Hawk’s Beautiful Imperfection

"Hawk's Beautiful Imperfection"

Live at the Rockwood Music Hall

What I’m really disappointed about in the recording industry is that many of today’s artists are making too records that lack content or is too producer oriented. It seems that all the records produced now are with artists that are younger and music content seems to be dominated by dance or sex oriented material. Gone are the golden days of the D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill type artists where they were groomed through A & R directors. It was through them that allowed the talent to develop over span of recordings that allowed them to pair with the right writers and producers. Plus, that was the last time the artists really took root of their career and recorded music that was personal and constantly evolving.

Last week at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City I witnessed the exact opposite of where music has returned to. Where maturity in songwriting and live performance was an intricate part of the intimacy and connection to the fans and artist. This performer has the natural ability to reach out and speak the truth, not out of hate or commercial gain, but out of life and growing up as a human being.

Hailed as one of the most important singer/songwriters of her generation, Asa(pronounced Asha) is a musician that’s the most honest and authentic person on and off the stage. Her latest disc ‘Beautiful Imperfection’ is a tribute and testament that folk, soul, and afro-beat can be a means of music that appeals to music fans all over the world. Often compared to Lauryn Hill and Nina Simone, Asa’s music reflects her views on politics, her sensitivity as both a strong and weak African woman, and the ability to encourage one to love themselves. Over the last four years she’s been able to independently become her own voice to the tune of millions of fan all over the world.

Born in Paris, France, young Bukola Elemide at an early age knew that she was going to become a musician. At the age of two, she and her family moved to Lagos, Nigeria where for 20 years Asa was accustomed to her parent’s native country. Asa means “Hawk” in Yorba.

While growing up in Lagos, she used to listen to her parent’s records that consisted of a mix of African musician ranging from Fela Kuti to Sunny Ade, to the great American soul artists like Donny Hathaway to Aretha Franklin. By the time she was 18, Asa signed herself at the Peter King’s School of Music, a music school where she learned to play the guitar. It was also there where she began developing her vocal style fusing both English and her native Yorba.

At 19 Asa moved to Paris, France where she began her real roots a struggling and up-and-coming artist. One of her best friends introduced her to producer and manager Cobhams Emmauel Asuquo, who later became her musical partner. By this time she sent her demo tape to the Visa program that was run by the AFAA, the cultural division of the French Foreign Ministry. During the beginning of 2007 Asa and Cobhams went into the recording studio for six weeks and recorded her debut self-titled album “Asa.” With jaw-dropping songs like “Jailer,” “360,” and “So Beautiful,” music fans and critics took notice of her politically charged and mature songwriting and performances. When Asa plays the guitar with out a band, you can hear a pin drop! Audiences are glued to her singing as well as messages of hope.

It was around this time Asa and other musicians like 2 Face, 419 Squad, and 9ice were beginning to bring a new and fresh voice that brought a resurrection to the Nigerian music scene.

‘Beautiful Imperfection’ is continuation of Asa’s growth as a vocalist and songwriter. The new disc fuses all of the musical styles at she grew up listening to and enjoying as a kid. Her latest hit “Why Can’t We” is an upbeat soulful/folk oriented groove that takes you back to the soul sounds of the 1960’s. Other songs like “Preacher Man” and “Questions” continue to showcase her ability to raise ones consciousness of the injustices that take in the world.

I first saw Asa three years ago at Summerstage at Central Park when she opened for Les Nubians, another French/African soul group that proceeded her a decade earlier. It was then that I witnessed a musical treasure on the rise. After listening to her debut disc ‘Asha’ I noticed that some of her content was a bit bleak and rather eye-opening compared to her latest ‘Beautiful Imperfection.’ This disc seems to be more upbeat and her outlook on life a bit optimistic. But what I must say is that her live performance has drastically stepped up a notch even with out a live band.This young lady is on her way both musically and as a person.

Asa is currently on tour and promoting her latest disc. For upcoming dates or to order ‘Beautiful Imperfection’ visit her online at asa-official.com.


The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report




Rondi Charleston: “A New Voice, For A New Time”

Live at Joe's Pub, New York CityAt a time where the masses have grown to accept the “force feeding” of talent via the “American Idols” and “Americas Next Talent,” the art of learning the great American Songbook as well as listening to other forms of music has been a lost art. Popular music today is a fuse of younger artists and producers that cater to record sales and a younger demographic. With the major record labels losing steam and the advent of online sources like You Tube and i Tunes, people have the choice to watch and buy the music content that they want. Radio hasn’t been much of a help since only a handful of companies own them and have streamlined their radio formats and listeners. Just when you think that the days of vocalists like Barbara Streisand or Celine Dion are no more comes a singer named Rondi Charleston. Last week I had the privilege and honor to witness Mrs. Charleston’s record release party at Joe’s Pub in New York City for her Motema Records debut “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” This is Rondi’s second release as an artist, but this recording is mesmerizing from beginning to end. And her live performance takes me back to those classic female vocalists like Streisand, Dion, and Whitney Houston.

The Chicago, Illinois native is a classically-trained musician and actor who studied at Juilliard. Rondi grew up around music all her life listening to jazz, pop, and classical. Instead of becoming the great musician that she has become today, Rondi was a Peabody-Award winning journalist who worked with Diane Sawyer and ABC’s Primetime Live program. While working crazy hours as a broadcast journalist, she maintained her passion for singing in the many New York City supper clubs. It wasn’t until she left to pursue the music full-time that she went out on a leap of faith and now she’s reaping the success of her passion, music.

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” covers many original compositions written by both Rondi and pianist Lynne Arriale, who also records on the Motema imprint. She also dives into other genres of music ranging from Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and Carlos Antonio Jobim’s “Wave.”

I think one of Rondi’s hidden successes is that she’s surrounded herself with some of the best musicians that have a hidden track record of knowing how to bring her full talent out. Pianist Lynne Arriale and Rondi’s collaboration of songs for “Who Knows Where the Time Goes, is almost reminiscent of the great writing partnerships of McCartney and Lennon, Strayhorn and Ellington, and Hayes and Porter. The two penned “Song for the Ages” and “Your Spirit Lingers,” which are some of finest and most personal selections on the disc.

In addition to the songs she’s recorded for her latest disc, having jazz guitarist Dave Stryker as her music director was a match made in heaven. Dave’s scope of music is so vast that selecting great musicians like bassist James Genus, pianist Brandon McCune, and Mayra Casales on percussion, helped make the vision of Rondi’s music come full circle. In fact, Rondi and her band sound and perform better live than they do on record! Her stage presence and passion for the music shows in the first 10 minutes of the show.

Its about time that a vocalist like Rondi Charleston is on the scene right now. The fact that her music isn’t industry driven and is back to the basics of original and authentic material. I admire what she and Motema Records founder Jana Herzen have done to and with the music over the last couple years. The idea of letting the artist evolve and grow is so missing in the record industry right now and Mrs. Charleston’s path to excellence is in the step in the right direction.

Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

The Father of RapDuring the early 1970’s, African-Americans were craving and embracing a more powerful and conscious message that was being conveyed by musicians like Sly Stone to James Brown to Curtis Mayfield. These musicians, unlike the vocal and political stylings of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, enlightened a new generation of listeners to become more aware of their social and economic surroundings, as well as becoming a new voice for change. Heron is considered the father of conscious rap that paved the way for MC’s and singers like Mos Def, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Black Thought, and Paris. Not only is he an accomplished singer/songwriter, Gil’s an exceptional novelist and poet.

On the afternoon of May 27th, 2011, the world lost an icon that shined a light on many in the rap community as well as writers and poets like myself. Gil Scott-Heron made his transition at the age of 62 at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City.


Born on April 1st, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, his parents divorced at an early age and was sent to live with his grandmother in Jackson, Tennessee. His father, Giles Heron, became the 1st Afro-Caribbean player to play soccer here in the US and in Scotland during the 1950’s. When Heron’s grandmother passed away, he moved to the Bronx to live with his mother. Gil’s gift for poetry got him a full-scholarship at Fieldston School, a prep school whose curriculum prepares most students for the top ivy league schools in the country. He would later drop out of Lincoln University to pursue his writing and later music career with songwriting partner Brian Jackson. In addition to becoming a prolific songwriter, Gil was successful author. His first two books, “The Vulture” and “The Nigger Factory” were both written when he dropped out of undergrad.

In 1970 Gil was living in Harlem, where a major arts scene was taking place. Coffee shops were the new platform for poets like The Last Poets and Gil. His landmark recording “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox” set the wave for the spoken word and the rap genre that would dominate the radio waves now. Although Gil’s rise to prominence was a slow and gradual one, his messages of the political struggle and social consciousness still electrifies fans from all over the world.

The song “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” covered by the late Esther Phillips, would be one of many records that depicted and told the gripping and haunting tales of plight and despair in the black community. The song paints a vivid and graphic depiction of heroin addiction that was prevalent during the early 1970’s. Phillips, was also recovering from her addiction from heroin at the time, was nominated for a Grammy for best R & B vocal losing to Aretha Franklin. Franklin, a big fan of the record and of Mrs. Phillips, gave her her Grammy.

The record, “Winter In America,” featured their signature single and million seller, “The Bottle.” The song depicted how alcohol was taking out the black community out during the mid-1970’s in a neighborhood he lived in in Washington, D.C.

As hip-hop evolved into rap music, it’s been hailed as the black CNN as MC’s use descriptive words to paint a story verbally to music. Gil Scott-Heron’s landmark, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was really a wake up call to all blacks on how the mass media paints a major deception to the masses and how people tend to believe in what they read and hear.

What was so brilliant and groundbreaking about those first three albums: “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” “Pieces of a Man,” and “Revolution;” was that Gil recorded with some of the most prolific jazz and soul session musicians around. Producer Bob Thiele, founder of Flying Dutchman Records, and also former producer at Impulse Records, had ties to many musicians like Bernard Purdie, Ron Carter, and Hubert Laws. The fact that Gill took spoken word poetry and recorded it with live instrumentation, was a bit advanced. The art of taking verbal art and fusing it to where younger music listeners supported it, was both commercially profitable, as well as empowering a generation to question the “status quo.”

I can honestly say, Gil and Brian got lots of black folks through the 1970’s. With anthems like “H20 Blues,” “Angel Dust,” “We Almost Lost Detroit,” and “Winter In America.” With the fatigue of Vietnam, Nixon, and inflation that hit the country, Gil’s message of change and reality made music fans take notice and embraced his views.

For most of his adult life he battled alcoholism and drug abuse and even did some prison time for his indiscretions. But that didn’t stop him from spread the words of hope and positivity. Last year marked his return to music with “I’m New Here,” his first recording in 16 years. The disc was well-received and was a mix of blues, soul, electronica, and some hip-hop. Gil was currently putting the final touches on his latest book, “The Last Holiday,” his autobiography on singer and activist Stevie Wonder. The book focused on how soul singer Stevie Wonder advocated and spearheaded to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday.

"The Father of Rap"

Live at S.O.B's 2/17/2009

I’m saddened by the passing of Gil because he was one of the few brothers, like his contemporaries, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, that spoke on the many injustices and atrocities that took place in the heart of black America as well as around the world. Through music,my generation saw the evolution of hip-hop as an extension to embrace a message to white people on the realism that’s happening day to day in urban black America. Whether it was the realism of police brutality and the injustices of legal justice system towards blacks; or the raising of self knowledge of knowing our African roots and empowering ourselves, Gil’s influences in hip-hop range from Brand Nubian, N.W.A,Ice Cube, Brother Ali, and Ice T.

Gil, thank you for tireless wisdom and gift to encourage to wake us up politically and consciously. Also, give the world your wit and candid views of the world around you. You will definitely gone, but not lost.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report