In an in-depth Q & A, Number One Neo-Soul artist Nhojj–who’s topped the charts this year with both his self-penned LOVE and GAY WARRIOR SONG–“free associates” about his head-turning, global Summer Tour 2010. Biographer of Grammy-winning legends, The 5th Dimension and respected acting coach, Robert-Allan Arno poses the questions in a nod to what the fans have requested…a journey into the artistic mind of this gentle yet mighty “genius of joy,” who seemingly everyone is getting to know and love these days as simply “Nhojj.”
A “Warrior for Love’s” Summer Tour Reflections:
City by City, Song by Song
Robert: You know the ole adage, Nhojj: “I’m too busy living my life to write my autobiography!” You’ve been on a whirlwind Summer tour taking you from Colorado to New York to Munich with a bunch of stops in between…your fans have seen all the awesome photos. Can you “exhale” for a moment and take us into your personal “Nhojj Summer Tour Journal.” We know the concept of the tour revolved around the Gay Pride celebrations throughout America and even in Europe.
Nhojj: Yes President Barack Obama declared June – Gay Pride Month and throughout the nation, in June there are Pride celebrations, many of which have music festivals. It was very exciting… I performed in 7 cities over the 4 weekends, Munich was the only stop in July. And in the middle of all of this, I got a Fresh Fruit Festival award along with NY State Senator Tom Duane. So I am now coming down off of that high.
Robert: You’ve mentioned how your message of love and harmony transcends…that the more authentic you are, the more your music is for everyone. It was very evident in the diversity of people who turned out to see you. I noticed this in Nyack, New York where I was so pleased to attend your afternoon concert which garnered a number of standing O’s.
Nhojj: Thank you so much, it was great having you there – you really helped me focus and energize… The day before I had opened for American Idol’s Blake Lewis and Taylor Dayne in Indianapolis and that morning I caught an early flight to New York and came straight to the venue… so I’m happy you were there and that the show went so well in Nyack. About my message – I believe love and truth always transcend the boundaries of our human experience. We all want to be accepted for who we are – that is true regardless of what your sexuality is – so as I accept and embrace who I am whether its on stage or on record, I give the audience permission to do the same.
Robert: It was heartwarming how the promoter ran backstage afterward, declaring you were the best of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross combined. She marveled at how you brought people together so magically. And this was a hip yet mature woman in her 60’s! I think she may have thrown Sammy Davis, Jr. in the mix, too! But seriously, how does this type of broad-based acclaim feel?
Nhojj: It is indescribable – these are all artists that I truly respect and admire, so to be seen in this light is amazing, affirming, and encouraging. I say this because there was a time when I was so insecure about my musical talent. So to hear these accolades so many years later makes me thankful that I didn’t let my fear of not being “good enough” stop me from following my dream.
Robert: I had the honor and pleasure of directing your tour, especially from an acting standpoint. Can we go song by song as well as city by city?
First, this is the most you’ve danced on stage, from Reggae-inspired moves in the opening, MUSIC to traditional African choreography during the audience participation finale. It all seemed to meld beautifully with everything including the jaunty DOING M’ THING. On that tasty number, everyone loved the Charlie Chaplin-esque pantomime plus jazzy flute-player vocal scat you incorporated. How did adding this dimension feel?
Nhojj: First off thank you taking the time to direct this show – you have such a gift! Outdoor venues can be difficult to perform and capture the audience – but you made it easy and encouraged me to explore and play with ideas. So adding the Charlie Chaplin-esque pantomine and scat was just a natural outgrowing from the environment you created. It was so much fun and felt so natural, I’ve always used my voice like an instrument, so adding the body movements just felt right.
Robert: You hit Number One on MTV with LOVE in the Spring, then as your Summer tour progressed GAY WARRIOR SONG hit number one, too. I was watching you do LOVE sitting at the edge of the stage embodying the essence of Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra with your sense of cool yet touching confidence…telling the story effortlessly. How does it feel to perform such a big hit–your very own…you’ve done it at the Barbados Music Awards…in Munich…on video….it’s become a “Nhojj-classic” already!
Nhojj: I realized this summer that a song becomes a hit because it resonates with many different people. Many people in the audience had never heard the song before, but whenever I sang it – I could feel people slowing down and tuning in… its a really beautiful experience… its the kind of experience we performers live for. LOVE is also a singer’s song and I love digging in and showing my vocal chops… lol
Robert: Conversely, introducing WARRIOR SONG on this Summer tour as it was climbing the charts must have been thrilling if not an anxious experience from the artist’s “initial performance perspective.” It’s one of your stunningly grittiest performances, especially in its opening.
Nhojj: I started writing The WARRIOR SONG over 7 years ago. The chorus appears on my sophomore album “Someday Peace Love & Freedom.” When I released the album, I knew this song wasn’t complete, but I couldn’t finish it at that time. However I knew that one day I would finish it… and when the tour started taking shape, I knew the time had come. The performance is gritty because the spirit of the song is gritty – and I wanted to honor the spirit of the music. I don’t normally do gritty, so GWS allowed me to explore uncharted territory.
Robert: You took a very personal relationship-type song, I MISS U and turned it into an homage to your heroes…the people we’ve lost. While other pieces were full throttle in the rhythm department, this was simple eloquence with guitar only. You could hear a pin drop amid your emotional audience. Can you share who you were particularly thinking about.
Nhojj: I’m sorry I didn’t get to do this song at all the stops because the story is so important to me. I dedicated this song to all the friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, relatives, and lovers we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS. It is also dedicated to 2 legends recently lost – Michael Jackson and Lena Horne. May they all rest in peace.
Robert: When you presented me with the unfolding of your song choices for this tour, they seemed divinely inspired, Nhojj…there’s a definite sense of Godliness in the “song order” of your Summer tour… PEACE & BLESSINGS alone is a beautiful prayer…
Nhojj: There is a deep spirituality that flows through my work – I was talking to a friend recently about the idea of one’s sexuality being a lamp guiding one home to Truth and Peace and Love. I wanted to allow this concept to flow through the show from beginning to end. PEACE & BLESSINGS is one of my favorites, and its such a wonderful anointing to close the show.
Robert: Nhojj, you’re such a brave artist. Your message is pure, unadulterated “love” and you present it in the sweetest way…yet there’s so much power and commitment behind it. It’s even reflected in how you rehearse. I’ve never seen anyone vocalize more, take every piece of direction 300 percent higher…your energy never wanes. Are you in the “Nhojj-zone?”…you are totally joyful in rehearsal!
Nhojj: The “Nhojj-zone” I love it!!! – sounds like an song or album title… lol Thank you so much, that is a true honor coming from you – the 5th Dimension biographer – such legends! My goal is to be better and better – the only way to be better is to practice and give it your absolute all. Of course I love singing so that makes the process enjoyable, but Robert, you also give 300 percent, so you set the stage and provide an environment that really supports and encourages the best.
Robert: Tell artists about the importance of putting actor’s technique and subtext into their work…even if they wrote the songs themselves.
Nhojj: Adding subtext allows you to experience your work in new fresh ways that can make your work richer and add dimensions that connect with the audience. I know in my case, when I performed I used to focus primarily on the music and the notes – adding subtext allows me to tell a more complete story and the musical notes actually come out more alive. You never know what audience you will have and the more performance tools you have at your disposal the better prepared you are to give your best in any live situation.
Robert: Not only did you dance the most on this tour, you talked the most pre-song…we call it “patter”…and you’ve jokingly called me “The Patterer” for encouraging you to do so. Obviously your multi-octave singing voice was always there, but you seem to have wonderfully found your “speaking voice” in these passionate and fun-loving song intros that are such charming crowd pleasers.
Nhojj: Yes, that is something we did a lot of work on – pattering connects with the audience and sets the mood and tone for the upcoming song. What I found interesting about the speaking voice or the richest sounding voice is that it changes depending on how you feel and your body chemistry, but you taught me a sure way of finding it every time… thank you:)
Robert: One of the things you love to do in rehearsal is a “free association” sense memory exercise of the concepts for each of your songs. Let’s do this with the towns you’ve traveled this Summer. What do you think of when I mention the following…I know each audience, each place has that “certain something.” You began your tour in Kansas City, MO at The Annual Quilt Dinner. I understand for this moving event, you performed a more intimate, acoustic show.
Nhojj: Yes the AIDS Quilts are amazing… looking at them you can really see the spirits of these individuals who have gone ahead. I performed before the dinner started, it was outdoors and right by the water. Everyone was so warm, it was the perfect place to start a tour.
Robert: Ft. Collins, Colorado features those exciting YouTube’s of you dancing “on the rocks,” so to speak…tell us more. And by the way, where was it that that young lady kissed your hand when you walked into the crowd?!
Nhojj: Fort Collins wins the most beautiful stage award, the videos don’t do it justice… lol, and this is where the young lady kissed my hand during PEACE & BLESSINGS. During this song I ran out into the audience and starting dancing with audience members – it was so much fun!
Robert: Nyack, New York
Nhojj: I remember after my set – we were both on cloud nine and completely forgot the (simple) walking directions to the restaurant… lol I think Nyack wins the best USA audience award… I felt a strong connection there.
Robert: Providence, Rhode Island
Nhojj: My big brother, Sam came up from Boston, so we got to hang out. In many ways, Sam and I are very much alike and we talk a lot on the phone. He teaches music and theater, and runs a non-profit – Mssng Lnks which brings arts education to inner city schools. It was great to have him in the audience.
Robert: Lexington, Kentucky
Nhojj: Wow… Southern charm and eating hot browns after the show… lol, Lexington wins the best junk food award – hot browns contain just about everything that is bad for you – but it is sooo good… lol My friend Karen drove from Michigan to see me, so it was good to hang out with her.
Robert: Nhojj, you sang the National Anthem in Indianapolis, Indiana. Artists seem to find this moment in their careers as climactic, and not just because the song is so difficult to sing! What were your feelings as you began those historic words, “Oh say can you see…”
Nhojj: Those words were written one morning following a long, uncertain night of battle – its about the thrill and surprise of a hard won victory. I couldn’t help thinking that LGBT people have been fighting a battle for what feels like a long night. But I believe the dawn is coming and that morning in Indianapolis before thousands of people, I was envisioning our victory.
Robert: Everyone is dying to know about the leg of your tour in Munich, Germany! It seems so experiential, merely in its locale.
Nhojj: Munich is such an incredible city, if you ever get a chance – visit it. I explored it the afternoon I arrived… I dropped my bags at my (4 Star:) hotel and went exploring… lol The stage was right in the center in front of the amazing neo-gothic city hall. This was the perfect place to end the tour. I performed the first song in the show – I MISS YOU for the HIV/AIDS memorial while 500 black balloons floated to the sky. It was so moving. I got to meet the Mayor of Munich backstage and I performed just before the headliner Out Recording Legend Jimmy Somerville, who is awesome. It rained during my set, but the audience stood under the umbrellas enjoying the show anyway… there is such an appreciation for music – people were dancing and just loving the experience and the music. It was incredible!!!
Robert: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your Summer tour, do you feel “changed” for the experience.
Nhojj: I do feel changed – I feel more confident , these are some of the biggest crowds I’ve performed for, its a big accomplishment for me. This tour reminded me of the importance of having a great team that really understands and cares about me and my art. This tour wouldn’t have happened without my manager Ron and you my director. I also learned the importance of taking care of your instrument – in my case, my voice and body. It was great to be able to sing and dance and make each performance a wonderful experience.
Robert: You can take your act anywhere around the globe, to any venue from intimate cabaret to the great stages of the world. Can you give us a hint of what’s next for Nhojj.
Nhojj: That is very kind of you to say – we are working on a college tour and we’re looking into other possibilities.
Robert: God bless you, Nhojj. Your message of harmony, unity and love is unparalleled among today’s artists. You are a star with unlimited possibilities.
Nhojj: Thank you so much my friend. God bless you.