ButtaFlySoul, Nhojj and ManchildBlack
Gay singers with soul & social-conscience
By Robert Urban
Modern musical influences such as world, hip-hop, and digital electronica have radically colored and changed classic "soul" pop singing, sometimes distancing the genre from it's own venerable rhythm & blues roots. In this article I spotlight three gay African-American star vocal sensations who offer new popular song stylings while still retaining a bona fide R&B sound.
Multi-talented, modern renaissance man ButtaFlySoul (a.k.a. Leslie Taylor) is not only a rhythm & blues artist, but also a jazz singer, poet, rapper, actor and director.  I have heard ButtaFlySoul's vocal improvisations live in concert, and can testify he is a modern musical force to be reckoned with. Drawing from both masculine and feminine vocal stylings and colorations, his uncanny unisex singing voice goes everywhere. Butta's bluesy and free form-infused vocal stylings are reminiscent of many of the most gifted singers from pop's golden age of Motown and soul. As with virtuosos such as Patti LaBelle, his voice knows no limitations or inhibitions. ButtaFlySoul's singing can take the lid off. In performance, he exudes a magnanimous stage presence, a joyful indulgence in his almost operatic bluesy vocal gymnastics, topping off each phrase with a grand smile and welcoming gesture that both embraces and wins over a crowd.
A native of Chicago, Illinois who now makes his home in New York City, ButtaflySoul began singing at the age of six with local community choirs. Though his heart began in gospel music, he easily made the transition into R&B and Jazz. Not limited to music, Buttaflysoul's vocal and improvisational talents pour over and blend into the worlds of poetry, spoken word, hip-hop, and theater. With his particularly melodic gifts, he continues to be a sought after and respected vocalist. Most recently, he can be heard on the new CD called Troubled Man by hip-hop poet-rapper Baron.
Butta's spoken word artistry has also won him the Nuyorican 2003 Glam Slam Championship as well as the opportunity to open for Motown recording artist Donnie. He is currently one of the contributing writers for the Signifying Harlem Literary Journal and featured poet for the Nubian Heritage on-line magazine. He prides himself on having the distinction of being one of the esteemed members of the Peabody Award winning Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam family.
He has co-hosted The Spit Fire Radio Show on WBAI 99.5 FM and is currently the host of FLOW - a hip-hop and poetry showcase for the alternative artist. Recently, he hosted the 2004 Poetry Slam at this year's DC Black Pride.
Butta is the newest member of Deep Dickollective (DDC) a GLBT hip hop group based out Oakland, CA.  Together they tour colleges and hip hop venues a like sharing their brand of "in-your face" hip hop lyrics.  Butta has also been a feature performer at Peace Out East in New York, and Peace Out West in Oakland. 
ButtaFlySouL is committed to educating people on HIV/AIDS awareness especially in the African American community. He took the opportunity to share his gift of poetry and desire to change the community at large by facilitating the "bibliotherapy" group "Loungin In Giovanni's Room" at GMHC where participants utilize poetry as a tool to face daily issues or concerns around sexuality. The group is open to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Straight people of all ages. Many have become poets or writers and have been featured at venues that ButtaFlySouL has hosted.
More info at: www.buttaflysoul.com
Soulful singer/songwriter Nhojj has been hailed as "the voice of social conscience" by Logo Magazine in the UK, and described as "blessed with musical genius" by MusicDish Industry E-Journal here is the US. His unique blend of musical styles serves to showcase both his 4-octave vocal range and amazing breath control.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Nhojj deliver his pure and beauteous sound live in concert. I can testify that when this man sings, you can hear a pin drop in the house. Astounding audiences everywhere with both his passion and his message, it is no wonder this man's music is played on radio stations throughout the world.
Nhojj (pronounced "Naj") grew up in Guyana, the son of an Adventist minister. He started singing at the age of 5 in his local church. With childhood Caribbean musical influences that included old time spirituals, calypso, carnival, soca, soul, reggae, and, as he adds, "sand, sun and ocean", Nhojj grew up performing on local radio programs and in churches. He even sang in his country's stadium before the Presidents of Guyana and Trinidad and thousands of spectators.
After coming to the U.S. and graduating from New York University with honors and a BA in economics, Nhojj taught himself to record and produce. His then released his debut "acoustic soul" CD, the deeply personal, moody and poetic I've Been Waiting for You.
In addition to regularly singing at NYC clubs and lounges, Nhojj has performed at gay pride festivals, college campuses, peace events, 9/11 tribute concerts and churches throughout the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. He has shared stages with Motown recording artist Donnie and Def Jam poet and activist Stacey Ann Chin. As part of THAW (Theaters Against War), Nhojj was in the cast of the award winning play The Making of the Black Man at the NYC Fringe Festival.
As an eloquent advocate of world peace, freedom and "know thyself" philosophy, Nhojj's lyrics reveal a deep commitment to nonviolence and social justice. His second CD of songs was released in 2004. Called Someday Peace Love & Freedom, this relaxed, groove-laden bed of reggae, soft jazz and soul lets Nhojj spotlight his airy falsetto whispers and pure vocal tone. Through his thoughtful, complex lyrics, he shares his view of the world and offers hopeful social commentary. Contains songs "Someday", "Peace, "& "The Beggar's Cup".
Nhojj's mellow vibes has been likened to Sade's, and his compelling words have echoed his own heroes - Bob Marley, John Lennon, and Martin Luther King.
On Someday Peace Love & Freedom, uplifting songs like "Someday" and "Peace" feature lots of rhythmic guitar strummings and solid bass grooves. Check out "The Beggar's Cup", introduced after a slow instrumental reggae pulse.  As explained on Nhojj's website, "This song tells the story of a beggar at a street corner, but he isn't begging for money - he's begging for something far more important, something that will lastÉ He is begging for love".
Nhojj additionally has recorded a live performance DVD "An Intimate Evening with Nhojj" with Emmy nominated director Bill Cote.
More info at: www.nhojj.com
ManchildBlack's rich and smoky mid-range baritone offers a pleasant contrast to the two above-mentioned singers often stratospherically high tenor voices, and is equally rewarding.
In an age where many performers simply appear "karaoke style", (i.e. - singing alone onstage accompanied only by a backing CD track), Manchild enjoys playing live the old-fashioned way – accompanied by real musicans.  Advocating what he calls "raw soul music", Manchild wows audiences while flanked by a genuine full band of talented musicians, often including percussionists, guitarists, bassists and additional singers.
Often seen sporting his trademark, "Good Will store" fedora, this dreadlock coiffed singer's band is sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric, but always smoothly funky and groove-laden.  His sound is kind of an updated, bluesy bohemian "beat" version of his own favorite influences – Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.
In 2004 in NYC, I had the pleasure to host ManchildBlack and band as they performed at the star-studded Ride On Concert benefiting Breaking the Cycle HIV/AIDS bicycle ride charity. As visually interesting as they are musically alluring, Manchild & Co. both entertained and educated the crowd in the main hall of NYC's LGBT Community Center with soul-searching and uplifting original songs on complex African-American related social issues that included self-esteem, racism, and masculinity.
Originally the lead singer for the popular NYC based "hip-hop soul" group Urban Folklore, and now a solo-artist, Manchild arrived in the Big Apple after having resided in Washington, DC for many years. Equally at home in the legit theater as he is on the pop music stage, he recently appeared in the NYC production of  "May the Circle be Unbroken" at the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn. Manchild also received critical praise for his role as Racine in  Carl Hancock Rux's "Ashphalt" which featured music by Toshi Reagon and D.J. Spooky.
A finalist in the 2002 John Lennon Songwriting Award competition, Manchild is currently seeking a new label for his well-crafted songs.   Fans can visit his website and hear this "raw soul" gay male artistŐs unique take on both masculine and feminine vulnerability and validation in tracks such as the acoustic, folky "Lil' Sista"; the powerful, angry rant on the harmful effects of the media  "Noize"; and the bold attack on black male stereotypes "Ballad of Nigga".
More info at: www.manchildblack.com

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