Interview with Performing Artist / Jel.ani | Edition X

Describe your sound as if we were deaf
I have yet to come up with one word to describe it, *laughs*, but I can give a brief description – bold, mellow dramatic, unique, definite, surreal, and familiar. Think of it as listening to a flugelhorn being played with a drumline in Royal Albert Hall, while under the influence of hallucinogens. *laughs*

What is distinctive about your sound?
Well … there are several things that I believe are unmistakable when you listen to anything I create. First and foremost I think my voice is pretty distinct, I hated it for the longest but embraced it after years of running from it, and coincidentally I think that’s the first thing people hear. The production is usually very intricate, not extremely complex but pretty detailed, I usually like to think of it as a manifestation of what’s going on in my head. I’ve gotten all types of comparisons and critiques about my sound and strangely enough, I don’t think too much about classifying my sound when I’m creating music.

What producers, songwriters and/or artists do you see as your primary inspirations?
Lauryn Hill would definitely be my first and foremost primary influence. She was the epitome of singer/songwriter/rapper/producer to me, and I’ve definitely always aspired to reach that status. Vocally, Ella Fitzgerald is my greatest inspiration, although Karen Clark Sheard, Bilal, Kim Burrell, Rachelle Ferrell, and many others are also major influences for me. As far as producers, I’m not as knowledgeable as I should be in that arena. Although I do admire Timbaland, Prince, and a few others; I tend to gravitate more towards musicians – specifically drummers. Rhythm has always been fascinating to me, so I find people like Neil Pert and Babatunde Olatunji amazing.

Do you have a favorite musical project that you’ve worked on?
Surprisingly my favorite project is the one I’m working on now. It’s very representative of where I am at the moment as an individual, an artist, and a human. Some songs from Black Nostalgia (the first album) are still cool to me but I wouldn’t consider them to be my favorites at the moment. I’ll always appreciate them for what they stand for but I’d be lying to say they’re my favorites.

What was the main factor for launching your career when you did?
Well I recorded for years privately without allowing anyone to hear the material I was working on, and most of the secrecy was done out of fear of being criticized and critiqued. But in 2007 my best friend and I had a very serious conversation about coming to grips with who I was as an artist, and being comfortable enough with that to get serious about pursuing music publicly & unapologetically. So that conversation, combined with my inner convictions about daring to make my dreams a reality, allowed me to jump in and start finding my way.

Who are some people you would like to work with?
Cee-Lo (Gnarls Barkley), VV Brown, India Arie, Prince, Josh Logue of Mathematics (Video Director), Chrisette Michele, Asa, Linda Perry, Bobby McFerrin, Imogen Heap – and many other people. *chuckle* I could go on for hours about who I’d like to work with so I’ll just end there.

How is the internet changing your craft?
The Internet is making it almost impossible to become successful within the world of entertainment and still keep somewhat of a personal life. I appreciate the fact that it allows you to connect with your fans alot easier, but on the flip side you don’t get fans unless you play the whole socialite card. It seems like people are becoming more interested in the life of the artist rather than the art that’s being created by the artist. I’m still wrestling with that concept, as I’d like to maintain some sense of privacy within my life – but that seems almost impossible to attain at this point in time.

Do you feel like what you are doing is important?
I believe it is important, but the level of willingness to do it depends on the day. Some mornings I wake up extremely empowered and motivated to be a beacon of honesty, love, integrity and nonconformity for audiences internationally. I feel it is necessary at this point for young adults and children to be very aware of the problems of the world & be bold enough to try making a difference. The number of positive artists that are being mass marketed at the moment are dwindling and I’m sometimes afraid that generations to come will be deprived of individuality, love and truth via art. Other days I feel like I’m not gifted enough to ignite change on a global scale, and although I feel it is important I begin to doubt myself.

Lastly, could you talk about any long-term goals or talents you have in mind?
Well after I win a few Grammy’s and buy a few Hummers, I’ll become President of the United States … *laughs*. But on a more serious note, I’d like to start a foundation to genuinely help children around the world suffering from poverty. Once I accomplish that I plan on creating a production company that encompasses the whole gamut of artistic expression – from theatres and concert halls to magazines and television. However, at the core of it the focus will be intellect, respect, appreciation, and love.