Category Archives: international musician

Drumming with Destiny: Sick Mystic’s Zhenya Prokopenko’s Musical Journey to Success

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Drummer Zhenya Prokopenko shot by Andrey Ivlev

You may know him as the unmistakably fierce drummer from the Californian rock band Sick Mystic, but Zhenya Prokopenko is also a world class producer and songwriter, with 25 years of experience recording, performing and touring. One of the biggest and most in-demand musicians in Russia and Ukraine, it’s hard to believe that he could have had a very different career path had the fates not stepped in.

He was born in Belgorod, Russia in 1983, and despite excelling in his percussion classes at school, Zhenya Prokopenko didn’t choose to be a drummer – drumming chose him. At the tender age of 11, he had a date with destiny and unwittingly joined a neighbourhood band on the premise that he would simply remain “devoted” to the band. The rest, as they say, is history…

“They didn’t have a drummer yet. No one in the band was a decent musician, so requirements for me were minimal, just agree and be devoted,” Prokopenko recalled. “But we were all so inspired by the idea of our own band that everyone started taking lessons in order to play their instruments. We started to practice and rehearse regularly playing cover songs of our favorite bands and composing our own music.”

Rocking out to cover songs in the dank and unglamorous surroundings of a garage are where all the greats start – and Prokopenko followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest musicians of all. Having gone on to play with some of the best known acts within the two countries, including Quest Pistols, 4POST, Libido, Velvet and Lera Lera, lovers of pop rock music throughout Russia and Ukraine will immediately recognize him as one of today’s great drummers.

Music was always prevalent in the Prokopenko household. While his parents were more into pop music, the moment he discovered the spine-tingling riffs of Metallica, his true passion for rock music came out giving him a direction in which to build his own skill.

He says, “As I got older I was introduced to hard rock and heavy metal music. I remember the moment when I listened to the CD ‘And Justice For All’ by Metallica and realized that was my kind of music as it had lots of power, energy and a strong vibes.”

With undeniable passion for rock music, Prokopenko worked hard to perfect his skill on the drums at an early age, which has endowed him with a powerful, punchy, and solid groove based playing style.

“Drums were my first and the only true love. Of course as I was training and growing as a musician I learned other instruments, but drums for me are forever and ever,” Prokopenko admits.

“The first thing you hear when you listen to any modern track is a drum beat. You just can’t miss it. It’s powerful, loud and beautiful to me. When I was young I was always attracted to the magic a drummer creates. It was absolutely incredible to me how they play. I was much more interested in the drummer than the frontman.”

Zhenya Prokopenko
Zhenya Prokopenko shot by Sergey Naumov

Regardless of his intentions to blend into the background however, the spotlight seems to have followed him, and the recognition too. As the drummer of a number of celebrated bands over the past two decades, Prokopenko has accrued an illustrious reputation as a sought after drummer. In 2009 he was chosen to be the drummer for the band Lera Lera, the solo project from famous actress and singer Valeria Kozlova, who become an teen icon as a member of the massively popular Russian pop rock bands Ranetki and 5sta Family.

“When we were creating the project Lera Lera, we had been looking for musicians who would be able to be a star along with the frontman. Zhenya fully met the criteria,” said Lera Lera tour manager Yuri Fedorov.  “Filigree precision and very spectacular technique of musicianship, the whole appearance and unique charisma made him a special part of the show. He’s like Tommy Lee or Kate Moon in that sense.”

With Prokopenko by her side, Kozlova was named Singer of the Year by RU.TV in 2010, and in 2011 Lera Lera was awarded the Gold Bravo Statue. At the same time Prokopenko was also serving as a key member of the band Velvet, a pop rock act that would go on to earn major celebrity status in Russia. Spending 27 weeks on the Russian Radio charts where it held onto the No.1 spot with a firm grip, the song ‘Forgive’ would earn them a Golden Gramophone Award, as well as a Best Song Award nomination at the MUZ TV Awards. The awards continued to roll in for Prokopenko.

Not one to stay idle, Prokopenko added another act to his name when he joined the band 4POST in 2011. Maintaining a recognizable position in the spotlight, while playing with 4POST Prokopenko and the band were nominated for Best New Band at the RU.TV Awards and Best Pop Rock Band at the Real Music Box Awards. Quickly becoming celebrities on a global scale, 4POST proved to be a tough contender in the national qualifying competition to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest where they earned 6th place, and InStyle magazine would later award them a Royal People Award for the work organizing charity concerts for the youth in Russia.

One career highlight Prokopenko has under his belt, that few others in the world can claim, is having the honor of playing at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi with his drum show Drum Cast alongside Russian celebrity Mitya Fomin. Fast forward to 2018 and Propenko is now devoting all of his time and energy into his new project in the states, the alternative rock band Sick Mystic.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Sick Mystic sprung up in 2016 with the promise of delivering original music and excellent sound, and they have definitely not disappointed their growing fanbase. The band may be new to the music scene, but what they lack in history they make up for with their unrivalled potential and drive – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed either as their promo tracks have already received a lot of positive feedback. To top it off, their social media interest is growing by the second, ‘Music Connection’ magazine has raved about the band, and they will even get their chance to shine on the Frosty, Heidi and Frank show on 95.5 KLOS. But perhaps most excitingly of all, Sick Mystic is releasing a brand new album, and they’re currently planning their US tour for next year. Needless to say 2019 is going to be huge for Sick Mystic and Zhenya Prokopenko, so keep your ears tuned to the music.

 

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An Interview with Indie Rock Band Migrant Motel & Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee

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David Stewart Jr. (left) & Chava (right) of Migrant Motel shot by Ernesto Stewart

We recently had a chance to catch up with Norwegian music producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee, and rock and roll power duo David Stewart Jr (vocals, bass, guitar) and Chava (drums, live loops) of the band Migrant Motel, for an interview on their collaboration and upcoming releases.

As a producer Peder draws upon a wide range of skills to help shape and co-create projects with the bands and artists he produces. A highly trained multi-instrumentalist and brilliant songwriter who’s known for his work on a lengthy repertoire of hits, such as Nico Farias’ single ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren,’ which took home the Song of the Year Award from the 2015 Latin Billboard Awards, Peder’s passion for experimentation and innovation has been key in the success of many artists.

Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee
Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winters

As much as Peder brings a diverse range of influences into his work as a producer, so do the guys of Migrant Motel. With David Stewart Jr. coming from Peru, and Chava hailing from Mexico, they’re collaboration emits a heavy rock and roll sound that is made even more intriguing by the modern synths, musical arrangement and various cultural influences.

Released last year, Migrant Motel’s album “Volume One,” which Peder produced, offers everything from hard-hitting power ballads and wailing guitar solos through songs such as ‘Snapshot’ to more jazz and blues driven songs like ‘Bottleman.’ Likened to a modern version of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way,’ their powerful single ‘New Religion’ appears on top Spotify rock playlists, such as Dirty Rock and New Noise. A strong and compelling first album that brings in elements of the old and the new, “Volume One” showcases the band’s musical range and magnetic energy, not to mention their potent lyrics.

While some artists can strike it big on their own, most artists who ‘make it,’ whether they’re in the art or music industry, having a visionary backing them like producer Peder Etholm-Idsoe. Someone who sees the bigger picture and acts as a force to ground, inspire and fuel the creative collaboration, makes a world of difference in an artist’s career, and that’s exactly what we see through this collaboration.

Thanks for joining us guys!

First, Peder can you tell us what you feel makes a great producer?

PE: The ability to be as versatile as possible. Always be open to new genres and experiment as much as possible outside of your own comfort zone of genres.  It is easy to make the decisions that you are used to and you know come easy for you, which works of course for a while, but at one point you will plateau your own development and that’s a huge point with music for me, it is always developing.

When did you guys first start working together?

PE: We started or collaboration a little over two years ago now. I saw them play at a club back in Boston, Massachusetts and decided to approach them after their set to word my enthusiasm about the band, and that I would love to collab with them.

How did you know you were the right fit for one another as artist and producer?

MM: After working on one song, “Blue,” we realized the chemistry and final product was unlike anything we’d ever done before. We immediately signed him on for a full album and dove into work.

PE: I truly enjoyed the experience after the first song we did together. Working with raw talent like these guys is always a pleasure for a producer.

Would you say Peder had a pretty strong role in shaping the direction of ‘Volume One’?

MM: Absolutely! Without his help, I don’t think we would have the success that we’re having right now. He was quintessential in the development of our sound, look and vibe.

When did you guys sign with InGrooves and how did that come about?

MM: Our manager Marya Meyer knew of InGrooves for a while and when it was time to choose a distribution method, they seemed like an obvious choice. We met a few times and really enjoyed their energy and enthusiasm for our work, so we signed off on a 3 year deal with them. It’s been a great add to the team.

Migrant Motel
Migrant Motel shot by Ernesto Stewart

I hear you have some music videos coming out for two songs off the debut album ‘Volume One’– can you tell us about those?

MM: We have re-releases planned for “Bourbon” and “Physical,” a couple very fun videos for each. There’s still a lot of life in this album that we wanna make sure to explore before moving on to new material.

What other projects do you have planned for the coming months?

MM: We have 3 brand new singles already plotted out with Peder, all of which we are extremely excited about. We can’t wait to share and give more details in the coming months.

As their producer, what was the collaboration like on the new songs?

PE: One word. Fun! Since we are so used to too working together it makes the creative process really fluid. And we trust each other when someone wants to “take a risk” with a musical decision, because 99% of the time it really works out.

Can you guys tell us a little bit about the music videos you have coming out for these songs?

MM: It’ll be a wide range since the 3 songs are vastly different. One may or may not include some very RuPaul inspired themes however! We are working with Christian Klein, a cinematographer based in LA, and his team, and are in the midst of pre-production now.

When are they expected drop?

MM: Sometime mid winter

Peder, how do you fit into the mix when it comes to ideas and the process of creating the music videos for Migrant Motel?

PE: The guys usually bounces ideas during our sessions about music video ideas which makes the whole product really well thought out. It makes the whole project really coherent.

How has working with Peder changed the game for you guys as a band since you first began working together?

MM: Thanks to Peder’s contributions in a technical and artist aspect, we’ve reached almost half a million streams on Spotify, opened for bands like Journey and Cafe Tacuba, and are preparing to tour internationally this year. Working with Peder has ABSOLUTELY changed the game for us.

Migrant Motel
Migrant Motel shot by Ernesto Stewart

Why do you enjoy working together?

MM: Peder’s ability to be creative and artistic within his production is something I haven’t seen from anyone else. His fluidity on a technical level is astounding but, above all, the care and passion he brings to each second of every song is what we look for in a great producer.

PE: The natural talent and passion the guys are bringing to the table is a really amazing motivator to “bring your best” to every session, which makes the whole process really fun every time.  Also that David and Chava are some of the nicest and caring people you will meet doesn’t hurt either.

Make sure to checkout Migrant Motel’s social media page to stay up to date with their new releases:

http://www.migrantmotel.com
https://www.facebook.com/migrantmotel/

Sound Engineer Josué Catalán Discusses Hit Singles and What Can Be Expected in 2018

To this day, somewhere just over 1,250 micro-genres of popular music have been named. They’ve played a huge role in helping to describe and classify different albums and songs, and in doing so, have allowed both listeners and musicians to easily identify and categorize their preferred musical styles.

Renowned sound engineer, Josué Catalán, has experience with mixing and mastering music from a multitude of genres. This versatile experience has aided in Catalán’s growth as an artist, which in recent years has contributed to the success of two major hit singles: Pegadito a Mi Piel and Cuando La Historia Cambie, both released in 2017. Furthermore, due to his vast practice, Catalán’s been able to isolate a few of his favorite genres to work within, too.

“I have two favorite genres of music,” Catalán informed, “POP and Jazz. I love how each one represents a world on its own, and I learn a lot every time I get to work on a POP or Jazz production.”

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Josué Catalán recording at Studio 57 Pro

The song Pegadito a Mi Piel, which Catalán mixed and mastered, is a song that falls within one of the sound engineer’s two favored genres: POP. Sung by Chilean POP artist Dani Ilabel and produced by Max Donoso and Manuel Burgos, Pegadito a Mi Piel translates to “Close to my skin,” and is a song of romance. It took Catalán a total of just three days to have the final product complete and ready to be delivered to TVN (Televisión Nacional de Chile) Records, the well-known label the single was signed by.

“The main challenge while mixing and mastering this particular song was finding a certain attitude to give the sound that could make it stand out from the typical romantic ballad,” Catalán explained. “I tried to impart some character by adding subtle distortion and delivered nuances that made the sound be forward and dynamic.”

Part of what makes Catalán so uniquely brilliant when it comes to his work is his fearlessness when it comes to taking risks with sound. Anyone can learn how to engineer, but it takes a truly exceptional kind of person, one who’s willing to gamble the possibility of failure, to obtain the attention-seeking type of success Catalán has proved himself more than capable of attaining. Producer Donoso supported this thought, stating, “Josué’s the person you go to because you know he’ll make your music sound better. Not only is he the kind of engineer that knows how to translate engineering into music, which makes him so easy to work with, but he’s also not afraid of taking musical/engineering risks. His mixes tend to bring an edge to projects that helps them to stand out among the ever-crowded universe of music productions.”

Such success also goes hand in hand with working amongst a team of talented individuals, who also happen to deeply care about professionalism and camaraderie within the workplace. Not only have Catalán, Donoso, and Ilabel worked as a unit on Pegadito a Mi Piel, but they’ve also collaborated on several tracks and albums together. “When you work with talented people who also care about teamwork, work ethics, and human relationships, it’s hard not to learn and see yourself grow. Working with Max has showed me that big challenges must be taken step by step and that nothing is impossible in terms of dreams and vision. He taught me to value simple things in music; an honest song will resonate better with the audience, and actually, that’s something one can even relate to life,” Catalán elaborated.

While Pegadito a Mi Piel was the first of songs that Catalán mixed and mastered to be aired on national television, it certainly wasn’t the last. In fact, some of the most notorious tracks the trio has worked on together have been featured on multiple shows of the main Chilean TV channel, TVN. It was, however, Pegadito a Mi Piel’s great success which opened new doors for young singer Ilabel. Not only was the single used as the main soundtrack for the 2017 soap opera La Colombiana starring Felipe Braun, Elizabeth Minotta, and María José Illanes, but it was also named one of the 50 most viral songs in Chile on Spotify for two weeks, ultimately reaching second place on the list.

In simple terms, as Catalán puts it, “A successful song can position an artist so that he or she can spark interest of the label or producers that are managing the artist.” And, this is exactly what the finished product Pegadito a Mi Piel did.

Currently, there is another Ilabel single that will also be mixed and mastered by Catalán in the works. While an official release date is still to be determined, one can remain on the lookout for the song as it is set to be titled Cuenta Conmigo (Count on Me). Ilabel’s latest single that was mixed and mastered by Catalán, Eres Mi Otra Mitad (You Are My Better Half), was released quite recently, and has been airing on TV for about three months now.

Branching out some from the familiar and favorited territory of the POP music genre, Catalán contributed to yet another hit single this past year: The Country-Rock single Cuando La Historia Cambie sung by the famed Jano Letelier.

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Josué Catalán recording Jano Letelier’s single Cuando La Historia Cambie

Cuando La Historia Cambie is a powerful song that speaks of the injustice and wracked government system in Chile. Elaborating on the subject he’s quite familiar with, Catalán explained, “Chile, because of the military dictatorship in the 70-80s, is one of the most “Neoliberal” countries in the world. Everything is private and the system encourages social and economic inequality. People have to wait six months to get an appointment with a doctor in the public system. Meanwhile, the private hospitals are like luxury hotels and are very expensive. Also, people are retiring with pensions not greater than 10% of their former income, and this is a system managed by private companies. And these are just a few examples of what is going on within the country.”

The compelling and fresh production of Cuando La Historia Cambie was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Catalán, and has been transmitted by several online radio stations, including as the Todos Junto Radio, as well as FM radios such as Radio Futuro, one of the largest Rock and Blues radio stations in all of Chile.

“The first time I heard Cuando LA Historia Cambie on Radio Futuro, I felt so proud and excited and was full of adrenaline. I am proud of having worked on delivering the powerful message of the song to tons of people through one of the biggest radio stations in the country,” Catalán reminisced.

Contributing to the overall production of the single was drummer Arturo Salinas, bass player Sebastian Cordova, and studio assistant Nicolas Moris.

Prior to entering the recording studio, the team had prepared the songs and all ideas, resulting in a smooth process of production.  The band was recorded live with all musicians playing at the same time, and the final mix of the song was listened to repeatedly until Catalán and Letelier were certain they’d achieved a flawless sound.

“Josue’s preparation, responsibility, good hearing, and good will to work makes him very good at what he does,” Letelier commented. Catalán’s great ear for sound quality and comprehensive talent for engineering was also noticed by several radio listeners; After Cuando La Historia Cambie first aired on a radio show, Catalán instantly received praising comments comparing the sound quality of Letelier’s song to various others of the same style that were aired among his on the station that day. Adding to her previous words, Letelier concluded, “When working with him, you can see that he is happy doing what he loves and puts his positive energy into the projects.”

Presently, Catalán has mixed two additional Jano Letelier singles that are set to be released in early 2018, along with an entire album that should see the light by mid 2018. “The new album is a fresh view of Chilean music based mainly on blues and rock. It serves as an example of the talent that we have in Chile and will bring many different topics to the table in a very honest and powerful way,” Catalán shared. “Jano’s vision of Chilean music is very unique yet very representative of the national scene. The whole process of working with him has been very educative.”

 

For more information on Josué Catalán, please visit: www.josuecatalan.com
To listen to Pegadito a Mi Piel, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-SzcAHUHek
To listen to Cuando La Historia Cambie, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6E3mIjDZBw

Drummer Ivan Copelli remains humble in his rise to fame

When hard rock musician, Ivan Copelli, began drumming as a young child, he had no idea of the impact it would have on the rest of his life. For the Brazilian-native, it was all about tending to the passion inside him and exploring himself through his music. The now wildly successful artist is used to other aspiring professional musicians asking him for the secrets to his success, but for Copelli, it is simple. He understands that regardless of whether or not you can be classed as a “good” musician or a “bad” one, you owe it to yourself to just keep playing.

As he earned success in his career, after playing with the hit Brazilian band Motores, he learned the true value of remaining true to yourself and to your original sound. He has mastered the ability to market himself effectively and ensure that he doesn’t allow major companies or record labels to take advantage of his purity as an artist. His art is his business and he works tirelessly to grow it wherever possible. He also recognizes that today, with the power of the internet, it is easier than ever before to educate yourself and keep yourself busy. There is no excuse to give up on what you love to do most.

After achieving a series of accomplishments with Motores, including winning MTV Rally’s fierce competition in 2007, Copelli was approached by another up-and-coming Brazilian band, Kiara Rocks. He was familiar with the band’s sound and had attended their shows on several occasions. The band’s lead singer, Cadu Pelegrini, was eager to work with Copelli when he heard that he had left Motores. He wanted a drummer that would attract the attention of a larger audience and to boost the band’s visibility in the industry. Fortunately, Copelli’s work with Motores positioned him well above other drummers of his kind and Pelegrini knew that his contributions to Kiara Rocks would be invaluable. Copelli jumped at the opportunity to lend his talents to the band and it was the beginning of something new and exciting for his already esteemed career.

What Copelli ended up enjoying most about playing with Kiara Rocks, however, was touring around the world and being able to share the band’s music to new audiences in new areas on a daily basis. “For the three years that I played with them, we spent most of our weekends on tour, playing in different cities and states, making new friends, and growing our fan base. We were very close as a band. We didn’t even need to look at each other when we were on stage to know what everyone was doing. We were so connected,” said Copelli.

Copelli’s ability to not only adapt himself to the style of the band he is playing with, but to enhance their sound is what makes him such a highly sought after addition to every project he is asked to work on. After Kiara Rocks appeared on the successful Brazilian web series, Showlivre.com, producer Clemente Nascimento realized just how intangible Copelli’s skills are.

“Across his time with the group, he provided expertise as a top tier drummer. He also appeared in a number of the band’s virally popular music videos. Specifically, in his role as the drummer for the band, he kept the rhythm solid and consistent and while his work does not overshadow the tones of his fellow musicians, anyone who listens to their music notices the harmonious coordination between his drumming and the bass to create a tight rhythm section. He is absolutely vital to any band he collaborates with, more so than most drummers in his field. His contributions Kiara Rocks highlight both his prowess as a drummer, as well as the impact his music had on the band’s incomparable success,” recalled Nascimento.

With Copelli’s rising success, came unexplored territory. When his first single with Kiara Rocks received over 300,000 views on YouTube, he started to see the impact that his music had on the band’s presence in a new light. He could see the difference they were making in the field of rock music on an unfamiliar scale and he was humbled by the recognition they were receiving. All of a sudden, he found himself encountering excited fans in the street, screaming at him and honking their horns. He still gets shivers down his spine when he thinks about it and he credits this success as being the to motivator driving him to create new sounds and bring even more high-quality music to the shelves for his followers.

In fact, it was during his time playing with Kiara Rocks that Copelli experienced one of the major highlights of his career. Being a die-hard rock music fan, Copelli had the distinct pleasure of working with Guns n’ Roses’ drummer, Matt Sorum. Sorum produced what Copelli considers to be one of the most important albums for the Brazilian rock music scene in years. Copelli played his heart out and to little surprise, the band’s fans were immediately addicted. Seeing his work come to life for his fans is just one of the many reasons he continues to play and produce music for a living.

So what does Copelli have in store for hard rock music fans around the world? He has a few projects in the works. Ultimately, however, he hopes to re-connect with some of the artists he has worked with in the past, as well as with new artists, in order to create unique new sounds and albums that his fans will thank him for.

Keyboardist Jose Roman talks Daphne’s Roots’ debut album ‘Enter the Voyage’

Jose Roman is a true musician. He doesn’t just enjoy music, he lives it. He breathes it. He feels it. When his fingers touch the keys of a piano, he is alive, and when one listens to his music, they are alive as well.

Despite working on many successful projects and working alongside many artists, Roman’s claim to fame is with the progressive/alternative rock band Daphne’s Roots. Besides playing the keyboard, Roman writes songs and arranges high quality keyboard parts to the musical ideas of the other band mates. Once these ideas are polished, and the songs are completed, he is an outstanding studio musician, bringing his ideas to life. He always consistently delivers versatility and a wide range of musical abilities.

“Working with Jose is an amazing experience. He is so full of energy and creativity that makes you feel good and motivated. He is a top-notch player which makes him extremely reliable. He has an extensive musical knowledge which is very useful. For instance, we wrote together some percussion arrangements and he always surprised me with his creativity and talent,” said Felipe Restrepo, drummer of Daphne’s Roots.

In 2012, Daphne’s Roots released their first album titled Enter the Voyage. Being the founder and main songwriter for the band, it was Roman’s idea to start working on the ambitious project. For a long time, he had the concept of the album in his head. It is the first part of an epic story, told through different songs. The album was the breakthrough for the band, and to this day, one of the most exciting experiences of Roman’s esteemed career.

“It was extremely exciting and thrilling to work on this project all the way through. From the writing process to the studio time, the motivation to deliver an amazing album was always there. The atmosphere on the studio was always electric and inspiring. I would write new songs and then show them to the guys and then we would work on them all together. It was an unforgettable experience and we are very proud of the result we accomplished,” said Roman.

As the founder and leader of my band Daphne’s Roots, Roman motivated my band mates to start working on this project. They had a repertoire of songs that they played together, and together they choose the best songs and wrote even more in order to develop the album. Roman’s role, in addition to playing the keyboard on every track, was to write the remaining songs in order to complete the first part of this concept album.

“Writing all the keyboard parts was a lot of fun for this project. I used many of my different keyboard influences to enhance as much as possible the songs. Once at the studio, the recording process of the keyboard parts was very exhilarating. It was very cool to experiment with different layers of keyboards that we could put in the recording. At the end, I was very satisfied with all the keyboard parts on all of the songs,” he said.

The album ended up being a large success. Not only did fans love it, but upon its release, Enter the Voyage was awarded “Best Album of the Month” by the popular radio show La Zona del Metal.

“We were very gladly surprised and honoured to know our album did so well. It is always gratifying to know we connect with many fans as possible with each project we release. We are very grateful to be recognized by this prestigious radio show that we admire very much,” said Roman.

None of this could have been possible without Roman’s contributions. Daphne’s Roots is a very keyboard driven band, and it was very important to get that part of the album right. There are a lot moments on multiple songs where sometimes the keyboard is all by itself, responsible to evoke a very emotional part. Without the presence of the keyboards on this album, the structure and sensitivity of the songs would not have worked.

“Still to this day, I hear a lot from fans that the keyboard parts are their favorite parts of the songs and that is very rewarding,” he said.

The best part for Roman, however, about working on Enter the Voyage, was not the awards or the fan reaction, it was getting to work alongside his friends, doing what he loves.

“One of the most gratifying experiences about working on this album was writing a couple of the songs with my good friend and band mate Manuel Sambour, who is the main singer and lead guitar player. The way we complemented each other was rich and creative. This is true not only with Sambour, but with the rest of the band as well. The chemistry in this band is very powerful and I believe that is the main key element responsible for this project success,” he concluded.

Duarte Figueira Pushes Artists to the Next Level

Duarte Figueira
Music Producer Lhast (left) & A&R Specialist Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right)

When it comes to the world of art and music, turning one’s creativity into a profitable career is no easy task. There’s a reason that so many talented artists and musicians throughout history have toiled away working odd jobs only for their work to be discovered posthumously. The business side of becoming a successful artist is imperative for someone to actually make a living from their work, but for most of the world’s wildly creative people, business and art just don’t line up.

Thankfully for those in the music industry however, there are people like Music Producer/A& R Specialist Duarte Geraldes Figueira, founder of the imprint agency, DGF Agency, and co-founder of one of Portugal’s leading booking agency, Bridgetown Talent Agency. Hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, ‘Duda,’ as he is known widely throughout the music industry, began his career coordinating projects for some of Portugal’s most recognizable musical acts back in his teens. After starting the incredibly popular sound system Fyah Box Sound back in 2007, Duda began coordinating the careers of Richie Campbell, Lhast, Regula and many other well-known artists.  

“I think the fact that I did everything available in the work field allowed me to learn from all perspectives. With Fyah Box Sound I was in charge of being the creative input for the new campaigns, marketing director, booking agent, MC, promoter, event producer, and all other business aspects of it,” explains Duda.

As a music producer/A&R specialist, Duda handles everything from planning the image of the artist and their musical approach, to organizing their events, releases, PR and much more. What makes him such a uniquely talented individual that artists around the world want to work with is the versatile nature of his skill and his ability to organize their careers in a way that actually brings a profit.

Duda with Regula - Hotel lobby
Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right) & Regula (left)

In 2012 he began coordinating the career of famed Portuguese rapper Regula. The two started working together just before Regula’s hit album “Gancho” was about to be released. Duda invited him to come on board and release some of his tracks through Fyah Box Sound and that’s what really got the word out about the artist’s upcoming album.

Duda recalls, “After doing a collaboration with Fyah Box for the song ‘Casanova feat. Leftside,’ and releasing the single ‘Berco D’Ouro,’ people were just expecting the new album like nothing else we have ever seen before. The streets were hot for it.”

Knowing that he had a winner on his hands, Duda went to the biggest CD retailer in Portugal and convinced them to put “Gancho” on the shelves. Not only did the album sell out within hours of making it into the store, but it sold more copies than those of Rihanna, Beyonce and Tony Carreira had sold in a week! Next Duda went to work paving the way for Regula to reach a wider audience by coordinating several shows across Portugal. He got Regula on the bill of some of Portugal’s biggest concerts, including a 2014 show at Semana Academica de Lisboa, Campo Pequeno with Valete in 2012, headlining for a hip hop festival at Coliseu de Lisboa in 2013, as well as the Sudoeste Festival in 2014.

“Working with Duda is, and has been, a constant learning process. The success that I have obtained during these times, is due to the teamwork that we built, where Duda is an essential element because of the commitment that he assumes,” explains Regula. “His innovative spirit and vision that he transmits, his effort and dedication that are characteristic of him, and the responsibility that we both took to the process.”

Duarte 'Duda' Figueira
Richie Capmbell (left) & Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right)

In 2010 Duda began working as the A&R specialist for multi-award winning artist Richie Campbell. The two have continued to work together ever since, and the collaboration has been beyond fruitful for both of them. As Campbell’s A&R specialist, Duda has handled the A&R side of practically every album Campbell has released as a solo artist.

Duda says, “My journey with Richie towards the beginning of his career as a solo artist. I was part of every aspect of his career. From the music, to the brand, to the shows, to the personal life… me and Richie are friends and work partners. I’ve worked with him as A&R, as driver, as fashion advisor, as event producer, PR, marketing planner, counselor, and anything else you can imagine. It has been such a long journey that I can’t even remember all the stories.”

Over the years Duda has played a major role in the release and success of several of Richie Campbell’s albums, such as “My Path” (2010), “Focused” (2012), “Live at Campo Pequeno” (2014), “In The 876” (2015) and the EP “Richie Campbell” (2010).

Aside from coordinating a plethora of major international events for Campbell, Duda was also the A&R man behind the artist’s hit 2016 single “Do You No Wrong.” The song topped the charts earning a Gold and Platinum Award on the Portuguese sales charts and was a major viral success garnering more than 10 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year Campbell released the single “Heaven,” yet another hit production led by Duda. The song was an immediate success and garnered more than two million views on YouTube in a little over a month after its release.

“I love being around the creation. I feel like we are always leaving a legacy, anytime that we develop something. It’s a joy to see the results of our work connecting so deeply with people. The creation and the way we put it out is a beautiful experience as a human being,” explains Duda.

“A moment that made it really clear for me was during a Richie Campbell performance watching every fan going crazy over the song ‘Piece of Bread.’ We went to Berlin to record a couple of songs for his album Focused, and that was one of them. I remember the amazing days that we had and the recording process in detail. I remember how important it was for the vibe to be right. Those conversations, those laughs, those moments, everything that happened is why I work as a music producer/A& R specialist.”

While his work involves coordinating for highly-acclaimed artists, those are not the only professionals he represents. Through his meticulous planning, ingenious sense of how to form powerful artistic collaborations and ability to manage a team, Duda has been hugely influential in the career of Portuguese music producer Lhast. Over the years Duda has connected Lhast with a long list of artists and coordinated collaborations that have been invaluable for both Lhast as a producer, and the artists, whose songs have gone on to become major hits.

Some of the hit song collaborations that Duda has coordinated for producer Lhast include Diogo Picarra’s “Historia,” which has over five million views on YouTube, Regula’s “Tarzan,” Profjam’s “Xama,” Plutonio’s “Nao Vales Nada,” and Valas’ hit songs “As Coisas,” “Alma Velha” and “Acordar Assim.” Duda is also the one who connected Lhast as the producer of Richie Campbell’s award-winning hit “Do You Know Wrong.”

“I’ve worked with Duda for a long time on a bunch of different successful projects, since the beginning he has always pushed me to deliver the best and stay focused,” explains Lhast. “I think he strives in this industry because of his great understanding of both the artistic and business side. He always finds a strategy that fits the artist concept and always executes it with ease.”

After making a name for himself in Europe, Duda moved to the United States where he has continued to lead the way as a music producer/A& R specialist for many well-known artists. As an A&R specialist at Rebeleon Entertainment, he is currently working on the upcoming releases for artists that include La Santa Cecilia, Gloria Trevi, Mon Laferte, Latin Grammy Award winner Alejandra Guzman, Enjambre, Mitre and several others.

“Being around the creation, and then seeing it come to life, and then watching people singing out loud the words and harmonies that you saw being created is what brings me joy to be a project coordinator,” says Duda. “The passion for being behind the scenes and seeing everything happen out of nothing is what lights my career.”

A decade after his career first began, Duda has come fully into his own as one of the most sought after music producer/A&R specialists on an international scale. When it comes to overseeing an artist’s career and taking them to the top, Duda has proven himself to be a driving force behind the success of some of the music industry’s best-known talents. With his keen sense of business, timing, meticulous planning and knowledge of what audiences are looking for, Duda’s role is a rare gift that allows the artists he works with to stay focused on their creativity, while he manages everything else.

Meet Lil’ Lyss, One Female Producer Making her Mark in Modern Music

Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil' Lyss
Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil’ Lyss

Drawing influences from super producers from the early 2000s such as Scott Storch (Beyoncé, Tupac Shakur, 50 cent, Nas, Lil Wayne), Timbaland (Jay Z, Drake, Rick Ross) and Dr. Dre (Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The D.O.C., Xzibit), Bay Area based music producer Diana D., a.k.a. Lil’ Lyss, has become a driving force of innovation and style in the modern music scene.

A Bulgarian native, Lil’ Lyss has been creating dope beats and producing music for other artists for nearly a decade now. She first rose to the upper ranks of the rap and hip-hop scene when she was invited to come in as a producer on rapper Ca$his’ album The County Hound 2. Sharing producer credits on the album with major rap staples such as 15-time Grammy Award winner  Eminem (one of the world’s best-selling artists), Rikanatti, Cin-A-Matik, The Punisher, R&D, 1Down, Steve E and Ca$his, who served as executive producer, Lil’ Lyss joined the all-star team as a producer on the album’s hit single “Imma Hustla” featuring Crooked I (from Slaughterhouse) and Sullee J. She also produced the track “Imma Hustla [W.C. Remix]” featuring Crooked I, Mistah F.A.B., Roccett and Goldie Gold. Lil’ Lyss clearly nailed the mark as both tracks were instant hits that were featured all over the internet, creating quite a buzz of anticipation for the full album’s release.

Shortly after The County Hound 2 was released, Lil’ Lyss was asked to come back as a producer on Ca$his’ album The County Hound 3, this time as a producer on the album single “A-Rod” featuring Emilio Rojas. From the zig-zagging synth melody, to the fast tapping open hats and rhythmic snaps, the music Lil’ Lyss came up with for the track creates the perfect hype and energy to drive Ca$his’ lyrics.

I usually prefer minors and syncopated drum patterns. Different sections and interesting arrangements. Every beat should stand out on its own and be complemented with creative lyrics, that makes a hit song that lasts for decades,” explains Lil’ Lyss about what makes a hot beat.

“Today they say this style of production is ‘too busy’ but that’s only because today’s ‘rappers’ have no talent, so they can’t handle a musical beat with changing drum patterns. And this is why I’m here to change that. I want to take hip hop forward and hopefully in the future create opportunities for the real talents out there. Most beats today are super boring, same 4 on the floor rhythm, same 3 chords, same 808s, I’m not a fan of that.”

Anyone who’s heard the tracks she’s produced knows that Lil’ Lyss’ work is the polar opposite of boring, she definitely knows how to craft music that supports the artist’s sound and keeps listeners engaged. Aside from her chameleonic style and inimitable skill, one of the factors that has set Lil’ Lyss apart from the pack and propelled her career forward is her drive to find new artists and never stop producing. After coming across Texas rapper Nique’s music on the internet Lil’ Lyss took the initiative to reach out and see if the two could collaborate.

“I heard his music on SoundCloud and I really liked his flow, so I contacted him right away and offered to work with him,” explains Lil’ Lyss. “He liked what I sent him and it happened pretty quickly. He told me what he wanted and we did it. He wanted a fun, simple hip hop track. In this case it worked perfectly because his style is very versatile and his flow alone could be a song on its own.”

In 2014 she produced Nique’s bangin’ track “Hold Something.” Referred to by many as an instant party starter, the upbeat track is one that, thanks to the combination of Lil’ Lyss’ brilliantly crafted beats and overall production, and Nique’s catchy lyrical flow, immediately draws listeners in and makes them want to move.  

 

While Lil’ Lyss has earned quite a reputation for herself as a gifted music producer for other artists, her solo work is nothing to be ignored. Earlier this year she was selected out of hundreds of producers from around the world to perform at the iStandard Producers Showcase in Los Angeles where her unique musical stylings caught the attention of both the crowd and the judges.

While most music producers remain the unsung heroes behind the scenes with the artist they create those stellar tracks for gaining all of the attention in the mainstream, the iStandard Producers Showcase gives the best producers in the business the opportunity to step outside the studio and put their talent on display for audiences across the states. The high-profile competition takes place in more than 30 cities across North America and partners with major festivals and music conferences such as SXSW, ASCAP EXPO, A3C Festival and others.

One of the five original tracks Lil’ Lyss played for the crowd was her new high-energy instrumental trap track “Beast Race,” which has been gaining traction with fans across the internet since its release.

Swiff D, one of the judges of the competition, said, “First, your automation game is crazy and second I don’t know what you’re using but I’ve haven’t heard such sounds in my whole career.”

A testament to the unyielding ardor of her drive, Lil’ Lyss is completely self-taught when it comes to the software she uses, which is rather surprising considering her unparalleled skill. While the internet has definitely made it easier for people to learn how to use software, producing quality music requires a whole lot more than simply knowing how to push buttons.

She says, “Everyone can learn how to use a certain tool but what are you going to make out of it? My strength is definitely the unique melodies even if they are simple, and the interesting drum patterns.”

One of the many reasons artists around the world are vying to work with Lil’ Lyss as their music producer is her innovative approach to creating music that not only fits their style and is strong enough to reach audiences in the mainstream, but also pushes the boundaries of the mainstream.

Up next for Lil’ Lyss is a collaboration with renowned Brazilian R & B star Angel B, who is known for the hit songs Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet ft. Marley Waters,” “Don’t Touch It ft Lorena Simpson,” “I Gotchu,” “Money” and others. Lil’ Lyss is slated to begin producing Angel B.’s next album later this year.  

About working with Angel B., Lil’ Lyss explains, “She wants something different for her next project that doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio, that’s why she decided to work with me. She knows that when it comes to creativity I’m the right person.”

 

DAHOV AND JEREMIH BRING MUSIC FANS TOGETHER

 

The Arts are often the key to a universal experience and language among all people of the planet. While the accent of different paintings, cinema, and music may reveal their point of origin, the ability of these mediums to convey emotion and a connection with others is often beyond the words and language they might contain. It has often been said that the work of an artist is that of bringing all peoples together by conveying the emotions we all share, regardless of our background. As technology brings the world closer, the assimilation of different cultures and their artistic contributions is clearly evident and results in a decrease of noticing the differences and an increase in the appreciation of what these differences offer to the collective global experience. The Canadian percussionist/drummer/entertainer knowns simply as Dahov performed at a concert with American artist Jeremih (Jeremih Felton) exciting the crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Jeremih is a Chicago native whose multiple high charting hits like “Birthday Sex” and “All About You” broke into the top five on the Billboard charts. His legions of fans are based in the R&B/Hip Hop world while Dahov is a solo artist known for House, EDM, and various other musical forms with which he infuses Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic ideas. While both artists share a love of percussion from their early teens, each of them has cultivated and evolved into their own style and brand of musical entertainment. Their performance together at the Olympia Theater shows how these artists brought their fan bases together for a night of thrilling entertainment, proving that we can appreciate the differences we have while recognizing a common thread.

For his appearance in Montreal, Jeremih and his management were seeking out a Canadian artist who would both be familiar to the crowd as well as be exciting enough to create a feverish tone for the concert. Patrick Farah (owner of Sky Entertainz) was consulted and he immediately suggested Dahov. Patrick and Dahov have worked together on numerous large scale entertainment events in Canada. Farah declares, “Dahov’s unique style and looks are definitely a selling point. With such passion in what he does, he sets the bar at a complete different level from others in this business! He is also such a wonderful person and he reflects his personality in his work ethic. He is the type of musician and entertainer who creates a special bond with his audience. Rather than setting himself above the audience, Dahov has an amazing ability to pull everyone in and making them feel as if they are in an intimate party, relaxed and able to have fun.”

STUDIO11 taken by ARA SASSOUNIAN (well known artistphotographer)

(Photo courtesy of Ara Sassounian)

This event featuring Jeremih and Dahov is a template for how different artists can create an experience for an audience that is eclectic and yet relative. While Jeremih is a singer/rapper, Dahov is a percussionist who does not sing. Both artists perform with DJ’s and/or tracks and, at least in this situation, both had dancers joining them onstage. Very similar production styles but very different content. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Dahov’s ability is that he is able to entertain the audience by playing a hand percussion instrument know as a Darbuka. This middle eastern “goblet drum” is the core and essence of his one-man band (supplemented by tracks). It is truly amazing to see how this talented artist can drive a crowd (in this case, the 700-member audience that packed out the Olympia) to a literal feverish pitch. His technique and musicality is mesmerizing while his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and create the excitement equal to any outdoor EDM festival is…well, jaw dropping. The synergy between the artists’ performance was a great success but was not necessarily intuitive. At a meeting prior to the performance that night, Jeremih and Dahov discussed how to approach the differences in their musical styles in order to insure a cohesive quality for the crowd. While much of Jermih’s music is more relaxed in tempo (sometimes even romantic), Dahov is known for his upbeat party vibe style. Dahov explains his approach to manifesting the appropriate vibe for the evening, “We wanted to do something different than the usual upbeat show, so I used Arabic oriental techniques. This style usually calls for you to play for belly dancers and, even though there are faster beats, we performed the slower beats using the derbake percussion because it allows for very intricate and interesting rhythmic ideas. It was a perfect match to afterwards fade with Jeremih’s first song.” Dahov readily admits that, just as the crowd was exposed to different musical influences at this performance, the percussionist/entertainer himself also gained an even greater appreciation for his fellow entertainer. He notes, “Jeremih is truly an amazing talent. It’s always educational for me to see how another artist relates to the crowd, how they design the rhythm of their show, and how the crowd reacts to what they do. Anyone who has seen Jeremih perform has seen the evidence first hand of how great he is. I knew his music but seeing him live gives me a deeper understanding of his talent. I like Hip Hop and Rap but I am more into a club house, EDM, Latin kind of music. I love the feel of the beat, the melodies, especially when I perform to these kinds of music it feels like I am actually inside the music…producing it! I like Bachata, in particular Romeo Santos. Bachata is such a relaxing type of music. I enjoy listening to it whenever and wherever. It makes me feel like I’m somewhere down south sitting on the beach and watching the ocean! Another type of Latin music that I like is reggaetón. Reggaetón is all about the party; the positive mood and tropical paradise! EDM and house artists like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are my favorites. I have seen them both perform in Las Vegas and their music is on another level! Their collaborations with other artists are perfect! The melodies and sound samples they integrate enter your ears and gets your emotions jumping. I’m hoping to come to the US and pursue my own version of the path that these artists have forged. I have proven to myself and the people of Canada that a drummer can perform by himself and command the attention of sold out crowds. Performing and communicating with American artists like Jeremih has only made my desire to become a part of the great American music and entertainment industry even more attractive…and seem more possible.”

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REGGAE BY WAY OF NEPAL WITH JOINT FAMILY INTERNATIONAL’S MAGNETIC DRUMMER

One of the most effective way to influence a culture is through the Arts. For example, when the music of one region permeates the world on a global scale, it’s doubtless that this region “has arrived” as a worldwide focus. Reggae has brought attention to parts of the world which might have been overlooked, giving voice to the sounds and moods of its originators with great positive effect. Kathmandu is a long way from Trench Town in Jamaica but the Nepali band Joint Family International (JFI) heard the call of reggae and took up the mantle, to great success and acclaim. In addition to their domestic and international touring, JFI won three Hits FM Music Awards (Nepal’s equivalent of the Grammy) for: Best New Artist, Best Performance by Group or Duo with Vocals, and Best Pop Composition for their debut release One Good Thing. Perhaps the most intrinsic facet of reggae is its rhythm which is so unlike the European or American ones found in Jazz, Rock, R&B, and so many other modern musical forms. Sanjay Shreshta (JFI’s founder, bandleader, and guitarist) needed the most adept drummer possible to give JFI’s rhythm section authenticity. Sanjay knows quite a bit about drummers as he is also the drummer for the famous 1974 AD band. Sanjay’s enlisted Nepali session drumming ace/instructor at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory Kismat Shreshta. Sanjay proclaims, “Kismat is charisma personified when it comes to playing on the stage in front of an audience who wishes for an unforgettable musical experience. I’ve never seen anyone who has a better command of groove and blends so well with the music and Bass lines. Kismat has such a deep understanding and sensitivity of what the music needs…and when he solos, it’s a treat for his bandmates as much as the audience. I knew that having him behind the drums in JFI would be the spark that would propel JFI to greatness.”

Kismat has toured and recorded with a variety of successful groups including: Albatross (Band of the Year award winner- Radio Kantipur), Urjazz (playing to crowds of thousands at the World Village Festival held in Helsinki) and various others. As the only Nepali drummer to ever have been awarded a professional endorsement from an American company (Vater sticks and percussion), Kismat is more than a respected drummer in his homeland; he has become a drum hero. While the respect and praise of others might be the icing on the cake, this drummer is always focused on the music. JFI presented Shrestha with an opportunity to dig deep into reggae. As a longtime fan of the genre, it was a welcome challenge for him. He comments, “The general idea most people have about reggae drumming is that it is easy and that’s exactly what the great drummers of reggae want you to think. They want you to feel the lightness of the music and lyrics, without noticing how amazing they are as musicians. The more I researched and studied Reggae, the more I learnt about its specifics and differences, meaning that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I listened to the best reggae drummers and taught myself about reggae music. During JFI rehearsals, Sanjay would show us a certain grove and feel of the music, which we then took home and internalized. I also researched more on the different styles of playing to allow myself to play this kind of music as authentically as possible. There are still parts of who we are all as players that crept in to the music, it’s inevitable. I have spent my life performing jazz and rock music. I think there will always be some of that in my playing.” The song “Netaji” from JFI’s debut recording is an example of this. “Netaji” spent 3 months as the number one single atop the Nepali charts. While the song exhibits the authentic reggae sound and hopeful attitude, the linear hi hat, snare, bass drum “licks” that Kismat subtlety weaves into his drum part give a hint that his proficiency is always slightly restrained to serve the groove.

 

JFI received international accolades and garnered fans in addition to those of their homeland. The group appeared at the 2014 Kolkata Peace Festival which took place in Calcutta, India. Invited by an organization named Bangla Natak which hosted this annual music festival in association with the US embassy, JFI performed to an estimated 5,000 concert attendees. In 2015, the band travelled to Thailand as part of the Global Battle of the Bands as well as the Kathmandu Jazz Festival in 2013. JFI has been the headliner band for the Sundance Festival (in Kathmandu) from 2010-2012.

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Kismat and his bandmates began JFI as a way to celebrate Bob Marley and also challenge themselves. The overwhelming acceptance of this band from Kathmandu playing music born of Jamaica has surprised them more than anyone. Kismat confirms, “Honesty, these awards came as a huge surprise for us all as we had never imagined a reggae band such as ours to receive awards and acceptance of this magnitude. The recognition we got through media and the like for winning these awards made all our efforts seem worthwhile. While we had started the band for fun’s sake, winning these awards made us even more inspired to move on.” One Good Thing is available on iTunes and multiple digital music formats.

THE STAR BEHIND THE ROCKSTAR

The throngs of adoring fans at concerts are almost always unaware of the professional workings of their favorite artist; the organizational and musical preparations necessary to create the inspiring events that they desire. Movies often show a romanticized and unrealistic scenario in which the artist calls some friends to play with them when, magically and immediately, everything falls into place. The musicians who live this amazing life will tell you it is magical for them but far from immediate. Any great performance takes talent, but it also requires preparation, professionalism, social skills, and a strong work ethic. The greats have earned this moniker through dedication as well as artistry. While many people have heard the title Musical Director, the specific duties required of an MD are vague at best in most individual’s understanding. Kieran Kiely is the respected musician who served as MD for Sinead O’ Connor from 2007 to 2012. As MD, he performed many roles to enable Sinead to focus on the expression of her music without being weighed down by the numerous other variables which might encumber an artist of her renown. At a certain level of fame, an artist’s career becomes similar to any other large and global pursuit. This means that artists such as Ms. O’ Connor and her peers require a musician whom they can trust to safeguard the integrity of the music and its presentation. A Musical Director is perhaps the most trusted advisor for any artist, meaning that the responsibility placed on them is reserved for the most valued and respected musicians.

In the mid 90’s, Kieran was playing in the Irish Celtic Punk group Shane MacGowan and The Popes. Kieran recalls, “One night while hanging at the Popes usual haunt, Filthy McNasty’s Pub in Angel, London, Shane asked me to go to a club with him, without knowing where we were going or whom we were meeting. When we got to the Club(The Atlantic Bar, SoHo) there was Sinead with Shane’s girlfriend, Victoria. I ended up chatting with Sinead. The next time I saw her was a year or two later when I was asked to play on a record. Somebody from the production recommended me for the session. It turned out to be a duet with Sinead and Terry Hall from The Specials, with Dave Stewart producing. This was the first time I met Dave. It took place at The Eurhythmics Church recording Studio in Crouch End, London. I played Low Whistles (Irish Flutes). Sinead loved the sound of those at that time. I continued to meet Sinead from time to time at gigs and festivals and she then asked me to play on her record Faith and Courage, and subsequently some of her following records.” Conflicting schedules prohibited a closer and more permanent working situation between O’ Connor and Kiely until 2007 when she asked him to assume the role of Musical Director for her. Largely known as a pop/rock artist, O’ Connor was intent on making use of Kieran’s mastery of Celtic instruments and their approach to her music. While he would add authenticity to the music that supported Sinead’s intrinsic Celtic vocal stying, Kiely would also be required to assume various roles as MD.

One of the most vital roles of an MD is to find the proper band members for an artist. It is not as simple as finding great players, although that is a requirement. Band members must be well versed in the style of music they will be performing but not void of other influences as they may be called upon to “stretch” or “flex” their approach. With touring artists, there is an understanding of the lifestyle which can mean long periods of time away from familiar people and surroundings. Touring musicians are the nomads of the music world. This requires someone whose personality meshes well with the sentiments of the artist they work with. It is similar in many ways to dating. There has to be a certain spark to the interaction. In his role as MD for O’ Connor, Kiely assembled a group of elite musicians respected throughout the world; an outstanding achievement for any MD. The band consisted of: British Session Drummer Ash Soan, Guitarist Dave Randall (recognized for his atmospheric sound), Yolanda Charles (renowned Bassist, praised as one of the best in the world), and legendary guitarist Robbie McIntosh. Sinead’s music is quite eclectic and emotional, requiring musicians who play at the highest level as well as those who listened intently to match the dynamic level and energy. Because these band members were so sought out, Kieran took an especially benevolent, yet professional approach. He states, “I like to try and create an environment where everyone feels very comfortable so they can be creative. In regards to parts, I was pretty specific. I knew Sinead’s material really well and created new arrangements of her songs that were sensitive to Sinead’s performance style. To achieve this, I had parts worked out for the players in advance. We also had a new album to promote and so had to be true to those songs. I wouldn’t say it was difficult though; when you have that caliber of musician to work with, it’s a pure joy.”

Rehearsals are always a good barometer for the mixing of skill and personalities but the real evidence surfaces when the artist and band tour. The incredible ecstasy of performing in front of thousands…even hundreds of thousands can be offset by the disconnect from familiar faces and places. Many musicians are defeated by the road. While Kieran is a veteran of the road and the studio, each new group introduces a number of variables. Early communication proved positive as he tells, “After I had taken on the role of MD and we did our first few shows, she sent me an exuberant text message, saying “who knew we were both so F**king amazing. She was very happy, which of course meant that I was happy.” Kiely continues stating, “You don’t just phone it in with Sinead, you have to be present, in the moment, and extremely sensitive to dynamics and tempo. She gives you everything you need in her voice; you just have to listen. On the intimate songs, I learnt to be comfortable with my playing being super exposed, where every expression and articulation could be heard. That sort of experience in front of 10’s of thousands of people over a period of time really hones your performance skills. Putting together a band that understood this in the same way that I did was a major achievement for me.”

While performing the role of MD was essential to Sinead’s live performances, Kieran was also a valued recording musician for O’ Connor. Selling in excess of millions of copies, Kieran recorded five albums with Sinead: Faith & Courage, Sean Nos Nua, Collaborations, She Who Dwells, and How About I Be Me. These recording are proof to Kieran’s masterful musical talent as well as O’ Connor desire for him to be a part of creating her sound. This desire was shared by others as Kiely relates, “She [Sinead] called me late one night to come play on a track. When I got there, she introduced me to Wyclef Jean, who was producing the song and said, ‘This is Kieran, he is the soul of my album. (Faith and Courage album).’
I later worked on Wyclef’s own record, Masquerade, at his NYC studio, and with his sister and brother.”

Kieran now resides in Los Angeles where he has taken to composing and orchestrating for film. His work creating the music for Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman proves that he is still using the sounds for which he is recognized to contribute to the success of artists. He still fondly recalls his time with Sinead O’ Connor and notes one obvious memory, “Nothing Compares to you was a highlight. It’s such a famous song. The audience are always waiting to hear it, so it’s a great moment for them. It wasn’t unusual to see people crying in the audience. ‘3 Babies also’. Sinead can conjure up such emotion when performing. What’s important to Sinead is that she connects with the song.” Kieran Kiely also connects to the song…and the art, in a very leading way.

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