“Music to me is like blood, air and food. It’s that serious to me. If I wasn’t able to do music, I would be miserable; I probably wouldn’t even talk to people. I would be so upset and unhappy,” confesses American soul singer/producer Anthony Hamilton. In 2009, Anthony won a Grammy for the song “You’ve Got The Love I Need” with Al Green in the category of Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. From his 2011 album “Back To Love” the song “Best Of Me” has got two nominations for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song at the upcoming (Jan 2014) Grammy Awards. The prolific singer confirms that he’s already recording his seventh album, which will feature his past-collaborator (in the song “I’m Cool”) David Banner. He says that he might also feature some new school cats.
Anthony has got a great sense of humour. Sitting across him at Hemingways Hotel (Oct 2013 in Nairobi) for my TV show’s link up segment interview, I hush up a small crowd (hotel staff and journalists) gathered around us, just to get another glimpse of the big-voiced singer. They all go silent, and then I clear my throat signaling Anthony who asks the crowd, “Did y’all hear that? You might wanna link up with her! Aaiiight go ahead babe.” Everyone bursts into laughter and I immediately reckon that I am in the presence of a great yet humble man.
As we start to converse, I ask him to demystify the notion that soul/R&B artists are this decade experiencing a rough time, thanks to rise of dance and pop music, in comparison to the 90s music era. “It’s not hard for me as I’ve done it for so long and I have a solid fan base who are willing to go with me to the end. However, it might be hard for other R&B/soul music acts that want to get into the music industry now. It’s going to be harder now to prove to people that they have it but it’s possible.”
“Back To Love”, my iPod’s most replayed album is a must-listen. I tell him and that my favourite song there is “Life has a way”—he seems pretty impressed at that and retorts pensively, “Yeah, that’s a great song of mine but “Coming From Where I Am From” (2003 sophomore album) is just that song and album for me. It’s the first song that came out at the point of my career when I was tired and fed up. I needed to be heard – that’s my once upon a time.” That album sold platinum and its second single, “Charlene” also did remarkably well. I still adore that song.
Anthony’s story is inspiring; especially to indie artists: “A lot of time, we [artists] have aspirations and dreams and don’t pursue them. Be creative; don’t be afraid to be different; don’t be afraid to be yourself 100 %. I have done it and stuck with it. It takes a little time, but if you stick with it and it’s something people want to connect with, do it. It takes time but it’s paying. People want something that’s real, something that will make them feel good.”
Anthony has worked with the best of new school soul singers including D’angelo, Marsha Ambrosius, Keyshia Cole, Angie Stone, Jaheim and Musiq Soulchild among others. “I love working with many artists but Jill Scott is the mummy of soul music. Jill and I are pretty cool. Not only do we work together well on stage and in the studio but from time and again, we check on each other and talk.” The self-professed huge lover of hip hop says, “Sometimes I am happy, excited, mellow or chilled out while in the studio, depending on my mood and that of my producers. I also like music without any words and it doesn’t necessarily have to be jazz.”
Visiting my country has clearly left him in awe. “[Being in Kenya] is one of the moments in my life when I feel like God is just opening a way for me; I am starting to see the world. It’s my first time in Kenya and I am excited. It’s beautiful to be part of such a country that’s growing and is strong. We look to you guys, your beauty, and the success you are having in your country. We want to bridge the gap; you guys can come and stay with me in America.” It’s great to tap into Anthony’s open mind and craft. “In terms of what’s out now on the radio, I think it is fine. Young folks are finding a way to express themselves and exploring with music creating different genres. It’s attractive, I might take a few bits and pieces, and I might do a song with Future or Chris Brown. It’s just interesting when two different styles collaborate.”
I am left satisfied and thankful for the interview (so much soul food and life lessons of humility), right after which Anthony personally scribbles his contacts on my note-book as his bouncers, manager and entourage look on curiously.
BONUS: I have to write another blog post about Anthony Hamilton’s mind-blowing band and Kenyan concert. In the mean time, check the concert story I filed here:
Photos courtesy of Japheth Kagondu.