April 20, 2014

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City Slang

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Funky groovester

There’s an irony,or perhaps a simple contradiction, in the fact that the word “nadir” refers to the lowest point reached by a celestial body, and yet the man who bears that name (pronounced NAY-deer) is an incredibly positive, upbeat and enthusiastic soul. On the day of our interview, which takes place at MTtowers, Nadir bounds in like a puppy in a park, all smiles and overt warmth. It’s fucking freezing outside, so his naturally emitted merriment is particularly welcome.

That joy for life is nothing new, according to the man himself. At just 18 months old, Nadir Omowale was belting out the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” in the back yard, and that was only the beginning. “My first real performance was a solo with the church choir at 4 years old,” Nadir says. “I started playing trumpet in elementary school. My brother played bass. When he got a new bass, he gave me his hand-me-down bass, so that’s when I started picking around and playing to records. So around 14, I decided that I wanted to get serious about music. I grew up in Tennessee, and they had an incredible music program there. Our band directors were really supportive of any of us who wanted to go into music. It was a lot of fun. As I developed, I got my degree in music production and engineering.”

Nadir found himself drawn to Detroit in ’99, thanks to our diverse and accepting music scene, as well as the love of a good woman. “I was in Nashville, and I was a black rock-funk guy,” he says. “Things are a little better now, and broader, but at the time it was really difficult for me to get gigs. There weren’t enough places for me to do my thing and to really play what I was playing. Detroit was a different kind of thing, and the history of that music here made sense. It had to be something that made more sense. I also met a woman who happened to work for Ford. It’s been cool. We didn’t think we’d be here that long because it’s far away from family, but over the years we’ve fallen in love with the city and the people. We finally made a commitment to stay. The people that I work with are incredible, and there’s so much talent, so many fantastic people in general from all different walks of life. It’s growing, and it is a place that, because of the current and most recent economic situations, you can get in and, if you’re willing to dig your hands in the dirt, you can make a difference. That’s something that’s important to me.”

As a music journo, sometimes even the best can be prone to make lazy comparisons. When reviewing Nadir last year, this writer compared him to Lenny Kravitz due to his ability to seamlessly meld rock, funk and soul. Nadir isn’t at all offended — why would he be? He has, however, heard it many times before. “It’s the easiest comparison that people seem to make,” he says. “I’ve heard it so much. I got the Let Love Rulerecord when it came out. People were calling me Lenny Kravitz so much that I had to stop listening to it. Before Lenny was out when I was playing in rock bands in Nashville, people would compare me to Corey Glover from Living Colour. When I would put on an acoustic guitar and play a tune in the same set, people would compare me to Hootie & the Blowfish. People just associate with what they know and it gives you something to bring it together. I would say that Lenny and I probably grew up listening to a lot of the same music. I’m a big Sly Stone, Prince and rock fan in general, but that’s about it. I just stopped listening to him because I heard it so much and obviously I don’t want to have that influence. It is what it is. It doesn’t irritate me as much as it used to.”

Way to take it on the chin, fella. So how does he describe his own sound? “It’s always been a weird thing, because I like music and I play whatever music I feel like I want to play,” Nadir says. “I grew up listening to funk. My brother’s old Parliament records, that was a big influence on me. Funk, I would say, is where my heart is. I’m a soul singer and a big Luther Vandross fan. I was a big Van Halen fan growing up. I really like to be able to put elements of everything that I do and love into my music at different points and sometimes into the same song. My studio is now in the Submerge building, so I’ve been hanging out over there with the Underground Resistance guys, picking up a lot of the dance music elements. I’m starting to dabble in different areas, and I’ll keep making music for as long as I can.”

Fair enough. Another way to describe that very combination of elements would be via the expression “distorted soul,” which Nadir has used to name his band, his label and various records. “It is that mélange of music, that combination of soul, rock, jazz, hip hop and all of that,” he says. “I had an indie record deal with a label back in the late ’90s and the guy who was the head of the label told us we needed to come up with a name for the sound. My guitar player at the time said distorted soul. It morphed, and now it’s the name of my label. It’s no longer the name of my band, which is confusing. Branding has not been my strong suit. We are putting out funk instrumentalists, we’re working on EP projects that we’re gonna put out on vinyl, we’re gonna put out some rock vinyl as well, and I’m starting to produce the work of other artists.”

Naturally, and quite correctly, Nadir believes that he’s gotten better over the course of his three albums so far. “The progression has been more in shaping the sound,” he says. “A lot of the technology that I’m using at the time kind of determines what my sound is. My first record (Distorted Soul), I was coming out of a rock band and wanted to express the soul side of what I was doing. It’s more of a soul record. I was working in Nashville but moved to Detroit, so I was driving back and forth to finish that record. The Working for the Man record, I was pissed off. George W. Bush, I’d spent a lot of energy over those few years working to get him impeached. That was a very angry album. I had been working with a lot of different producers and some guys in New York. This latest record (The Book of Jonah) has really been the record mostly shaped by my time in Detroit, soaking up the vibes.”

If by that he means that it’s a dirty, honest little funk ’n’ roll record recalling George Clinton, early Stevie Wonder and the MC5 in a big sonic soup, then he’s quite correct. You can hear it all live when Nadir plays in Troy this weekend. “We’re filming our live video at Next Wave Media Labs in Troy, which is this incredible little theater which holds about 100 people, and they’ve got all the video and audio set up there,” Nadir says. “We wanted to do something really fun for this live recording. The idea of Nadir’s Electric Lounge came up, where we can just have this vibe of blaxploitation meets science fiction. I keep saying Superfly meets the Matrix, but it’ll probably end up more like the cantina in Star Wars, minus the aliens. We’ll have some dancers come in. Ray 7 from Underground Resistance will DJ. It’s going to be a fun party.”

And next up? “I think what really is on tap for me in 2013 is building on what I’ve built and doing what I can to grow the Detroit music scene,” Nadir says, before finishing with, “I’ll be around town making as much noise as possible.”

Nadir’s Electric Lounge: A Multimedia Funk Experience takes place on Saturday, Feb. 2, at NextWave Media Lab, 950 Stephenson Hwy., Troy; 248-773-6539.

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