Interview by Scott Preston
Church-trained, Southern-bred reborn urban dread NADIR (meaning “rare” and “unique”) is a clear and resonant voice of cultural change. Singer/songwriter, producer, writer and activist Jonah Nadir Omowale brings us an undeniable musical message, steeped in both tradition and innovation. His music, called Distorted Soul, is a revolutionary soul music hybrid that incorporates elements of funk, soul, rock, jazz, folk and hip hop “in such a delectable manner that his musical renditions are sure to please any musical palate.”
On Nadir’s latest album, Workin’ For The Man, revolutionary socio-political commentary collides with explosive funk and hip hop. Nadir describes the album as a “political dance record” designed to make you dance and think at the same time. It earned him a 2009 Detroit Music Award for Outstanding Urban/Funk/Hip Hop Recording, and Distorted Soul’s live version of the Eagles’ classic “Life In The Fast Lane” was named Best Rock Song of 2008 by Soul-Patrol.com.
Cincy Groove: How was your experience at the Chris Walker benefit show on 8/28?
Nadir: I had a great time. Alesha Brown was the vocalist and keyboard player I brought with me, and we had a fabulous time. I always enjoy playing in Cincy, but it was great to see old friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. I’ve always been a big Carole Walker fan, so it was good to see the Walker Project. I also really dig IsWhat!?, and we hope to get them to Detroit for some shows real soon. Esra, the beat boxer from France was ridiculous as was DJ SPS from Orlando. It was an amazing night of music!
Cincy Groove: How did you end up meeting Chris and Carole Walker?
Nadir: Many, many moons ago, I can’t really remember the exact year. I ended up subbing on bass for a friends band at the time, we came up from Nashville (where I was living), for a gig in Cincinnati, at Ripley’s where we opened for Heavy Weather. Ripley’s was just a killer club. Loved the place. I had a really good time with Chris and Carole, they are really good people. Chris was really a good mentor for me as far as getting my road stuff together and help me to try and make sense of the music business. We had lost touch for a couple years, then I ended up moving to Detroit. I had only been in Detroit for a month or two and looked in the paper and saw that Heavy Weather was playing in Ann Arbor, MI. I thought that has to be the same band, there is no way it isn’t. So I went to the gig and walked up to the stage and they almost didn’t recognize me because when they first met me I had a bald head and now I had long dreads. We have been such good friends for such a long time that when I heard about the accident , it was really devastating. I was just telling some people today that when the accident happened half the bands in Cincinnati lost their bass player. I remember that it happened about 10 days before the Midpoint Music Festival and I was talking to the organizers. We were saying how rare it is that a single person has such an impact on the music scene. They said that whenever they would do the scheduling of the bands that they would make a Chris Walker schedule to make sure he could play in all the bands he was in at the time.
Cincy Groove: I understand that you have helped out Chris recently with some special music software.
Nadir: Yeah, I did just get him a copy of a program called Beat Thang Virtual (by Beat Kangz Electronics). I’m also doing some marketing for my friends who designed the software. On my last trip down to Nashville recently I stopped in to visit Chris we were having some conversations about how he feels stagnant. Chris never really ever complained to me when I talked to him but the one thing that really bothered him was that he wasn’t able to use his creative energy. He still has all that energy mentally, his body just isn’t doing what his mind wants it to do. Beat Thang Virtual is a program that will take some time for Chris for learn but he will definitely have some fun with it. He just needs to be making some music again, and to get that back in his life would be tremendously helpful to his healing.
Cincy Groove: What was the inspiration behind your latest record “Workin’ for the Man”?
Nadir: The Workin’ For The Man album was definitely inspired by George W Bush and his administration. Over the last 8 years I have been really active in movement to impeach Bush, and get to them brought to trial for certain war crimes. I just think that a lot of things have gone wrong and nobody has been held accountable. There is one song on the record called Guantanamo, which really is a anti-war song and talks about all the things that are going wrong and if I don’t stand up and say something about it, I’m just as guilty. I really have been feeling like that for a lot of years now and the Workin’ For The Man record really put all my feelings in one place.
Cincy Groove: What other projects are you working on right now?
Nadir: I’m writing material for a new record and will start recording that in the fall. I’m also producing an album by a friend of mine in Nashville, Iayaalis. She is a singer, poet, and MC. She is a brilliant artist and a good friend of mine. I’m also doing some marketing for my friends who run a music technology company. They have the program, Beat Thing Virtual that I got for Chris Walker and they also have a hardware unit called The Beat Thang. We are marketing our products in much the same way you would market a hip hop artist. It’s really a visionary product in the respect that it’s a product designed by musicians for musicians. I have also just been appointed to the Detroit Entertainment Commission. What the commission is trying to do is take the entertainment that Detroit has to offer (sports, music, education etc..) and make it a more viable economic industry that will hopefully lead to more jobs. I believe that for every one job opening in Detroit there are 18 people applying for that one position. Something needs to be done. One of the best models for something like this is the city of Nashville, TN. Nashville has something like a 2.3 billion dollar entertainment industry. We really want to re brand Detroit has an entertainment destination.
Cincy Groove: Have you always wanted to be a musician?
Nadir: I think I realized I wanted to be a musician about when I was 14 years old. That’s when it all came together for me. I was playing a band and singing in the church choir, played in the high school band as well. When I really realized I wanted to be a musician around that time I discovered Wynton Marsalis. I think he was about 19 at the time. I just thought if he could do it, so could I. I knew I wasn’t as good as he was, but I could play. My brother is a bass player and my mother plays piano in church as well so there was music around me at all times. I also went to Middle Tennessee State and earned a degree in Recording Industry Management. I was very serious about making music from a very early age.
Cincy Groove: How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard your music before?
Nadir: I call it Distorted Soul. A buddy of mine Paul Cochrane, who I played with in a band, labeled it that. It’s a mesh of a lot of different styles of music. I’m a music lover and it always felt very natural to meld all those different styles together in much the same way that Chris and Carole did in Heavy Weather. You can put all these jazzy, funky and rock elements together in the right way and it will work. My sound is definitely based around the funk, but there is a lot of jazz, soul, and rock elements.
Sun Sep 20 09 12:00 PM | Ann Arbor, MI US
Venue: Peace Day – U of M Ann Arbor
Address: Central Campus Diag, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, US
Details: A celebration of peace on the Diag at U of M. Come get your peace on!
Thu Sep 24 09 09:00 PM | Atlanta, GA US
Venue: International Soul Music Summit
Address: , Atlanta, GA, US
Details: Nadir Artist Showcase