R&B singer Dwele finds comfort in music

Brush with tragedy sparked creative journey

Dwele was just 10 when his father was gunned down outside the family home in Detroit.
Photo Courtesy of Treagen Kier/eOne Music

Photo by File

Dwele was just 10 when his father was gunned down outside the family home in Detroit. Photo Courtesy of Treagen Kier/eOne Music

Music Fest 2012 with Angie Stone, Dwele and Faith Evans

Saturday at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets: $49, $59, $65 and $75; available at the box office and through Ticketmaster.

It is not often that current events find their way into the arts-and-entertainment section of the newspaper, but the recent tragic events in Newtown, Conn., have been much on the mind of Dwele, the Detroit soul singer who performs Saturday night at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts with fellow R&B stars Angie Stone and Faith Evans.

Born Andwele Gardner 34 years ago, the singer/songwriter/producer was only 10 years old when he had his own horrible brush with senseless violence when his father, a doctor and drummer in the church band, was gunned down outside the family home.

"More than making me think about my father, (the Newtown massacre) makes me think about the future," Dwele says. "I was actually talking to a few friends yesterday about that. It just kind of hurts me that things seem to be getting worse and worse. It makes you feel for the children growing up in this day and age and what it's going to be like for their kids. It has to stop."

For his part, Dwele was able to channel personal tragedy into something positive. To hear him tell it, he was always a precociously creative child, dabbling in painting and photography as well as music early on.

But shortly before his death, Dwele's father gave him an organ and taught him a few chords. And when his father died, music took on a profound new importance in the young boy's life.

"After he passed, I felt like by continuing with music, it was a way to keep a part of him with me," Dwele says. "I was a young kid. I was going through things after losing him, and there were certain things I felt like I couldn't talk to anybody about.

"I learned how to put my emotions into music and my lyrics. I think that's when I started to gravitate toward music. I started to find comfort in music. It became serious after that and became my everyday."

Dwele has been making music seemingly everyday since. Inspired by a wide swath of the R&B continuum stretching from Roy Ayers to Donny Hathaway to A Tribe Called Quest, he came on the scene in 2000 with his self-released demo The Rize and was soon guest performing on tracks by Slum Village and Lucy Pearl.

In 2003, he released his major-label debut, Subject, on Virgin Records. On that and three subsequent records, Dwele fine-tuned his sound, a mixture of new and old grooves characterized by live instrumentation, tight harmonies, and, perhaps as an antidote to the hate that killed his father, a consistent lyrical emphasis on love and relationships.

His latest and fifth release, Greater Than One, is no exception, though with an influence from a surprising era.

"Once I started pulling the songs together and playing them back to back, I noticed that a lot of them had an '80s feel with the synths," says Dwele, pointing to the big drums and synths of the Prince-worthy "PATrick RONald," featuring fellow Motor City artist Monica Blaire, and "Love Triangle," which would fit into the repertoire of one of the era's smooth R&B singers like Luther Vandross.

"The more we get into this new type of heavily produced music, the more live instrumentation gets lost, so maybe this is me trying to reach back and grab some nostalgia."

Apparently, listeners are feeling nostalgic for those sounds, as well. Though released in August to little fanfare by eOne Music, Greater Than Onefound its way — like Dwele's previous three records — into the Top 10.

"That it did that well says to me that there's room to grow — there's more to do," says Dwele, relishing the chance to show off his tunes to an audience at this weekend's one-off appearance with Stone and Evans.

"I feel like I'm a word-of-mouth artist. I have a lot of people who are checking for me, and they kind of spread the word for me. They let people know about the music, and it grows that way. I appreciate that. I like that it's a slow burn. I like slow burns. They last longer."

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