It’s difficult to pigeonhole Detroit musician and producer Nadir Omowale into a specific genre. Jazz, funk, soul, rock and many other genres influence in his music. Out of that eclectic mix, Nadir has successfully crafted full-time career in the industry.
You’re originally from Elizabethton, Tennessee, went to Nashville for college and moved to Detroit in 1999. How has it been different living and working in the Detroit scene?
I was in Nashville playing my original music, which is funk-rock-soul based. Unfortunately at that particular time, it was really difficult to gain any traction in Nashville with that kind of music. I happened to meet a young lady who worked at the Nashville Ford plant. We took a liking to each other and she became my wife, Akanke. Before we made that decision she said, “You know, at some point I’m going to have to move to Detroit,” and I said, “Well I can make music in Detroit.” Moving here actually has turned out to be fantastic for my music career. I was raised on that Detroit sound, and it really was an opportunity to come home musically. As people in Detroit heard me play, they really embraced me and my music.
How do you think the Detroit music scene plays into the overall music industry?
You can’t have any conversation about Detroit music without talking about the rich history and the legacy, which is incredible. That history is expansive and permeates all of popular music. As far as how things have developed, a lot of people say the Detroit scene lost something when Motown left and I guess it did lose a little, but it’s remained strong and vibrant for years, especially the independent music scene.
While we don’t have all the corporate labels here, there’s a really strong independent industry, which has thrived. I think that Detroit can teach the world something about how to succeed as an independent artist. We’re moving into a new paradigm with the way music is consumed and created. Detroit’s successful independent artists can teach others how to distribute their music outside of the major label system. Also, Detroit musically has always been innovative. That has really been a focus for a large number of Detroit artists. There isn’t this thread of following the national trends as much as creating the trends.
What’s your job like day to day?
I am an independent music producer and recording engineer, and I have a studio in the Submerge Building. I’ve been recording and producing a lot of different artists, a few of which will come out my label, Distorted Soul, but most of the others will release records on their own. I also coach songwriting, voice and production, plus I am a freelance journalist.
You work a lot with other artists, teaching them, producing for them, etc. Why is it important for you to give back at this stage in your career?
I guess as far as community goes I was raised in a family where giving back was really important. My mother is very much a community leader in my hometown, so it is a natural thing for me to give back. More directly, as I moved into Detroit, I took it upon myself to see where there was a need that I could fill, and what I could do to give back to the scene and make it stronger. That also offered opportunities for me to interact with the artists who were already here, and to learn from them.
Success is different for different people in the music industry. What is YOUR definition?
My definition of success has definitely evolved over the years. For me, it is the ability to make a living, the ability to meet and work with new and exciting people both as a producer and as an artist. It’s about growth. I think if you’re a true artist who is striving to improve as a human being, you never quite “make it.” You’re always looking for new opportunities, exploring new business models, or looking for new ways to improve at your craft. I think that’s important.
What is a memorable experience that you’ve had during your career?
The first experience that comes to mind is playing solo guitar at the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary. It was a time when I was connecting with an audience of thousands of people. They didn’t really speak my language, and I didn’t speak theirs but somehow we were feeling each other. They especially got it when I started singing the song “Guantanamo.” I think they understood where it was coming from which is the universal desire to live in a world that’s peaceful, and where we all stand up for the right thing.
What’s up next for you?
The Distorted Soul label is a big focus of mine right now, where I’m working with members of my musical family to help them put their music out. That’s something that’s always been a dream of mine. I’m also the CEO of Detroit Music TV, an organization that celebrates and promotes Detroit music. My partners and I are currently retooling the Detroit Music TV website to make it more user friendly and more beneficial to the people who want to learn about the great artists here in Detroit. And artistically, I’m starting to write my own new record which will hopefully be out later this year.
Find out more about Nadir on his website and Facebook.