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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
(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.”
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.
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 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 WhoDwells, 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.
I recently had the chance to catch up with the uber talented singer songwriter Juvicsa Vela, who released her debut EP Eyes to Land produced by Federico Angel earlier this year. In our interview Juvicsa opens up about the new EP, her writing process and some of her musical influences.
Born in Peru, Juvicsa discovered her god-given talent for singing and passion for music at an early age, and when she moved to Sweden with her mother at the age of 12 her artistry really began to take root. Having lived all over the world, it’s not surprising that Juvicsa’s music exhibits traces of influences from many cultures.
Juvicsa first began working on the EP while living in Los Angeles where she attended the Musicians Institute, but in search of new inspiration and a change of scenery, she moved to Reykjavik, Iceland last year where she finished the album working remotely with her LA-based producer Federico Angel.
Eyes to Land can easily fit into the pop/rock category, but with R & B and Latin elements, not to mention Juvicsa’a powerful vocals and bittersweet lyrics, the EP eloquently defies genres.
Juvicsa also wrote the popular theme song for an Indonesian adventure TV show sponsored by Mitsubishi called “Jonsson & Robinson Journey,” which premiered to millions of viewers across the country.
To find out more about Juvicsa and her new EP make sure to check out our interview below.
How old are you?
28 years young
When and how did you first get into music?
I must’ve been around 4 or 5 when I started to sing. I had this boombox with a built in mic and a lot of cassettes. I used to spend hours and hours and hours on the floor with my boombox, recording myself singing and creating harmonies over my recordings, I think that’s when I first created something musical. This was so liberating to me, a kid who was a rebel, always getting in trouble at school but when I went back home and locked myself in my room I’d spend hours singing and doing all those things I loved to do and that was my outlet. Then I started writing songs at the age of 15 with an old piano my mother got for me and a little MIDI controller.
When you say you were a rebel– what kind of trouble were you getting into?
As a very hyperactive kid, I didn’t really like to follow the rules at school so I got sent to the principal’s office very often for roughhousing and sneaking out of class to play with the older kids.
What do you think might have happened if you hadn’t found music as an outlet?
I already have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time so I think I would’ve probably lost my mind a little. I don’t think I would have been able to deal with the darkness and the difficulties of growing up. I would’ve possibly kept getting in trouble.
How long were you working on “Eyes to Land” before its September release?
It took me about a year from scratch to finished product, a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was in Iceland and my producer was back in the states, so there was a lot of going back and forth, time differences and work on both our parts. Lots of coffee, little sleep.
Can you give us a little back story on the EP and where you got your inspiration from?
I moved to Iceland a week after my grandma passed away, my grandma was more like a second mother to me, so the whole process of composing the EP was a very emotional one. I definitely think that both Iceland’s landscapes and nature, and being in a very emotional state, brought the EP out, especially being in a brand new country.
Did you write all of the songs on the EP?
I did, along with my producer.
What is the writing process like for you?
I think the writing process was different for each song, I could get inspiration by sitting by the ocean in Reykjavik, being in the shower for another song, conversations I had with friends that sparked something in me and made me drop everything and write. I do spend a lot of hours alone in the beginning, I think that’s what works best for me and I’m more comfortable that way. After writing a song I’d call my producer and we’d go to the next step, more composing, polishing, re-recording and so on, all through FaceTime.
Can you tell us about your inspiration for some of the songs?
Well for example “High Tonight” was born out of a glass of wine and a late night conversation with a friend of mine. She was going through a tough break up at the time and she said a couple of things that really struck me. I dropped everything, went over to the keyboard and started writing it, it was written in a couple of hours. She actually doesn’t know about it yet!
For “Unaware” I had to dig a little deeper, it’s definitely a very personal song to me. My inspiration came from being in a toxic environment and feeling exhausted but still seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, still not being able to let go of that thing that can break you but can save you. The sound for “Unaware” is definitely influenced by No Doubt and Spanish music.
“Now” is the song about hope. Like I said, there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel and this is it, this is your saving moment, it’s you giving in instead of giving up. “Now” is kind of my full circle song.
What is your favorite song off of the EP right now?
My personal favorite is “Unaware.” I’m very emotionally attached to that one.
Why did you choose to name the EP “Eyes to Land”?
It’s a poetic play on words. This EP symbolizes a person trying to deal with death and rebirth at the same time. The name comes from trying to deal with the death of someone so close that in a way symbolized the death of a part of me, but also the rebirth, which for me was moving to another country. That in both situations you need guidance, you need eyes. If not your own, then someone else’s.
How would you describe the album to those who haven’t had a chance to hear yet?
A shoegaze and pop/rock mix with emotional but energetic vocals. With all kinds of raw ENERGY ranging from sad to sensual.
Did you play any instruments on the album?
I played the keys on the final product but I program different instruments when I’m in the writing process as well so that everything is the way we want it.
Do you have a consistent band backing you?
Not as of now I don’t. It’s hard to keep one consistent band with you when you’re traveling a lot.
Who else was involved in the making of your new EP “Eyes to Land”?
Federico Angel as producer and instrumentalist, the amazing Ro Rowan on cello, Dean Dichoso as instrumentalist, Dean Dichoso Productions for mix and mastering and Steinunn Osk Axelsdottir as sound engineer on vocals.
How did you choose Federico Angel as your producer for the album?
From the first day we started working together I knew there was something that clicked. It’s actually very simple, we’re both very straight to the point and he knows exactly what I want and how I want things to sound, sometimes even without fully explaining what I mean, he gets it. I mean it’s gotta be a good match when the artist is explaining a sound as a color or a metaphor and the producer completely gets it down.
You’ve had a pretty multi-cultural upbringing, can you tell us about some of the places you’ve lived and how they have affected your journey as a musician?
I was born in Lima, Peru but I moved to Lund, Sweden when I was 12, as an adult I moved to Los Angeles and as of last year I live in Iceland. All of these moves and amazing experiences with different cultures make my music what it is. Ultimately all I want is to unapologetically mix everything I know and write something I think will sound great and people will relate to.
Were your parents involved in music as well?
No, my parents weren’t but I have singers and artists in my extended family.
Can you tell us a little bit about Iceland’s music culture? Do you feel that it has influenced your work as a musician?
Funny thing about being like a sponge when you’re a musician, I sent my producer a demo during our Eyes To Land writing process and he thought it sounded Björk-esque, which obviously was a huge compliment that I most likely didn’t deserve but it really made me think about inspiration always changing and how it can be so related to where you are, I think it’s amazing.
I’m a really big fan of Icelandic music, coming from Sweden, I initially thought it could be similar but it’s really an art of its own. To me, the peculiar sound that Icelandic music has, has to do a lot with the isolation of the island and even modern Icelandic music has a characteristic sound with traces of the old.
Are you involved in any collaborations at the moment or are you mostly focusing on your solo career?
I’m working with a couple of artists at the moment for minor projects or songs I’ll be featured in but I’m mostly focusing on my solo career at the moment.
What five albums are you listening to most right now?
Garbage’s new album “Strange Little Birds,” Sia’s “This is Acting”, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and waiting impatiently for the New Lady Gaga album and the new Beth Hart album!
If you didn’t become a musician, what profession do you think you might have chosen?
I think I would’ve still been involved with the arts in some way, I would’ve been around music and art in any way I could. I always try not to let plan B distract me from plan A though.
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