Andwele Gardner, 27, better known to the music world as Dwele, makes the kind of soul music that suggests hes more a lover than a fighter. And that may be true. But when you grow up in the neighborhoods that line legendarily tough Joy Road on Detroits West Side, you learn quickly when to love, and when to shove.
Sitting inside Pizza Papalis on East Jefferson Avenue, near Detroits riverfront, Dwele (pronounced DWELL-ee) talks about one such time. It involves a 2004 tour stop in Austin, Texas. While chatting with his bandmates outside their tour bus, a man approaches his backup singer, a woman, says something in her ear, and then smacks her on the ass.
She looked at me like, Did that just happen? And then he came back and said something crazy like, Yeah, bitch, lalalalala. It was a done deal. My manager came out of the woodwork with the haymaker. The whole band rushed him. Vern [Vernon Hill, band member] tried to hit him with a trumpet. I tried to stomp him. Then the cops came out of nowhere, and the whole band got pepper sprayed.
Dwele, whose name means God has brought me in Swahili, says the most important thing to come out of the fracas is a bond between him and the band. They know that they have each others back.
In Dweles case, unity makes perfect sense. Dude is a typical Aquarius, and he admits it. Hes a water sign, a fluid thinker. Hes about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Throw in some people-oriented mental energy, and you may have this guy figured out.
Hes not solely lover or fighter. Hes whatever works for him and his people.
This temperament fueled Dweles 2003 Virgin Records debut CD, Subject. The company paid for the video for the lead single, Find a Way. A couple other cuts, Hold On and Sho Ya Right, found more radio love. But that was it. Virgin opted not to spend a lot on a new artist.
The album still pushed more than 250,000 units. The company opened its eyes. Its rare in todays music industry that a project sells well on its own. When it happens, it heightens expectations for the follow-up. Subjects showing made a lot of people, at the label and in the streets, take notice of Dweles voice and writing.
To me, its the way he does his vocals, Slum Villages T3 says of Dwele, whose baritone recalls Donny Hathaways. His melodic tone is what makes Dwele one of the most unique singers.
His sophomore project, Some Kinda, is due Oct. 4, and Virgin is putting more energy behind this one. I Think I Love You, the lead single, is already getting airplay. And Dwele is looking forward to seeing the promotional loot placed behind him this time: a second video, an official second single, second tour.
These might seem like pipe dreams to the average kid from the hood. But Dweles folks positioned him early to see that a world existed beyond his block.
I was raised in the hood, but went to predominantly white schools, he says. In a chocolate city like Detroit, the private schooling broadened Dweles perspective. He encountered two different environments daily for years. They were like night and day. When youre in that kind of zone, you get the best of both worlds. In the hood, I had hip-hop. In school, I was listening to AC/DC. So I love hip hop and hard rock.
He attended institutions like St. Marys of Redford and Bishop Borgess High School. He spent his senior year at Cody, a Detroit public school. Its where he says he had the most fun musically. But hed sharpened his skills at Borgess where, after the school fired its music director, Dwele says he and two friends became the schools marching band and house band.
By the time he got to Cody, hed learned to play trumpet and piano. Hes since added guitar and bass guitar to his repertoire.
A longtime associate of kindred spirits like Slum Village, rapper-producer Lacksadaisical (Lacks) and Jay Dilla, Dwele eventually began working with the Barak Records camp. His appearance on Slums 2002 hit Tainted paved the way for his own debut and success.
At this point, Dwele typically makes two or more promotional trips to Europe each year. Like his stablemates, his music does well abroad, and reaches a broader audience.
I would have to say London is my favorite place, he says. You ever been somewhere before and been like, I should move here? Thats what I felt. The people are real cool. And I love the music scene. Plus, I love chicks with English accents.
Its like, here, soul music attracts people 20 to 40 years of age. Neo-soul people. There, it can be a 20-year-old African next to a 55-year-old Irish guy, and they both know the words to the songs. They have a wider appreciation for music. Its dope.
He stresses his love for his hometown, but acknowledges that theres a lack of support for artists and a lack of unity among them.
In London, he gets superstar attention and can sell out the famed Jazz Café five nights in a row. Here, hes just another D-boy ordering a Lil Bambino pizza. People hardly notice him. They definitely dont realize that they might have shaken their ass to his song.
Not to say he is completely invisible in Detroit. He can walk the street unmolested, yes. On the other hand, he had to move out of his moms house to his own place downtown because, as he says, People started showin up at my door. The final straw was when this guy came over. We were in the back yard barbecuing. It was me, my moms, my little brother. He went to answer the front door, and came around the back sayin, Its some guy there askin for you. So I walk around to the front and [the guy says], Man, I remember I came over to your house 10 years ago with such-and-such! And you were doin music. And I saw your video. Yo, man, I just got out of jail, and I was hopin I could come down to your basement and cut a song so you could hear me rhyme. And I dance! You dont want to miss this chance, man!
Dwele says, the eager parolee got to rap-a-dancin right in the driveway. That was it. Dwele moved to a loft near the water, his own space with his own studio. He writes to whatever mood shines through the window, he says.
He talks, too, about how hes channeled the highs of the last couple of years into Some Kinda. Highs like the Jazz Café gigs and the performance in Switzerland when bandleader Roy Ayers joined him onstage, and then drank Hennessy backstage with Dwele and Jamiroquai frontman JK.
Just talkin shit for, like, hours, Dwele says.
Dwele says the title Some Kinda is a dedication to what motivates people to get the best out of life. Everybody has some kinda love, or passion. That umph. His some kinda is music, and the encouragement of his father, who died when he was 10. They give him his purpose, which is to help you find yours.Khary Kimani Turner is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]