100 per cent Legend
John Legend embodies music. With his “old school” voice that can float between falsetto passages and deep tenor bordering on bass, he gives at least 95 per cent of himself to his audience.
He’d probably tell you it’s 100 per cent, based on his mission to give the audience 100 minutes in every performance, instead of the traditional 90-minute set.
Switching between his seat at the piano and standing before the microphone, then suddenly leaping on top of the piano, Legend puts his all into the music, as he told WE Magazine.
“I’m open to everything musically. I feel like everything is music. We’re all one world when it comes to music,” he said,
“And we’re large in each other’s cultures and music, particularly music of the islands, black American music and Latin American music. A lot of it comes from Africa anyway, so I feel we’re all united by that,” he added.
It was an indication that musically, nothing is off limits for the 32-year-old Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and pianist who left women across the “islands” swooning at the caress of his voice after performances at the St Lucia Jazz Festival last weekend and at the Gymnasium of the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex Tuesday night.
Having produced at least two winning reggae tracks, including No Other Love from his album Evolver, Legend joins the ranks of genuinely talented artistes who stand out amid the current synthetic pop wave, proving that truly good music will make its endelible mark.
“I’m going to keep making music that is soulful, real and authentic for me, and I think every other artiste should do the same,” he said.
But he was quick to note that “every artiste’s definition of what’s authentic for them is going to be different, [but] as long as artistes are being true to themselves and giving the audience something meaningful, it’s going to be good”.
It’s no wonder then that his musical spirit has seemed to gel with other genuine artists, and he’s now making a public call for a collaboration with fellow Grammy Award-winning Barbadian pop queen Rihanna.
“I’d love to collaborate with Rihanna. She’s one of my favourite pop artistes right now. She’s made some great records over the past three years. Some of my favourite pop songs she’s (also) been a part of. She has been a great talent,” was how Legend put it.
He said of the island that has spawned international talent like Rihanna, Shontelle, Jaicko and veteran producer Cecil “Jimi” Haynes of Babylon The Bandit fame: “It’s exciting to finally be here. I’ve never been here before and I’ve heard wonderful things about this island and country.”
After Tuesday night’s awesome set, Barbadians will definitely want him back, not only because of his music but because he stands for something – including politics. An unapologetic Obama campaigner, listen to him on If You’re Out There – originally performed at a Democratic convention where he called listeners to ”stand up and say it loud”.
“I can’t help it,” he said in regard to politics. “I read about politics, and when I have something to say and someone asks me, I’ll say it. I have opinions; everyone is entitled to their own and entitled to agree or disagree with me on the merits of what I say. When I think I have something to contribute to the discussion and I know what I’m talking about, then I say something.”
If there’s at least one another thing he feels passionate about, it is helping his fellow man. “My organization, the Show Me Campaign, does work in schools and it’s not just about music but about improving schools in general for our kids.
“We focus on low-income communities in America but we’ve also worked in Africa, building schools in Tanzania. The work we do in general is all about people who live in poverty and giving them the power to help themselves. We do that mainly through education,” he explained.
His humble, almost shy deameanour does not mean that he’s above the trappings of the lucrative music business, however.
“Certainly if you have had an experience of being a celebrity, of travelling the world, of making a lot more money than you thought you’d ever make in your life, all of those things have an impact on your life,” he stated.
“You hope they don’t change the core of who you are and your character, but they will certainly change your experience and the way you look at life, because the more information you get, your outlook should change,” added the Ohio-born native who was christened John Stephens and enjoys watching basketball and football in his downtime.
“I also love to travel, go to great restaurants, read a good book . . . I’d like to do film but it’s just a matter of finding the right projects, the right timing and making sure I’m ready to do it in the right way, which is hard since I have a day job,” he said.
Being busy is almost second nature to the man who, in a few years, has collaborated with Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, Eve, Common, the Black Eyed Peas and his longtime pal Kanye West.
His four albums – Get Lifted, Once Again, Evolver and The Roots – also tell the tale of dedicated work, experimentation and virtuoso musicality.
“I’m busy because I love being busy. I love doing the work that I do. It’s work but it’s fun. If I get to do something that’s fun every day and make a living doing it, I feel very blessed,” he told WE.
But how does such a young man capture the essence of old ballads and 1970s protest songs? I supose the man whose influences include Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, The O’Jays and gospel artistes like Edwin Hawkins and Shirley Caesar can’t put his finger on it, but he knows he has an old soul.