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Soul and the City 2 | Soul and the city



Soul and the City #2 - "The Turkey adventure"

Have you ever had one of those moments when an unusual opportunity has come your way, and while uncertain of its outcome you decide that it is a chance worth taking? Well, I am writing this while returning from one of those unusual opportunities.

I received a call about a month ago requesting that I contract two singers as well as myself to travel to Istanbul. I know, I know I thought the same thing Turkey?

So after some back-and-forth negotiations, and a few weeks of "This just ain't gonna happen," fate decided that three soulful singers from New York City should go and sing with Turkey's most famous pop singer, Zerrin Ozer. We knew nothing of her popularity in the country except what had been shared via email and phone calls. We tried to do a little research via the internet but didn't find a lot of information, but when are you ever going to get another chance to see that part of the world for free, and get to perform with a Turkish diva? We were quite happy setting off for our Turkish adventure, spending time in the beautiful city of Istanbul, making a great salary, and singing songs we heard as kids growing up: Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," James Brown's "Get On Up," and even a funky gospel Aretha Franklin version of the Beatles "Let it Be." On top of that, Zerrin would be able to get the soulful sound she wanted.

Well, once the gig was secured, I made a few phone calls and I was able to contract Kemba Francis, and my good friend Biti Strauchn (for those who read last month's Soul and the City, you will remember she is the sistah who served up that amazing pear). Both are wonderful singers with very warm and soulful voices, and great musicians as well.

Kemba worked with me on some of my tour dates, and was there when I was putting together my first show with my band, Mood Control. So I was happy to offer her a gig that would allow her to see Istanbul. I also knew the blend would be great with Kemba and I could depend on her to hold down her vocal parts. Kemba is a solid singer, the kind of singer who knows how to give you the sound you need. She is also an amazing songwriter.

Biti is one of the main voices you hear on "Afro Blue My Mind," a funky cut from my CD Enter My Mind. She and I have been singing and enjoying each other for a while, but this is the first time we would be on the road together. Biti is an awesome talent, a ball of fire, and she is really nice to watch on stage, so I knew Biti would be able to give Zerrin just what she needed.

So off to Instabul we go not quite sure of what lies ahead but ready for the adventure nonetheless.

We are greeted at the airport by our wonderful stage manager Ahu and our road manager Onur ( Ahu's younger brother). They are very happy to see us and we quite exhausted and ready for bed ( it is noon there, 5:00 am in New York!) are happy to see them as well. Onur is very excited to show us beautiful Istanbul, but this of course must begin with a meal, and a great meal it was. After lunch he shows us some of the sites, and treats us to Turkish ice cream, which was the BOMB!!! Onur is ready for more sightseeing but we are barely able to keep our eyes open, so we beg him: "Please take us to the hotel!" He agrees and quickly reminds us that we have to be ready for the boat ride in three hours!!! This is where we will meet Zerrin and the press.

After a wonderful boat ride up and down the beautiful city of Istanbul, we make it back to the hotel and get some sleep.

While rehearsing the next day, I look around at the wonderful people involved in the concert. All but four are Turkish the three soulful singers from NYC, and the percussionist a brutha from Cuba bringing rhythm that's straight from Mutha Africa. That is the way the brutha desrcibed it and played it!

As the band is groovin' on "Sex Machine," I got to thinking: "What is it about the musical souls of Black folk that allows us to stay on the scene?"

Some argue that it is in the blood of Black people, just something we are inherently born with. And of course there is the thought that because Blacks have suffered so much we sing from our place of pain and struggle. Then there is the good old raw, natural talent theory Black people just open their mouths and sing!

These points may hold some validity for some, but I hope to help you understand that there is certainly more going on in the soul of Black music.

The notion that soulful singing is in the blood of all Black folk doesn't always hold true. In my family as well as among my friends, there are many who cannot carry a tune. Not to mention that we now live in a time when singing in tune is not even a requirement for many contemporary R&B, gospel, and soul singers. Oftentimes it is the producers funky track that gets the song over, or a good video with lots of eye candy to distract us, and even emotional cries, moans, and shouting are mistaken for good soulful singing. Emotion is only a part of good singing the musicality of the singer is just as important, and it requires work!

Yes, of course we know that the effects of the African slave trade still linger within the Black soul today, and we still carry and work through spiritual, emotional, psychological, and mental scars. But are we the only group of people who have suffered? Can that be the only reason that James Brown is the funkiest brutha to step on the planet? Can that be the only reason that Charlie Parker could drop reharmonizations over changes that still have us shaking our heads? Is that the only reason that Rachelle Farrell can be so deep in the groove yet make you over with her beautiful tones? I don't think so there has to be something more at work here.

Which brings me to my next point: raw, natural talent is Creator-given, but one must master that talent through dedication, commitment, and hard work. I say all of this to say that the musical soul of Black folk stays on the scene because there are those who take on this challenge. Am I a bit heavy-handed here with the subject? Perhaps, but just don't take my word for it do a little research...

Go listen to the sounds of James Brown, Prince, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Pevin Everett, Roy Ayers, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Amel Larrieux, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Caron Wheeler, Patrice Rushen, Julie Dexter, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Ohio Players, Mint Condition, Gladys Knight, Betty Wright, and Sandra St. Victor !!!! This is a good starting point, a musical path that will lead you to many wonderful treasures.

So after rehearsing, sightseeing, shopping, eating, and making new friends it is show time. The lights go up, the announcement is made, and with all the pain, raw talent, and genius that is a part of us, we, three Black soulful singers, take our places onstage to sing with the wonderful Zerrin Ozer in beautiful Istanbul, Turkey.

We are about three hours from arriving at JFK Airport in New York. My voice is tired and worn from no sleep and being on the road promoting my CD prior to the Zerrin Ozer gig. A wonderful nine-year-old girl named Beria sits next to me and keeps me company. She doesn't want me to sleep because she wants to talk to me about her summer visit to see her grandparents in Corlu, Turkey. I listen and am so fascinated by her. I discover she is making the trip back to the States by herself. We play a few card games, watch a movie and discuss her favorite gift from her grandparents, a toy cat named Cotton. She is smart, friendly, and so grown up! Yeah, life is really good for this musical soul trying to stay on the scene...Peace!

More Soul and the city:

Soul and the city #1 - Stand clear of the closing doors
Soul and the city #2 - The Turkey adventure
Soul and the city #3 - Mr. In Between
Soul and the city #4 - Cold Industry
Soul and the city #5 - Reminiscence
Soul and the city #6 - Big Ole Nap
Soul and the city #7 - The Good Life
Soul and the city #8 - Tortured Soul
Soul and the city #9 - A Change Is Gonna Come
Soul and the city #10 - Spring In NYC
Soul and the City #11 - "Luther"

More info about special crew member Marlon Saunders:
SaveOurSoul interview with Marlon Saunders
Jazzhole SaveOurSoul artist of the Month


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