One of the UK’s originators of Nu Soul music by Juliet Edwards
Don-E is synonymous as a pioneer of the UK’s underground Soul music scene. His potent album ‘Unbreakable’ of 1992 was categorised as a standard of Neo Soul and with his many influences and extensive repertoire, he is renowned for his collaborations with the artist, Omar as masters of that genre. Born to Jamaican and Barbadian parents in the UK, Don-E explains that he had the influences to be a star from a young age. “Well, there wasn’t anything else I really wanted to do. I remember from an early age telling my mum that I had dreams where I could see a stage; I could hear music and I could hear people clapping”. At the age of fifteen, he was already playing keyboards, drums and bass guitar. “My first experience of touring was when we played the drums with a steel band called ‘Lambeth Community Youth Service’ (LCYS). It was there that I met with the writer of ‘Baby Father’, Patrick Augustus. He was playing for the older set called ‘Silver Echoes’. He was like a mentor to me then”.
So, as an accomplished international musician with so many influences; where does he position himself now? “When we first came out, we were described as Neo Soul. In the first place, I would not have necessarily put myself in that category; it would have been just Soul with Reggae influences and now it’s more versatile, more ‘Ragga Soul’. If I play to Americans, they call it ‘Caribbean Soul. I suppose they can smell the ‘jerk chicken, rice and peas’ influence; it’s a different flex”. This multi-talented singer, producer and musician have explored all genres of music but he admits that Reggae is still a major influence on his work, even now. “For me, Reggae and Lovers Rock has always been a big part, if anything, artists like Bob Marley, Carol Thompson, Sugar Minott and Dennis Brown were my biggest influences.
My dad was a Preacher so I had a lot of other influences like Mahalia Jackson, Pat Boone, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Dr Hook and Parliament”. As he developed as a musician and in production, he also teamed up with another family member, his cousin, R&B singer Beverley Knight. Don’s fascinated by the different sounds and instruments produced in the studio and just by his personality and his experimental sounds, you can tell that he tests and draws out as much energy as that equipment would allow. “Yes, so the next time someone comes in the studio, like when I was recording Mica Paris with her massive voice, I can know what to do. It was interesting to see what you have to do to capture her voice and what effect it has on the equipment’’!
With his background, where is he more comfortable as a musician? “For me, I feel more relaxed, more at home in the studio; there’s no camera, there’s more space to create so, I can do what I do”. After his extensive travels, is there any collective memories encompassing his experience? “Well, only that it is what you see; people are people everywhere you go; like in New York, in Eastern Europe, Romania. The ghetto is the same wherever you go. The same issues, different people”. Since his first single, ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ (1992), Don has worked tirelessly from the ‘90s to the present. Whilst he worked on production and song-writing with various artists such as Lauryn Hill, Omar, D’Angelo, Mica Paris, the late Lynden David Hall and Shaun Escoffery, he eventually released his much heralded debut album ‘Unbreakable’ late 1992 on Island Records (Fourth & Broadway). The jazzy mixture of Ragga, Funk and Soul had brought the spotlight on the new scene that had signified the birth of the smooth R&B, UK Soul and Reggae influenced melee and he still the enjoys cult underground following today. “I’ve spent so many years in the studio but, I feel I have so much work that’s not been released yet. It’s more like an open university, I have started but I haven’t finished”!
The US Neo Soul Star
Stacie Orrico made her music industry debut aged twelve and recorded the hit album ‘Genuine’ which, went Gold in the Christian music market. Promptly signed by Virgin a couple of years later, she was transformed into the latest Pop princess with two massive hits ‘(There’s Gotta Be) More To Life’ and ‘Stuck’ off the back of a successful 3.4 million selling album. However, the pressures and demands of the industry at such a young age had a detrimental effect on the teenager that saw her run into a few personal problems including an eating disorder. At this low state, there was no real alternative but to totally withdraw from the industry. She settled back into ‘normal’ family life and eventually moved to LA to be with her sister. Her musical taste buds were re-ignited and she started song-writing embarking on recording the sophomore set ‘Beautiful Awakening’.
THAT WAS WELL OVER THREE YEARS AGO…!! And, guess what? After three years of, as far as we're aware, virtually no air-play in the UK, recently ‘deejays in the know’ have picked up on this outstanding album and is rinsing the hell out of the Neo Soul magnum opus of ‘Take Me Away’. My favourite track is ‘I Can’t Give It Up’…. and, can you believe it, I remember introducing this cut to someone and he has now turned round and cheekily asked if I knew who sang ‘Take Me Away’! Anyway…, just to gloat a little more… I’ve decided to post this article up here as Stacie truly deserves some more recognition and I’m hoping by doing this that one of the major labels will give this set a re-release…!! Check the internet, try and find this album and enjoy..!!
Neo Soul Sista Number One
Ever since her breakthrough on the fertile R&B scene in 1997 when she teamed up with Devox on ‘Everyday’ (a smooth sophisticated Rare Groove styled song she co-wrote with D’Angelo that featured on the Money Talks soundtrack), one distinctively knew that this classy lady had Soul! Around the same time, the maestro D’Angelo was kicking up a storm with the track ‘Brown Sugar’ and of course, our fascination grew intensely when rumour had it that he was talking about his Soul Sista, Angie. By the time she dropped her debut album ‘Black Diamond’ in 1999 (containing the aforementioned track plus the magnum opus ‘No More Rain’), we sensed that we were witnessing an R&B evolution as during that time, there came a sudden influx of Rare Groove artisans who took their music back to the old school where smooth melodies driven by live instruments were key. Justifiably, all eyes were firmly fixed on the Lady of Soul when she released her compelling sophomore set ‘Mahogany Soul’ in 2001, unquestionably the ‘album of that year’. Joints like ‘Mad Issues’, ‘Brotha’ and ‘Snowflakes’ expressly became standards in what was then being moulded as Nu Skool, yet another Soul sub-genre that catered for the needs the connoisseur requiring a fresher approach to their music.
The Nu Skool persuasion morphed into Nu Soul and then Neo Soul as it is now readily referred to and there is none better to represent the coolest output of R&B than Angie Stone! And whilst most may have exhausted their limited scope when it comes to producing fine music, into 2010, the Neo Soul Sista Number One has just got started as she flings down her umpteenth set with a vengeance! The consummate and brightly polished ‘Unexpected’ is as good as it gets conjuring up sweet dreams of long summery days, the gentle rush of fresh sea breeze, champagne on ice and all that finesse. Yes, this is the kind of enchanting music that I love to kick back to and so should you! What? Haven’t you got the album??