Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres
By Darlene Donloe
Aloe Blacc is a different kind of successful performer. He’s had huge hits, toured the world and been the recipient of accolades and adoration from the masses.
While for some that would be like grabbing the brass ring, for Blacc, a self described artist/activist, it’s about so much more. He’s not interested in throw-away songs – songs that don’t feed the soul. He wants to inspire, uplift and challenge.
Not one for just living within a celebrity culture, Blacc, whose parents are Panamanian, instead uses his celebrity platform for social change. The married (rapper Maya Jupiter), father of two likes to write and sing meaningful songs full of positive, powerful messages that stir emotions and make people think.
He’ll have that chance this Saturday (July 9) in Los Angeles when he kicks off the 2016 Signature Series at the newly renovated Ford Amphitheatre. He is joined by Los Angeles based guitarist Woody Aplanalp; Brazilian guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento; son jarocho band Cambalache; The Brothers Band and The Concentrates.
The series pairs world-renowned performers with L.A. County artists for one-of-a-kind experiences.
Known for his hits Wake Me Up and I Need A Dollar, Blacc’s upcoming set will feature songs about social movement. Blacc will perform his own arrangements of songs by Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell.
Aloe Blacc Photo courtesy of Ford Theatres
I recently caught up with Blacc to talk about his upcoming concert, his career and fatherhood.
DD: What can people expect from your performance this weekend at the Ford?
AB: This weekend the performance is going to be songs with social movement over the last two decades. It will be a more sober and meaningful set of songs that have inspired me to be both an artist and an activist.
DD: Describe your style.
AB: I can’t pinpoint it. My vocal style is folk and soul. My production style is pop and R&B. It’s hard to pinpoint. I enjoy writing songs that capture a moment. I think I’m bordering around pop, folk and soul.
DD: Who were your musical influences growing up?
AB: I grew up really as a Hip Hop fan listening to Public Enemy, KRS-One, Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. They all have an amazing message of unity and education and black pride. They have messages in the music. Those were my early inspirations. Then as I got older I listened to Nina Simone , Cat Stevens and Stevie Wonder. They capture moments and affect emotions. There are several more.
DD: When did you know you were good enough to sing for a living?
AB: Well, I don’t know if I know it right now. I’m riding the wave, taking it as far as I can take it. I will stay in it as long as people enjoy what I write. I will have a career. I like to create songs about peace, self- motivation and inspiration.
DD: Are you encouraged or discouraged by what you see, hear and feel in the music industry?
AB: In the major music industry there are a lot of reasons to be discouraged coming form what they call Hip Hop. It has no truth. It doesn’t offer any nutrition to the mind of the consumer. I’m discouraged about some popular forms of music. Music should encourage something positive. Not every black male is into gang violence and strip clubs.
DD: Is the public responsible for that?
AB: No, music executives are responsible for that. It goes from the music exec to the radio execs. When Lamar Odom was in the hospital, there was a song, “I can’t feel my face.” It was a hit. Nobody said, “no.” No one said anything about having something on the radio about overdosing. It has to be about checks and balances. I think it’s actually more about paychecks than balances.
DD: Describe your preparation before a performance.
AB: Quite honestly there are no crazy rituals. My band and me have a chant before we go on. We have Dave Chappelle jokes we put together as a football chant. No big ritual. The week before I’m going to perform, I try not to stress my voice out. No sporting events where I’m yelling at the other team.
DD: How do you come down from a performance?
AB: When I’m on tour, after a performance, I go straight to the tour bus and go to sleep. There was a time when I went to parties. I’m getting older. It’s tough to do that. I’d rather get some sleep, go to the next city, wake up and get some breakfast. We are not a wild bunch. We chill out and hang with the family.
DD: Describe the feeling you get on stage and how you use or don’t use the audience.
AB: When I’m on stage I like to use the audience to get involved. That’s the best part. They are singing along. Then it feels like a show to me.
DD: Why do you think the song, Wake Me Up struck such a cord? There are 17 million views on YouTube. I didn’t know I was lost is such a powerful statement. I read you wrote this about your life.
AB: I wrote it about the change that came in my life. I went from an unknown artist to having international success. I was coming home on a first class flight and thinking it was beautiful. I thought, Wake Me Up when this is over. I don’t sit behind a desk or type into a keyboard. I do what I want to do. It has a broader meaning. I’m a first generation immigrant. My parents are Panamanian. I’m sharing a story of empathy.
DD: Who are you impressed by these days musically and why?
AB: Gregory Porter has a beautiful voice. He’s a great writer. Erykah Badu is very talented. She speaks the mind of the people. Bruce Springsteen. He’s pro America, but not in the right wing conservative way. Kendrick Lamar. I like what he’s up to right now. It’s about giving food for thought to those who are being fed fast food music. I also like my wife, Maya Jupiter.
DD: What is the criteria you use when deciding whether to lend your image, for instance to commercials?
AB: It depends on the company and what they stand for. I think about how much harm will the advertising do. Is it part of my artist profile? Does it denigrate anyone? Does it uplift or tear down? Does it inspire? Does it move people? I turned down a really big potential paycheck for a TV commercial for a company I know is engaged in activity I consciously and openly am against.
DD: What causes are most dear to your heart and why?
AB: The most important cause is creating a discussion around prison labor reform. The industry and private prisons are a conflict of interest. Underrepresented communities. The discussion there is extremely important. We have seen, over 20-30 years, how people of color are over represented in the prisons.
DD: What did you expect from the music industry and what did you get?
AB: I expected very little. I thought I’d have a \ niche audience of people who like music that’s not on their radio. They are into things that were happening in the underground. What I got was a massive hit that made it to the airwaves in Europe and then the U.S. Totally not expected. This is totally a blessing.
DD: Most people, especially your fans, probably think you live a life of luxury. Describe your day when you’re not on the road and not on stage. What would I see?
AB: You gotta wake up at 5:30 a.m., make breakfast, wait for my wife to wake up with the six month old. Then I start answering emails and by noon we are heading into a songwriting session. At 5 p.m. I’m home for dinner. We put the 3-year-old to bed at 7. After dinner I’m hanging with my wife and six-month-old until they fall asleep. If there is no songwriting session that night, I just hang with the wife.
DD: You’re a dad of a three-year-old and a six-month old. How do you like fatherhood?
AB: Yeah, it’s the best job I ever had.
Aloe Blacc, 8 p.m., Sat., July 9, The Ford Signature Series, Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood (just off the 101, between Hollywood and Universal Studios in the Cahuenga Pass) Tickets: $30-$70; Parking at The Ford is stacked and costs $5-$10 per vehicle for evening performances. For information: FordTheatres.org or (323) 461-3673 (323-GO-FORD)