Why Detroit is home for neo-soul superstar Dwele

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click to enlarge Dwele. - Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

Dwele could not be happier to be home. The neo soul singer is performing Wednesday, July 24 at the former Chene Park.

"Playing at Chene Park is always a fun time for me," he says. "Being a Detroiter, it's an honor to play there. For an artist, you have to get in your Chene Park performance. It's always a pleasure anytime I get to go there."

It seems like the former Chene Park, recently rechristened the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, or "the Aretha," might suffer from the same problem as other renamed Detroit area venues, where fans have a hard time letting the old name go — like those who still call the Fillmore the "State Theatre," or those who still call DTE Energy Music Theatre "Pine Knob." But for Dwele, it might just be a case of inertia rather than a hipster stubbornness; he's excited for the name change.

"I'm glad to be part of the lineup for one of the first shows since the renaming," he says. "I feel like what Aretha has done for music and Detroit is unparalleled."

Performing alongside Dwele will be P.J. Morton, an artist and former member of pop band Maroon 5. Dwele admits the two have never formally met, although they collaborated briefly.

"This will be my first time meeting him," he says. "We actually got to work together on Robert Glasper's album, a song called 'No Worries.' PJ actually wrote that." He continues, "We actually got to work via technology before even meeting. This will be our first time actually connecting and get the chance to actually kick it."

Of his upcoming show, Dwele says he prefers to keep his set relaxed and free-flowing.

"With my shows I always try to keep things open," he says. "I just know my time frame. Sometimes I might not do a full song; I'll do a verse of one song before I transition to another song." He continued, "I might go through five songs in three or four minutes. It's kind of hard to say."

Beyond the performance, Dwele says he's always working on new music, with new material set to release later this year.

"I've been working," he says. "I've done a little work with a few artists, and we're working out the paperwork. I can't really speak on it, but if everything goes well you will find out before the month is out."

"As far as my material goes, I'm always working," he says. "I'm just taking my time and making sure everything is right."

When discussing what fans should anticipate from the new material, Dwele offered reassurance to his longtime listeners.

"I always try to keep the few elements to who I am in my music — the fact that I was raised on hip-hop, soul, and jazz music; the fact that I try to use live instrumentation, real trumpets, and real bass," he says. "I try to keep those elements in my music. That's my signature."

"You can't shut out what's current in music," he says. "Part of me wants to make music that's classic, that's going to be around forever. But part of me also knows that I need to use some current elements in order to make it work right now. I want to find the balance between the two."

Dwele, whose career gained notoriety back in 2002 after collaborating with fellow Detroit artists Slum Village, says he still believes the key to success is setting yourself apart.

"It's kind of hard for me to tell a new artist how they should get on because the game has changed so much from when I got on the scene," he says. "Before, it was all about being diligent, which I still say. I still say be diligent and learn your craft to the best of your ability. Set yourself apart and find out what makes you special. Push that in your music, what sets you apart."

The Aretha is not the only place Dwele be performing. He will also perform at the Cole Family Fun Festival.

"That's going to be fun," he says. "It's right off Grand Boulevard, and there's also a gala event in September. This is something that a friend has brought me on for. I'm just providing the entertainment, but it's always great to be a part of anything going on in the city."

While it's been a while since he's performed in Detroit, Dwele says he's grateful for the warm welcome he still receives from the city and is looking forward to his show.

"It's just good to be back in the city," he says. "It's been a minute. I think the time is right. I'm glad it's happening in the summertime when everyone can come out. I'm looking forward to seeing Detroit again."

Dwele and P.J. Morton perform on Wednesday, July 24 at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre; 2600 Atwater St., Detroit; 313-393-0292; thearetha.com. Tickets are $13+.

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