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Madukwu Chinwah’s career began like that of many musicians, playing in a high school garage band. His name was Krystal Klear, and while the band weren’t quite successful, Chinwah would go on to become one of the main creators of the neo-soul genre.
As a songwriter and producer, Chinwah received a Grammy and a platinum plaque for his contributions to longtime friend Erykah Badu. Love of my life and Baduzim.
The term “multi-instrumentalist” still seems short when it describes Chinwah, which plays something between 17 and 20 different instruments; he cannot follow. He has spent most of his musical career behind the scenes at the studio, adding sounds and lyrics to records by other artists. Recently, Chinwah entered his recording studio to write, produce and prepare vocals for his third solo album, Stereophonic, published on April 21, in honor of the International Day of Creativity and Innovation.
Chinwah himself played five or six instruments on each of the album’s 10 songs, while emulating the highly textured and complex sounds of Michael Jackson’s albums. On the wall and Polar. And the inspiration shows; it’s almost scary how much Stereophonic sound like On the wall. Even scarier when you realize that Chinwah plays all the instruments himself, while Jackson had a full band behind him.
Chinwah admits to having a natural musical gift that he cashed in through family genes, but his passion for learning to play instruments stems from his time listening to early records while in high school playing with Kyrstal Klear. Wherever he lived, party members invariably left their gear, so they didn’t have to charge everything before returning home. As soon as they left, Chinwah was practicing drums, guitars, keyboards, and whatever other instrument sat in his garage, trying to become a better one at all.
“I had to learn, to do trial and error, and it made me appreciate what it was [to produce and play different instruments]”Says Chinwah.” So I guess I assumed from the start that the person who wrote the song was the person who played it, and all that stuff. ”
Learning to play multiple instruments helped him prepare for a long career.
When Badu returned from a short stint at Grambling University, Chinwah says that he and Badu, who started out rapping, had a conversation about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
“We both decided as rappers that we wanted to sing,” Chinwah says. “[Badu] said, “I wanna be an R&B singer,” and I said, “I wanna be an R&B producer.” ”
This conversation took place in 1990, and a few years later they were making history.
“Erykah’s success came from my success,” Chinwah says. “I was on the national and even international scene right away because it was a triple platinum album, by a new artist on a real label at Universal.
Chinwah says he’s always been inspired by Quincy Jones and Jackson’s ability to create dynamic records and Stereophonic was something he had long aspired to achieve. He found that the music created by these artists and producers always carried a certain fullness and warmth that would cover the listener like a warm blanket, through powerfully moving lyrics. Chinwah wanted to put the same kind of energy into his own record.
“My Stereophonic wanted to paint a similar picture, something for everyone, ”Chinwah says. “And I feel good about what I presented because even though the production is dense and warm, I think musicians can appreciate it. But ultimately these are pop songs you can sing along to and I never have. Maybe some of the music I did before was a bit more sophisticated, but [Stereophonic] is a straight boogie.
Chinwah is about to release a series of music videos and is still working in the studio on records for other artists. He had put songs aside for the album for less than two years, and said he would have presented some of the tracks from the album to Jackson before he died.
“Michael Jackson sang songs that got out of relationships and he put himself in danger for others by singing songs with conviction,” Chinwah says. “So I wanted to be able to be that kind of transparency, and Stereophonic is it. “
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