Interview & Review by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
NYC-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Nhojj recently won the 2009 OUTMusic R&B/Soul song of the year for his ballad “Love”. He has released 6 CDs and a live DVD with Emmy nominated director Bill Cote. His sophomore CD “Someday Peace Love Freedom” was nominated for OUTStanding New Male Recording. His songs cover issues ranging from homelessness to homophobia.
Film director Kirk Shannon-Butts used Nhojj's song “Love” as the theme song to his film “Blueprint” which premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The video for "Love" has just been accepted by the LOGO channel.
Review & Interview
Nhojj is all about sunny lightness and air; love and beauty. He changes the feel of the room when he performs. In his presence everyone chills out and puts on a smile. His voice and songs are like a relief from the hectic world. In his unique, high croom one can hear the stylings of R&B influences ranging across the whole history of pop - from Sade all the way back to Little Anthony.
This summer I had the pleasure of sitting-in on electric guitar with Nhojj's band for the 2009 NYC PRIDE SLAM JAM show held at the Brooklyn Ethical Culture Society. It was a treat to commune onstage with the irresistably sweet, gentle, pumping melodic and rhythmic sound that is a Nhojj trademark. I love the vintage, chicken-scratch wah-wah guitar that strums through his stand-out song "Music". It harkens back to the good-time, feel-good sounds of Curtis Mayfield and early Michael Jackson.
Fans should check out Nhojj's brand new music video for his single "Love" - wherein Nhojj portrays a kind of cupid (or "angel of love" as he puts it) for a romantic relationship between two young African-American men. The video has just been accepted by the LOGO channel and will no doubt be a hit. Tender, uplifting and rich with imagery of genuine happiness and love - the video for "Love" is to the eye what Nhojj's music is to the ear.
And just how sweet it is, in a pop world fueled & ruled by a combo hard-edged hip-hop, train-wreck fame-grabbers, and oversinging-trying-too-hard American Idol types...to find such a sonic oasis in the breezy, classic, nurturing R&B sound of this very special musical soul. - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS NYC
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist, singer and songwriter? Which bands? Among the artists you have seen live, what are your all-time favorite concert going experiences?I remember seeing Cassandra Wilson at Town Hall and was absolutely amazed at her ability to weave magic spells over her audience with her voice and charisma. I knew that is what I wanted to do when I'm on stage. I've seen many concerts and venues of all sizes, but Cassandra by far was my favorite. As a songwriter, I've been influenced by many different artists – I love the dark poetry of Seal's earlier work and the bright happiness of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall and Bob Marley's social commentary – so the inspiration for my song writing has come from many sources.
- One can hear a spiritual & vocal kinship in your approach to singing – with such famous artists as Michael Jackson, Sade, Curtis Mayfield, 5th Dimension, Little Anthony... especially in your soft, sweet, high style of singing. Tell us about your singing style – and how it is at one with the message in your lyrics and your overall personality as a performer.
Thank you so much, those are all artists I admire and look up to. I've always worked on being true to who I am and done music that really felt natural to who I am as an artist and human being. Growing up I've always been drawn to soft sweet high voices – I spent a lot of time soaking that in. I remember I'd spend hours singing into my parents stethoscope trying my hardest to get Michael Jackson's vibrato... lol.
I took vocal lessons for a long time to improve on my technique and bring out the natural tone and quality of my voice. But what it boils down to is that I love singing and growing up I spent hours and hours singing. And even now I still read books on vocal technique, but then when it comes time to perform or record – I just let it happen and let what's inside come out.
Any special thoughts on your guitar, and what it's meant to you in your life? - What brand/model/year guitar do you record and play out with?I have a beautiful brown Carlo Robelli guitar, I walked into Sam Ash and it was hanging there as beautiful as can be and I just knew I had to have it. I'm still a baby guitarist – I've been playing now for a little over 2 years. I wanted to be able to play and sing and be spontaneously and completely in the moment. I've always admired artists who could play and sing. Playing the guitar gives me freedom. It has also improved by pitch and my overall musicianship. One of the first shows I did with it, I asked the audience to give my guitar a name and the consensus was “Blessed” which I think is so perfect.
- Tell fans about the making of your video for the song “Love” – its gentle, tender imagery of love between two young African-American men – (with you as cupid?). In addition to LGBT audiences, have you put it out to mainstream audiences? And if so, how has the reaction been?
Kirk Shannon-Butts used “Love” as the theme song to his film “Blueprint” which premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. So for the music video we used images from the film and added new footage of me as their angel of love.
Kirk did a brilliant job directing it – this is my first music video and it just got accepted on Logo – so it should be airing soon. We have put it out to everyone. Its on all my pages and websites and the response so far has been great, people really seem to connect with the simple beauty of it all. I don't know if that means I attract music lovers who embrace homosexuality or the folk who don't approve have remained silent – but I'm happy with the the comments I've received and its my most popular video on youtube.
- As a former longhair artist myself - I'm fascinated by your fabulous long locks - you use them to such great effect in your video and photo shoots. Tell us how you feel about your hair, how it plays into your sense of self and your musical personna.
I love my locks – I've had them for about 13 years now and I feel like they are an entity by themselves. Before I grew them, I'd always admired other guys with locks. For the music video, Kirk had the idea to fan them out and its inspired other photographers too. I like the way long hair blurs the lines of gender. I love that, I think it works well for me especially because I do have a high soft voice.
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences on being a LGBT musician in the mostly straight, mainstream music world... especially regarding your younger formative/learning years?
Well I never wanted to sing lies so I never wrote songs to or for women. On my next project I plan to be even more clear about who I'm singing to. I feel like I'm at a point in my personal and professional evolution that I want to do this. I believe we should be honest with ourselves and be a little brave too. Growing up in Guyana I got teased a lot – it was painful, but I think those experiences have made me stronger and also kinder.
- For a musician such as yourself, tell us about the live music scene in the NYC area. Your circle of musical colleagues – and the music scene you inhabit.
I've danced between many different scenes – I've done jazz at Joe's Pub, and gospel at affirming churches, I've even done some choral work at Lincoln Center, but most times I'm performing acoustic. I do lots of Lifebeat shows (its a great way of giving back), I've done some of the festivals like the Fringe Festival and Fresh Fruit Festival – Robert, we've done shows together like the Pride Verve show in Brooklyn. I get to meet and perform with lots of incredible artists.
- Any advice for new, upcoming openly queer musical artists?
Join any organizations you can that support your artistry like OUTMusic and Gay Guitarist Network. I believe its so important to have that support. Kevin Aviance won the 2009 OUTMusic Lifetime Achievement Award and in his acceptance speech he said something that really struck me. He said in essence that we should keep on creating music that really speaks to who we are because there are kids in middle America who need this. So keep on doing what you do.
- What are your current and future musical projects? Including any new cds, touring and other promotions.
Yes in the new year, I'm heading back to the studio – I feel like I've grown so much as an artist and now I want to create, create, create... lol so that is where my focus will be for the new year. After the new project, I want to hit the road again and tour:)
thanks - Nhojj
Visit Nhojj and check out his music & videos at: www.nhojj.com
Go to GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE Home Page
Read more GGW's "GUITARIST OF THE MONTH" Interviews
Go to Robert Urban's Music & Arts Reviews
Return to Robert Urban Homepage