convince people his music was his own, and not his father’s.

“People misinterpreted everything I did,” he said. “My father told so many journalists that he would never write a song for his kids, but they still thought that was not true. When I had my first hit in Nigeria, “Wonder Wonder,” I was not given credit; people thought my father wrote the song for me. Then I had my big hit, which became international, “Beng Beng Beng” and people said “No, no. It is [a hit] just because you are Fela’s son. When I got my first GRAMMY nomination, it was, “Oh it is because you are Fela’s son.

“I think the good thing about it is it never troubled me. We loved my father very much. I don’t think critics or anybody could destabilize my thoughts.”

Femi has released a total of eight albums in his career. His 1998 album Shoki Shoki broke many boundaries in Afrobeat music. The artist used technology and machines to drive the force of the music. His last three records, Day by Day (2010), Africa for Africa (2011), and No Place for My Dreams (2013), have been released by Label Maison Records. I wondered whether Femi, when making a new album always searched for a new experience or focused more on the process of making music rather than an end goal. He says:

“I feel the experience of the time is what contributes most to the making of the album. For instance, in Africa for Africa, I wanted people to experience what it was like to record a band like mine both live and in the studio in Nigeria. [For example] they were recording and the electricity goes off. Hopefully, they would feel the frustrations I felt trying to get the record done.

No Place for My Dreams, the last one, reflects more of my childhood. I was trying to bring sounds from my father that touched me. Bringing that power – ‘I would love to play music, what kind of music do I want to play?’

“The next album I am working on is trying to go back to Shoki Shoki, which tried to use technology to enhance the creativity of Afrobeat. Most people [at the time] thought it was not very possible [to do] with the Afrobeat.”

Africa for Africa is one album that personally stood out to me the most. Femi, in a 2011 interview with NPR, said that one of the themes from this album reflects an ongoing concern among many African citizens, the lack of a unified central news network to inform people about what is going on in multiple regions across their content (NPR 2011). I asked Femi to tell me more about this theme. He elaborates:

“We have to wait for the BBC to tell us there is a war in the Congo; we have to wait for CNN to tell us what is going on in Ghana. Where is the African central network system to tell us our story, and then to tell all? It would be so powerful, that the BBC and CNN would have to get new [about Africa] from this network, not vice versa.

“Let’s take for example the crisis of Boko Haram. The BBC reports any crisis before any Nigerian network. The BBC or CNN will send journalists into this area to investigate. How come no Nigerian network sends a journalist to this war zone? Are they too scared? Not even videos or live footage. With the war in Iraq, you see BBC journalists will go there – this is journalism; there is no room to compromise nor argue with this. You have to appreciate the bravery of the journalist.

“There is so much. Don’t African nations see what is going on? Where is that kind of courage, where is that kind of attitude in journalism? If you were to focus really on Africa, Africa would probably not have time to listen to other news. There is too much going on there to deal with that. If we did have a serious network like the BBC – that was not corrupt, of course, not managed by interference or governments manipulating the system – then can you imagine how fantastic that network would be? For an individual journalist to be curious and go to find the truth of that news at any length because it is important? That’s what I would have loved for Africa.”

Femi Kuti Powerful Force Rehearsal (2) Like his father, Femi also addressed corruption within his music, corruption that each African citizen faces daily. One song from No Place for My Dreams, “No Work, No Job, No Money,” includes a lyrical message that within a country filled with plenty of oil and other natural resources, there is no work for people to help them make money and feed themselves nor their families. Based on personal curiosity, I wondered how have people’s reaction to this same type of corruption changed from the 1970’s to present day.

“I think what has changed is that now people are most outspoken. In my father’s time, it was just his voice and his voice alone. Now, on social media, you will see young boys and girls express their discontent with anything they see; this was not happening in my father’s time.

“The young people communicate way too fast for the leaders. I don’t think world leaders can deal with this, especially when they [the government] is being dishonest. More people today complain, so the government is very uncomfortable. The government is being forced to be honest for the first time, but, I think they will try to be smarter, more sophisticated; they will try to hide.

“You see what is happening in Greece, Spain, and France? I now realize that Greece is facing the kind of problems Africa faces – they have no jobs, they can’t put food on the table. You see what is going on in Ukraine? The government is losing its invisible force. Europeans and Americans don’t fear government like Africa fears government. Africa too is changing very fast and African governments are losing that invisibility where they think they are untouchable,” says Femi.

Issues of joblessness, poverty and hunger exist in all countries. Femi also makes a valid point when he says U.S. or EU citizens don’t fear their governments as much as Africans fear theirs. While the musician mentions that young people in Africa speaking on social media regarding what is happening around them; neither he nor his father wanted to encourage the international community to get involved.

“Understand,” begins Femi, “African leaders want people to believe they are honest. If I can show the true picture, then you have a different view. You become intrigued; you want to find out more.” A listener might ask, ’Is Femi speaking the truth, or will I go to Africa?’ Femi continues with this figurative scenario, “You will say ‘Oh, there is no electricity.’ How come Nigeria, a big oil-producing country cannot provide healthcare? How come the education system in Nigeria does not even exist? You have all of these universities and no matter what degree you come out with; it is meaningless. [You then ask] ‘Is Femi telling the truth, or are the leaders telling the truth?’ Then you have to question – How come your leaders are negotiating or doing business with corrupt people? Are they part of this corruption?

“I feel, that the world, whether we like it or not, in a few years, the political arena will change drastically, for the positive I hope.”

Looking towards the future, I wondered what Femi expected from himself and his band, The Positive Force. Before I directly posed this within a question, I wondered whether his last album No Place for My Dreams had produced the results he wanted. Femi says:

“I think it has already done its full lap. We have toured already now for over a year and a half, promoting the album. People love it very much, and now, [they] go into the future, and talk about it later on. The later generation might pick it up one day like they picked up my father’s [albums]. I think what is important for me is to know how to look into the future. Always try to bring new sounds into our music – new conversations.”

Wherever these new conversations lead listeners, Femi will continue that passion for a genre that helps define Africa. Also to combining funk, jazz, and soul, Femi also defines Afrobeat as a genre filled with African culture and tradition, “the true roots.”

“Don’t forget,” he explains, “Africa had its melody before the west came, or before jazz. My father was lucky to grow up in a village that still kept its tradition and folk songs from ancestral times. I think my father was gifted enough to say, “Everybody is doing this in Africa, this what I have… and if we take it and just make it rich.” That just caught everybody’s attention. His grandfather was a musician and composer, and his father was a musician and a composer. His grandfather was the first composer from West Africa to record for the BBC. They composed a lot of hymns, many of them are still relevant in churches, or in traditional culture in Nigeria.

“My father grew up with all of this rich music. As he studied classical music, fell in love with jazz, tried to find his feet, he probably then remembered, “Wow. This is what my grandfather was doing.” This is what I was listening to in the streets… where I was born. [He said] “Oh, I can… put all of this richness together and bring about my kind of music.” Then everybody said “Whoa! What is he doing?” Everybody was moved by it.”

In July, between the 10th and the 18th Femi Kuti & The Positive Force will travel to Paris and the UK to perform on a short tour. Then, it is back to Nigeria to focus on the new album, which will revisit the stylistic creativity established within his previous work, Shoki Shoki.

“I think with my experience, age, and maturity, and if my calculation is right, in my mind, it should be ten times greater than the Shoki Shoki album,” explains the musician. “If I can arrive at that, then I can say that I have reached another milestone in my musical career.”

Works Cited

Afrobeat. (2012, August 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Afrobeat

Femi Kuti Official Website. (2013). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.femiakuti.com/#!about/c2414/

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force Bringing Afrobeat To Ridgefield | The Ridgefield Daily Voice. (2015, May 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://ridgefield.dailyvoice.com/events/femi-kuti-positive-force-bringing-afrobeat-ridgefield

Nigerian Star Femi Kuti Talks Politics And Music. (2011, April 27). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/04/27/135770537/nigerian-artist-femi-kuti-talks-politics-and-music

 

All photos were published with permission

Advertisements

The Best Artist Interviews of 2014!

You are right; I wrapped up the departing year yesterday with looking at what listeners found most interesting in New Music for 2014 regarding major music events in New York City. Now, I want to welcome the New Year with a look at which interviews Music Historian readers from everywhere, 88 countries including the U.S. (leading the pack), then Brazil, and Germany not far behind, found most exciting. Let’s start the countdown!

No. 5: Juicebox

Soul, a foundation that can’t go wrong: An interview with Juicebox members, Lisa, Nick, Isaac & Jamie

Juicebox Perform at the New Yorker Hotel (l-r): Isaac Jaffe, Lisa Ramey, Nicholas Myers, Aaron Rockers From the moment, they walk up on stage; people in the audience are ready to have a moment with Juicebox’s performance. In an industry full of maybes, one thing that will always be definite for this band – they will always give their listeners an unforgettable show and music that will move them.

 

 

 

No. 4: YUZIMA

A World of Wonderful Machines: The philosophy behind Yuzima’s new LP Yuzima poses for photo shoot, for his insta-album, BASH, to be released digitally on October 7th

YUZIMA wants to express the nature of machines – systems that leave little room to reinvent the wheel but at the same time require changes, usually brought about by the continuation of time, in order to survive.

 

 

No. 3: The Blackfoot Gypsies

The Blackfoot Gypsies: Modern Southern Rock That Helps You Release Internalized Feelings

 This Nashville-based group has the perfect American music that will help you temporarily lose yourself, feel the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, positive and negative emotions all at once. The energy from The Blackfoot Gypsies’ music vibrates in both their recordings and live performances.

 

 

 

 

No. 2: Kim Logan

Plugging into Modern Southern Rock: My Interview with Kim Logan 

Kim Logan has found her voice within the Southern and Classic Rock genre, and she flexes it freely. Whether listeners are attracted to her country songs, driving rock ‘n’ roll riffs, or blues-infused choruses, they are bound to hear the voice of a woman who delivers clever lyrics, thoughtfully written compositions, and warmly recorded sounds.

 

 

 

 

No. 1: Imagine Dragons

Imagine_Dragons Yes. This article is from two years ago. It still seems to attract new readers. Plus, why not celebrate this article a second time? 2014 was a big year for these guys too – they performed at the Grammys.

Opening Doors: Imagine Dragons’ Bassist, Ben McKee, talks about the band’s exciting journey

Ben McKee talks about the career-changing moments that have brought Imagine Dragons to this moment in time – recording a national album with producer, Alex Da Kid

Readers, thank you for a great year. Juicebox, YUZIMA, Kim, and Gypsies, thank you for the conversations and shows. Alyson Greenfield, Pam Lipshitz, and Pamela Workman thank you for the amazing experience at NMS. To everyone, Happy New Year!!!

The Dirty Gems Make Great Music for a Growing Audience

The Dirty Gems_Press Pic Better Whether it is to laugh, cry, or dance, the New York City-based pop-rock-soul band, The Dirty Gems want to make you feel something. One of the keyboardists in the band, Mills claims “Often times, people have a hard time placing us into a specific genre because of how diverse our influences are, but as we continue making music, we have no doubt our own unique style will find its audience.”

The Dirty Gems began as a trio in 2007 with singer Raycee, bassist Ulises, and keyboardist Cam. They were members of a small jazz combo during their attendance at Hofstra University. Later, drummer Jack joined the group and they transitioned into a cover band called Pump Yo Brakes. They began to write original songs after graduating in 2010. The four-piece group  furthered their music endeavor, and this led to the addition of songwriter Mills, and guitarist Gary. They returned to Hofstra for a Battle of the Bands in the Fall of 2011, which also happened to be the band’s first public performance.

“The incredible response we got at the Battle of the Bands was definitely a turning point where we thought, “Hey, maybe we have something here!” explained Mills.

The group won the Battle of the Bands, a moment which quickly led The Dirty Gems to open for artists such as Big Boi, rapper from the Hip-Hop duo Outkast, indie rock band from Seattle, Minus the Bear and New York City rock band, London Souls.

While this start-up band had tremendous success, the kind that might prompt an artist to pursue a record deal aggressively, The Dirty Gems choose to stay atop of their first priority – making great music for a growing audience. I am happy to welcome Mills from The Dirty Gems to a full-length feature interview right here on Music Historian.

Although one can argue that a band like The Dirty Gems should first focus on getting signed, Mills emphasizes that a successful group focuses both on their art and entrepreneurship.

“The music industry has changed so much that now, being signed to a label may not necessarily be the end-goal for a band like us, at least at first,” says Mills. “We look to continue growing our audience and making great music, and if that involves being signed to a label, then so be it. The distribution model [though] has changed so much due to the internet. If you have a Bandcamp page, good marketing strategy, and great music, you are already your own record label.”

As I recall a panel I listened to at the New Music Seminar called The A&R Movement: Where is Music Headed? A&R representatives at the panel assert that now, more than ever, musicians need to create a marketing plan and build themselves a fan base. Record labels want to see that the artist has pulled themselves up a lot. In regards to the music, A&R reps will positively affirm that good music rises to the top, and somehow, the labels will find that artist.

That is one “check” from the industry representatives. However, the same industry players who offered the advice above will also have their opinions and criticisms for The Dirty Gems. For example, at another panel I attended, which included some of the same A&R reps from the panel I mentioned above (please reference my review of the New Music Seminar for more information) called Music XRAY Presents: A&R Live – Music Critique and Sound Selector Sessions, one of the panelists commented on the band’s newest track “Insomniac.” The person giving the critique said:

“While the vocals were good and I liked the guitar in the forefront, I don’t see a lot of hit potential. Strengthen the verse a little bit.”

I wondered how Mills handled criticism like this from industry players and his response has been humble.

“The panels have been incredibly insightful and informative,” he says. “We already have meetings set up from the connections we’ve made at the New Music Seminar, which has provided us an excellent experience. We are honored to be one of the Top 100 Artists on the Verge with several artists and we know and respect from the community of up-and-coming musicians around us.”

Additional experiences this band has favored includes representing Queens in the WNYC/WQXR Battle of the Boroughs at The Green Space; the KahBang Music & Arts Festival in Bangor, Maine; The Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York; and opening for Wynonna & The Big Noise at Alive @ Five in Stamford, Connecticut. The best experiences for The Dirty Gems though is really any show where they have been able to move someone with their music.

 There must be something great in The Dirty Gems’ music for the fans who travel from their office on a hot night last Tuesday, June 10th to see this band perform in the darkened lounge called The Delancey located on the Lower East Side. It’s incredibly comforting see how people come together as couples or in groups, and they have an age range from 25-44, and 45+ and all of them crowd in a space in front of the stage, a space that is small and tight, and provides room only for standing.

In short, there was a great turn out for The Dirty Gems that night, and even the performance organizer for The Delancey, who was also part of the New Music Seminar staff, James Birkenholz, mentioned a handful of customers quickly filled up the performance space for their show.

On The Dirty Gems’ Twitter page, fans have Tweeted “Watching The Dirty Gems kill it at the Delancey for the New Music Seminar showcase, great job.” A few days later, the President of Imagine Music LLC Tweeted, “The Dirty Gems is the best new band I have seen for some time. Look and listen here” and concluded his message with a link to their Bandcamp website.

So, what is it about this band’s music that makes their fans Tweet and comment about their performances and more? Simply put, their music has a personality. Mills explains:

“We call it [our music] pop-rock-soul. Our influences are diverse and we, as individuals, listen to all different kinds of music. We have just 2 EP’s out, our self-titled debut from 2011 and Vuja De released in 2013. With our most recent EP, that sound has started to coalesce into something uniquely our own.”

The popular single from Vuja De “Easy on Me” includes a very lucid and consistent vocal melody, with a slow tempo, sung by Raycee – a melody that is in a major key, and includes accidentals, almost making it sound like she is singing in both major and minor. In addition, the lyrics are simple and beautiful – I would fight all the mighty seas/ just to have you next to me/ cause you make it easy/ I would run across all the most dangerous miles/ Just to feel you smile/ because you make it easy.

Although the above lyrics are just to the verse, this enables Raycee to add many bends and trills in her singing, a style of singing that is very closely associated with the soul genre. The rock in this music is heard within the few tin-like and rough notes by the guitar. The pop lies within the driving rhythm of the drums.

In addition, the modulations and the entire composition of “Easy on Me” suggest the group created the music before the lyrics. I asked Mills about his thoughts, and he said:

“The basis of a great song is always an excellent melody. “Easy on Me” began with the chorus, and the verse melody, with the rest of the song, came from there. The modulations you’re referring to in the bridge came after the rest of the song was written. The constant beat that goes through the song has a lulling effect and we wanted to have an element that was surprising enough to make you really listen to the lyrics.”

In my opinion, The Dirty Gems accomplished this successfully with their Vuja De single. As for the single they presented to the Music Xray panel at the New Music Seminar, “Insomniac,” I felt a minor melody within the song, and the guitar, while still having the tin-like sounds, were now a little cleaner and crisper, and it played like an additional voice in a call-and-response manner with Raycee. Have a listen to the live version of the song here:

http://soundcloud.com/thedirtygems/insomniac

In addition the amalgam of musical influences that make their sound too diverse to fit one category; part of The Dirty Gems’ musical personality comes from Raycee’s voice, which right now, I cannot match to that of any singer I have previously heard.

Like many independent artists today, The Dirty Gems play music that is on the fringe of multiple genres. In addition, the band has incorporated their quirky sense of humor into their music videos, enabling them to create a funny and warm brand personality. See the videos for “Easy on Me” and “Your Name Here.”

Music videos, self-distributing music online and performing in the Battle of the Bands, opening for bigger artists and playing live as part of festivals and conferences, help The Dirty Gems spread their music to potential new fans and returning fans. The band just released “Insomniac” as their new single. They also plan to spend the summer in the studio writing and recording their next project – a third EP which will include “Insomniac” as a single. Afterwards, the group hopes to play in CMJ 2014 this fall at then SXSW in 2015.

The Dirty Gems_NMS_Press Photo As I stated in the beginning, The Dirty Gems act as their own entrepreneurs and artists. In today’s music industry, that is very expected. However, being your own artist and manager has its complications, because these are two separate roles played simultaneously by a single person or group. Thankfully, the musicians within this group don’t get lost in the hustle of all the business. Instead, they make it a priority to focus the most on those who matter the most to their business, their listeners.

“Out in the “real world,” your triumphs and failures are on stage for paying customers,” explains Mills. “College was an opportunity to play in the “sandbox” and learn from peers in a closed environment. At this point, we’ve been out of college for long enough to feel more like the “real world” is the sandbox, but that only motivates us more.”

Mills might be expressing that the real world of the music business is more experimental and less-structured than we are lead to believe. School offers a lot of structure and direction. In the business world though, whether it is in music or any other field, only you can give yourself the right type of structure that will work for you and all you must accomplish.

The Dirty Gems have found and secured a structure of doing business that works for them, a roadmap for their own songwriting, and the support of fans who positively receive their music. Whether or not this will provide sufficient reason for their right producer to connect with The Dirty Gems is tough to tell. Nevertheless, the group has an excellent foundation, and great discipline and practices. Like every band looking to make money with their music, these gems might just need a little refining. Aside from that, all the essential pieces for a successful business are in place.

Soul, a foundation that can’t go wrong: An Interview with Juicebox members, Lisa, Nick, Isaac & Jamie

Juicebox Perform at the New Yorker Hotel (l-r): Isaac Jaffe, Lisa Ramey, Nicholas Myers, Aaron Rockers Juicebox, the soul and funk band based in New York City, experienced several positive changes that launched them into a new direction after they released their 2012 single “Occupy my Heart.” Isaac Jaffe, the bassist of the band, shared the story of the birth behind this sultry and contagious single.

“I wrote this song while we were on a previous tour. It was probably one of the first songs where I wrote the lyrics before the melody. In my head, I pictured this song as a Neil Young-type of folk song – one with a falsetto voice which was sweet and a little bit wistful. Then I said, ‘there is no way the band is going to want to play that.’ So, I gave it a few weeks to kind of incubate and then I found a rhythm and the syncopation for the song.”

Saxophone player, Nicholas Myers, singer, Lisa Ramey, and then the newest member of the band, percussionist, Jamie Eblen laughed with Isaac as he shared this story.

After the single’s release, Juicebox toured Italy. Isaac claimed that sharing a song with people in a very different place was incredibly thrilling. Lisa added, “That’s when we turned to being pretty cool. We were nerdy cool, then we were not nerdy anymore. Now, we had this style, we had artwork, we were the Juicebox guys.”

As I interviewed these four members from the seven piece band, I noticed how elegantly they answered each question. Like a perfected performance piece, nobody interrupted each another. They came in with their own words and comments in a timely manner, never too soon and never too late. All members neatly and smoothly connected their comments so that they flowed like a well-written article. It almost felt like they had a structure for the way they interviewed. I had the same thoughts regarding the composition within their songs. So I asked the group how important structure was for a band like Juicebox?

“It’s not so much structure as it is about communication,” said Isaac. “That’s the key. Because of the improvisational thing, we have a pretty clear roadmap of how we work, but at the same time, every once in a while, our guitar player will play something that is too good to run away from. With the bands all in the same place, you are plugged in and there is nowhere to run.”

Whether or not soul and funk are your thing, Juicebox has proven there is really nowhere to run when you listen to their music live or on a recording. That is why I just had to interview this band. As I talk with them, I soon realize what will attract all types of listeners to Juicebox. Read my interview with the band right here on Music Historian to find out.

Starting in 2009, all the instrumentalists in Juicebox met through the jazz performance community at New York University. Isaac was a senior when Jamie was a freshman. Prior to Jaime joining the group, the five piece group of male performers recruited Lisa while she playing with another band in the city.

“She was singing back up with another group,” recalled Nick, “and I said to myself, ‘what is she doing singing back up?!’ She needs to be in front of the band! We did not have a singer at that time, we were only instrumental. We wanted to be a band but could not find anybody. Then, we saw Lisa and said “we need her. She is phenomenal. We need her out of the background and right up front. It was a match.”

Lisa remembers the moment this five-guy band approached her as being a tad terrifying. However, she quickly recognized the opportunity to come into the forefront. Juicebox perform at the New Music Seminar Conference on Tuesday, June 11th. (Left - Right) Isaac, Jamie Eblen, Lisa, Nick and Aaron

“I enjoyed being in the background, and I knew I would sing in the front. But at that time, I was trying to perform and get out in front of people. They [the Juicebox band] said ‘you are up in the front, in the middle, go!’” she explains. “I actually remember being so nervous when I sang in front for the first time with the group; I had all of the lyrics and everything written out. I thought I was not going to get hired for the job.”

“That was a really great show,” added Isaac. “I remember we had been playing in many downtown bars, performing mostly soul, jazz and instrumental stuff. Then, we did the first show with Lisa – I had only known Lisa after we hung out once or twice – and she started singing, I looked up and saw her immediately rock the crowd. I thought to myself this is probably the coolest experience I have had being up on stage. So, I knew it was going to work out.”

“I am the quiet one here because I was not around to see any of this,” said Jamie.

If you need a little more convincing that Juicebox is a band you must hear, consider how this ensemble can move a crowd of rap and hip-hop enthusiasts. This happened to be the case at the New Music Seminar during the performance nights, when Juicebox performed next to hip-hop artists, Dylan Owen, M Bars, and Lanz Pierce at Tammany Hall on the Lower East Side, on June 9th. Speaking to the group, I learned that although hip-hop might be very different stylistically from funk and soul, these two genres have something in common. Nick explains:

“All of the hip-hop artists sampled records we listened to. That’s what first got me to listen all of that stuff [soul], I would listen to [hip-hop] songs on the radio and I figured out the samples turned out to be my favorite parts. When I heard a sample from Stevie Wonder in a song, I would go and listen to the original song by Stevie Wonder.”

Returning to the show, Lisa said, “Everybody loved our show… With a foundation like that, you can’t go wrong. It was a hit.”

I then asked myself, which soul artist presented an example for Juicebox, and what have they done to move that influence forward? What is the most important element within soul for this band? Finally, how do they fit in today’s music scene while remaining distinct?

It turns out the name Juicebox, pays homage to one of Nick’s personal idols, James Brown. Aaron Rockers, the trumpet player within the band, suggested the name and it clicked.

“In his [James Brown’s] band,” stated Nick, “all the instrumentalists called themselves the JB’s, and we look up to them. So then, we thought about Juicebox and felt it was really cool.

“We went through many names and thought, ‘oh that doesn’t feel right.’ Then Juicebox immediately felt right, and with the type of music we had, it [the name] makes sense. Plus, it makes everyone feel positive when they say then name.”

Personally, I don’t see how anybody can ever get angry saying the word juice box. In regards to music, I don’t recall a moment where a person got angry saying the word soul. Soul is supposed to make you feel good. Nick adds, “that’s what we’re about.”

Juicebox at the New Yorker Hotel Jamie then entered the conversation with his thoughts about Juicebox’s performance practice – “Another crazy thing about the band is that they are in different settings and it’s kind of like a chameleon. When we play live, we will have a different vibe, whether it is one for a dinner club or bar. We’ve also played acoustic sets.”

“It’s going to be much different than when we play at Rockwood,” adds Isaac, “where we put the pedal to the metal, beat one and we hit the crowd. Then, it’s like ‘Wow! Did that just happen?’

“I think that’s where all the time we put in playing in different jazz bands… [and] whether we played in a club about 100 times… we are still improvising… we’re trying to be fresh.”

Nick concludes, “I think that is an important part of what we do. I think every time I listened to a James Brown record, he rearranged his theme at every live performance.”

Juicebox rightfully recognizes the JB’s, and they find great comfort in incorporating the music element that attracts the group to soul and funk – improvisation. So, what is Juicebox doing differently from the other bands I have interviewed thus far? The answer is this, they read the audience.

Depending on the setting, Juicebox will slightly improvise certain elements within their songs to match the tone of their performance settings. Juicebox’s has mastered this into a winning strategy.

“We put in a lot of work learning how to win over the club,” explains Isaac. “You walk up on stage, and you see people [in the audience] eating dinner, talking to their girlfriend, or doing whatever. You have to start small and figure out how you are going to get your ‘in’ with them, and have them listen to you. That’s all we really want, is to play music people want to listen to.”

Isaac adds, “We’re getting to the point right now that, when we walk on stage, people automatically think “I am going to have a moment with this.” That I feel is a real privilege and I’m really thrilled. That makes me happier than anything else.”

As all marketers know, word-of-mouth is the best form of promotion. When listeners start feeling this way about a band, the word spreads. When the word spreads, the possibility of an A&R representative or a music producer attending a concert increases. Lisa attests that in this industry, the chances of getting accepted within this industry is very opportunity-based.

“Someone saw us and recognized us. Everyone here, and out there, understands how hard that is, and it is a matter of someone who came to see you, and maybe they liked you, and then maybe they will talk to somebody who will maybe look at your stuff. With all of those things happening, we just feel really honored.”

While for many bands, this career path is full of a lot of maybes, one thing that will always be definite for Juicebox – they will always give their listeners an unforgettable show and music that will move them. According to Isaac, dancing is a level below talking, the internalization of music listening.

“If it hits people there, when they are dancing and they feel it, then I know we did a good job.”

Nick adds, “My personal goal is to leave fans completely speechless.”

Based on fans’ testimonials, Juicebox has accomplished what both Nick and Isaac want. Fans have given testimonials like “Can’t stop moving,” and “[They] murdered it. Oh my God, so funky,” just to name a few.

Juicebox will now continue to bring more great music to audiences with a second album and a second tour which are supposed to peak sometime this Fall. Keep your eyes peeled on their website or Facebook Page for updates.

If you do visit their website and listen to their music, I will say this Lisa’s voice is powerful within all the songs. What makes me remember this group the most is how the instruments come into the forefront with the singer, they are not just accompaniments. I wondered whether Juicebox treated the human voice as an instrument, or the instruments as voices.

“Personally,” began Lisa, “I am not Ella Fitzgerald. She is a natural horn. I can’t say I am a horn but, I can say in body movement, I play every instrument. I consider our band to be an act, a function of different people. Everybody has a chance to shine. I think we are all a bunch of instruments.”

Isaac enters, “I think it’s interesting because, for a long time, all the music I wrote was instrumental. Then, when the shift came, I gave Lisa some words to sing, and that changed the way I wrote songs, and in a really good way.”

“Yeah,” agree Nick and Jamie.

Isaac continues, “I think it [the voice] really made the instrumental parts deeper… and they reflected what was happening in the voice. So, I think there is an important separation there.”

“I think it brings the instruments closer to the vocal side, which positively influences the way we play… They are not meeting, but they definitely inform each other, and that really helps along the way,” adds Nick. Juicebox at the New Yorker, on June 10th, 2014

Isaac intercepts, “I was going to say, there is something really satisfying when you’ve got this idea built in the melody within the horns, and then Lisa delivers a lyric that makes everyone fall on their head, and set up the delivery. That’s really satisfying.”

“I’m glad we’re having this interview,” responds Lisa.

So there it is. In addition to Juicebox’s successful delivery of soul and funk, and improvisational music that is sometimes missing in today’s popular music scene; this group makes sure that everybody has a chance to shine. Just like the JB’s, this band relies on all instruments equally to deliver a great piece of music. Yes, they might say the instruments and the voice complement each other within the music, but nobody here is an accompanist.

At the moment, electronic pop seems to come to everyone’s mind when they hear the word “dance music.” Juicebox is plugged-in and they constantly master the craft of live performance as opposed to relying on automated technology. The only drawback is this group still has a small audience. The right exposure, however, and additional time to increase their fan base might be the next step in spreading Juicebox’s soul and funk onto the modern scene.