The stories that come together due to the sounds of music will forever be never-ending. A perfectly synchronized beat. The mix of a song that leaves you with an unforgettable vibration of soul shaking and life changing tunes. It’s all for the love of the game and that game is one that true music lovers never tire of playing. A true artist and music lover to the core, Jamal Ahmad born and raised in College Park, Georgia found his love of music at the age of 5. As we know, most love stories start before we truly know who we are, but they set the tone for who we are to become. Ahmad cut his first demo at the age of 16, played in the legendary House of Funk marching band for Morehouse College during the 90s and allowed his love for the craft to carry him even higher. He is a songwriter, a musically gifted artist, a dreamer and crafter of those higher vibrations we love to groove to. Come along with me and dive into a truly enlightening conversation as we learn more about his band, The DangerFeel Newbies, the latest release of his single, Somewhat Loved and the power of music and its undeniable influence on his life.
There aren’t too many who know the story of Dangerfield Newby. The son of a white slave master who would later be freed. Newby made a living as a blacksmith and eventually joined John Brown and his raiders in hopes to free his wife and family. What was it about his story that led you to call your band, ‘DangerFeel Newbies?
That is a brilliant question. Because the story of Dangerfield Newby is so intrinsically connected to the universal struggles of the human spirit. When I first heard about him while watching Ken Burn's Civil War documentary back in 2007, I remember his name striking a big chord with me. I literally came up with the band name, The Dangerfeel Newbies, after hearing his name. It had a vibration that felt like there was more to his story. So I did research and found out there was so much more to his story and when I discovered the love letters between him and his wife Harriet, I knew that their story would be felt deeply by all humanity. Because it's a story that's essentially about what sacrifices would we make for love, family and our people. It's like the Prince song "I Would Die For You". It's the ultimate black love story. When I saw the plaquer in the National Museum Of African American History & Culture with her quote, it affirmed my deep affinity for their story.
Blues, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop & house are all music genres that have deep history. How has the influence and culture of music inspired you as a musician?
Sometimes we as African Americans forget that one of the greatest commodities we've given to this world, outside of our epic symbol of struggle, is our music and its spiritual and healing qualities. It's changed the world many times, going all the way back to the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Ella Shepherd creating what we now call Negro spirituals. When folks like Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain and royals all over the world heard their songs that were once referred to as "cabin songs", they heard something so hauntingly beautiful and soulful. Even the great composer Johann Strauss proclaimed at one of their shows that this was the greatest music he'd ever heard in his life. So that's how our story begins. It starts in this deeply cathartic space where the music is healing to our people who had been enslaved for hundreds of years and then set free in a cold wilderness. And everything else that came after it, ragtime, jazz, rock 'n' roll, soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, house, techno, whatever, came from this same place and effectively changed the globe. That's why I take all these genres so seriously. You can see how the world moves to our beat. It's not the other way around lol.
The readers would love to get to know you. Tell us where you were born and raised and more of your musical background.
I'm born and raised in this small southern town called College Park, Georgia lol. My father James Ahmad is from Gainesville, Georgia and my mother, Dr. Rubye Byrd, is from Greenville, Georgia. She would later become the first female mayor of her hometown. I'm very proud of my parents because they are these very intelligent, educated and conscious people who never forgot where they came from. My father joined the Nation Of Islam in the early 70s and my mother followed suit. They eventually followed Wallace Deen Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, into the world of Sunni Islam, the kind that is practiced by the majority of Muslims all over the world. Being raised like that had a profound effect on me and my four siblings. It made us understand the beauty of being different. And that seeped over into my love of music, which started when I was 5 and heard EWF's "Let's Groove" for the first time riding in my mother's car. My mother also started a boutique record label when I was about 9 called Paradigm Records, and she was respected by all the top execs like Louill Silas, Clarence Avant and Berry Gordy. I even remember James Brown calling our house to receive her wise counsel. I started playing trumpet around that same time because I just wanted to be a part of music. I moved to the euphonium(baritone) 2 years later and then ended up on tuba my freshman year in high school at Benjamin E. Banneker High School in College Park. Folks like Mr. Colli Park(Yin Yang Twins) and Mr. DJ(Outkast) were in the marching band with me. I also started producing at that time and cut my first self produced demo when I was about 16. I went on to Morehouse College and played in their legendary House Of Funk marching band during the mid 90s. At that same time, I was hanging out with some amazing young artists that were on the same vibe I was on. It was pre-neo soul, so we didn't know what to call the vibe, so we just followed the Brits and called it acid jazz lol. But my friends were folks like India Arie, Anthony David, Donnie & Khari Cabral, Jiva, Dana Johnson(Avery Sunshine) and so many others. We were all in our early 20's and started an artistic collective called The Groovement and a record label called Earthseed Records. I used to argue that we had the best crew in music outside of The Soulquarians and Wu-Tang Clan lol. Being around them made me feel like the possibilities were endless. They were just so immensely talented to be so young, and they motivated me to be great. I also began interning at WCLK around this time. It was as if the planets were all aligned and that moment in my life planted the seeds for all the fruit that I pick nowadays.
Your latest single, ‘Somewhat Loved’, featuring MaShanda Faust feels like old school, mixed with a jazzy and down south beat. Is that how you wanted it to feel?
Absolutely AJ. When we started collaborating with The Sabor Brass Band on the Ralph Tresvant classic "Sensitivity" featuring Tajh Abdulsamad(of the classic 90s group, The Boys) for our "jazz" album "Culture Dawn", myself and Mark Angel knew that we wanted to do something very unique and soulful. Pairing soulful, modern vocals with that classic Louisiana second line brass band sound was something that seemed like a unique fusion. Plus I played in the Morehouse College marching band with Sabor's leader, drummer Clarence Levy and have booked them to play Friday Jazz At The High Museum Of Art, so it was just a natural fit. After that we began doing a Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis tribute series with Sabor Brass Band and the next single was our version of Human League's "Human" back in 2020. That version caught the attention of the legendary Jimmy Jam via Instagram. He reached out and asked if we could cover he and Terry's single, "Somewhat Loved" featuring Mariah Carey. Of course, we said yes! He's a member of the greatest production duo in music history. Who would be a fool and say no lol. So we called in powerhouse vocalist Mashanda Faust and she completely slayed the track. She's really one of my favorite modern singers, and we're so honored that she says yes every time we call her lol. It's been receiving love all over the world, from Kyoto, Japan to London, UK. Jazz Fm in London just added to their playlist, so we're really excited about the global love. Big shout out again tho to the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Do you write your own music?
Yes we do. Although our last album and EP were primarily covers of obscure jazz/pop tunes, our first record was pretty much original music. Mark and I have done all the demos for the new record and it feels so fresh and modern. It's a step higher from what we've done in the past and it's 100% original music. We are often seen as radio/DJ guys and what many folks forget is that we started off as creatives in music first. Radio just gave us another perspective and insight that have been super valuable to us.
"Being raised like that had a profound effect on me and my four siblings. It made us understand the beauty of being different."
What’s next for The DangerFeel Newbies?
It's funny you should ask because I was just speaking with Mark and our manager Elliot Lloyd earlier about our plans for this year. We've dubbed 2023, the Year Of The Newbies lol. Because we've got so many plans. We've already started with the release of "Somewhat Loved" on Valentine's Day. We'll be hitting the studio soon to record the new album, which will be entitled "Sonic Salve". We wanted this album to have a high vibrational spirit and to be intentionally healing to the listener. Especially after all the world has been through for the past 3 years. We also want to create a new narrative for black men. Because I remember when Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire said in his autobiography that he wanted to create a new kind of masculinity with EWF. That's something that resonated with us deeply, and we wanted everything we do to follow the same ethos that Maurice White spoke of. So we'll be recording the album at the illustrious Orange Room Studios in the SWATS and studio owner/pianist/producer John Beal is going to be our Charles Stepney for this project lol. We also just produced a new single for this incredible hip-hop artist named Mann 95. He's affiliated with producer 88 Keys and it really showcases another musical side for us. We are massive hip-hop fans, so to work with a talent like Mann was truly an honor. Mark and I both program KPVU 91.3 in Prairie View, TX. Mark is actually the Program Director there and I host the daily program The Sounds Of Universal Love(S.O.U.L) every weekday afternoon. So we'll be creating more content and radio documentaries like the ones we did for Marvin Gaye and Nikki Giovanni. Plus we'll be DJIng more and doing live P.A.'s like the Outdoor Music Museum on the 29th of this month. And we have a killer live show that we want to share with everyone that will listen, so please book us promoters and festival organizers.
If you had the choice to work with three artists, who would you choose?
Well most of my friends will expect me to say Al. B Sure! but I'm not going to do that lol. I personally would say we would love to work with George Clinton, Roy Ayers, Teedra Moses and if we could sneak in one more person, funny enough we both agreed it would be Kanye West. We know how controversial it is to say that, but we still see him as one of the greatest artists of this generation. His creative energy over the past 20 yrs is pretty much unmatched by his peers. We just wish all that other stuff didn't cloud that fact.
You are the host of S.O.U.L. (Sounds Of Universal Jazz) on 91.9 FM WCLK.Com. When can the readers and listeners tune in to your broadcast?
They can hear the show weekdays on Jazz 91.9 FM WCLK in Atlanta from 2-7pm EST. The syndicated version of my show airs on Saturdays from 6-9pm EST and airs in over 30 markets across America via The African-American Public Radio Consortium and the Latino Network Radio Bilingue. It's so beautiful to be heard on public radio stations all the way from Alaska & Puerto Rico, to California & Maine. I've been on the radio for 28 years and my mission was always to create an alternative for black folks. The same type of alternative that white, college radio listeners had since the early 80s. I've played everything from the ska fueled punk of Fishbone to the deepest Detroit techno from Carl Craig. We also gave a lot of young folks their first chance to experience radio and the music industry. DJ Drama used to come and sit in on my show and just observe. Now look at him lol. I broke everybody from Jill Scott to Amy Whinehouse on my show. The consultants like to talk about what the "urban alternative" is but we don't really pay them much mind because WCLK was ground zero for creating the urban alternative. I can't thank the great people at the station who allowed me to use the airwaves as my own sound science lab. Because of that, I think we've created something that's uniquely our own. It's why stations all across the country are following our lead. We just created the first official Jazz Music Awards and it was something that put the station on the global stage because it's never been done before. So kudos to Wendy, David, Eugenia and everyone at the station for just killing the game right now. It feels so good to be a part of a winning team.
As an independent artist what do you feel is most important when it comes to getting visibility in the music industry?
Great question. I think it's so important for independent artists to truly understand the current landscape of the music industry and always move like a major. There are over 64,000 new songs released everyday. When you see it from that perspective, you have to do everything in your power to be seen and heard. That means walking into the studio and consciously making something that stands apart from the rest. Creating songs that touch something much deeper and universal. And then creating a marketing, PR and promotion campaign that garners you exposure. We have to work twice as hard to get just a fraction of the results. And the payoff isn't as immediate as we want it. But when you do everything in your power to treat your "babies" or songs with the love that you would want to be treated, then you can at least feel good in knowing that you gave it your all. I can honestly say that I've worked our music like a major label would and it's garnered us things like tv licensing deals, video game opportunities and foreign licensing deals in the UK & Japan. And that's just the beginning.
Where do you see The DangerFeel Newbies in 10 years?
I pray that the first thing we are in 10 yrs is alive. I'm serious lol. But we just want to be in a place in life where we are doing what we love and surrounded by the people we love. I want to ensure that I can leave behind a rich heritage for my daughter Jennah and always honor the memory of my dear mother Dr. Rubye Byrd and all my ancestors. We want to realize the dream and vision of Dangerfield Newby. And by utilizing the talents that our Creator has bestowed upon us, we can honor his legacy by bringing the world together. All in the name of love.
Get your copy of Issue 34 at groovmagazine.com.
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AJ is a creative writer and storyteller writing from her home in Indiana.
"This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." -Neil Gaiman