|Interview: Carol Gonzalez by Paul Wehage|
What I really like about working with the people who run IndieMusicPeople.com is that we spend a lot of time sharing the great music that we've discovered on the site. We're all very excited by the high quality and originality of the music found here and we like to share our finds with each other.
A few weeks ago, Scott Stambaugh, who's part of the site's Artists and Repertoire team, told me about Carol Gonzalez, a singer from Jamaica. I had a listen and was immediately taken with Ms Gonzalez' strong vocal presence and personal styling. Carol Gonzalez brings not only unquestionable talent and a strong philosophical approach to music-making to her perforamnces, she also brings a long and varied life experience which has taken her from the resorts of Jamaica to the Cabarets of New York City . . . to a sucessful legal career which led to her election to one of the highest judicial positions in her country . . . and then BACK to music. It's an amazing life journey that makes for a fascinating lesson in how musicians can use all sorts of experiences to further their music creation.
While Carol manages to lead a full life of performer, professional, wife and mother, she very graciously found time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions and talk about her musical life:
PW: I find your story to be fascinating, to go from nightclub singer to judge....and then back to singing. I also get a sense, however, that your journey hasn't exactly been "back to the same place", that somehow as a singer, you're in a different place than when you first started out. Can you give us an idea of how this happened?
CG You are quite correct Paul that I have not returned to the same place, musically, as heretofore. I have matured and my philosphy has metamorphosized fundamentally; it is a philosophical metamorphosis. As a young singer I was arrogant, vain, prideful, conceited, egotistical and headstrong. Now I am humble but dignified and I have come to realize that my ability to sing was not developed or achieved by me, but was a gift bestowed upon me by the Great Creator. I was born with the gift; thus I take no credit for it.
PW: In reading your posts on the site forum, I get a sense that you see your musical life as a sort of spiritual quest.....
CG: I have come to realize that the Great Creator bestowed the gift for a reason, a purpose: this purpose is to bring joy, love, upliftment and wonderment to all who will hear me and most importantly to Glorify the Great Creator. I have also come to realized that the gift is not to be used for monetary gain, to the exclusion of the fundamental essence and purpose of the gift, exploition of others or vanity. I arrived at this fundamental realization through a process of personal growth borne of experience. My goals have also metamorphosized. No longer do I seek fame and fortune; I simply seek opportunities to sing, (especially live).
PW: Was music always a part of your life?
CG: No, music was not always a part of my life. My grandfather was a saxophonist who came to Jamaica with a band from Puerto Rico, however he and I never related musically, even though I am the only singer in my family. Having said that art is very prolific in my family, my father and most of my uncles are visual aritists, the most famous of which is Christopher Gonzalez, who is an internationally renowned painter and sculptor.
PW: When did you first start singing and especially, when did you realize that you had a gift?
CG: I began to sing in 1978 at the age of 18 yrs. I began singing by accident; I met a singer in 1978 who had come to Jamaica from the US to perform at a gala function. The day before the show, we got together to lime really, but our conversation turned to music and she began singing some of the songs that she planned to do during her show. I knew most of the songs and chimed with harmony; well she was stunned and asked me why had I not told her that I could sing. I answered that I could not and she respectfully disagreed. To cut a long story short, she asked me to sing "back-up" for her on the show the following day and I did.
However, and unfortunately for her, there was only one entrance to the stage and the area allocated for "back-up" singers was to the left of the stage as one faces the stage, which necessitates crossing the stage to get to that allocated spot; so that when the master of ceremonies opened the show and introduced her (the headliner), I had to cross the stage to get to the "back-up" singers area and as I walked across the stage the audience assumed that I was the head-line act and applauded loudly. I was stunned to say the least. I did nothing but continued walking towards the aforesaid area. The singer then came on stage. Unfortunately by this time it was an anti-climax, since the audience thought that I was the headline act and were a bit confused.
Anyway she did her set and left, but she was upset with me and never spoke to me again.
At the end of the set, the band leader of the backing band, who were Jamaicans, invited me to join the band, because he said that I could sing and I had the "look". I accepted the invitation and thus began my journey.
PW: On reading the presentation in your site, I got a sense that your decision to come back to music was based on not being able to do the things that you felt needed to be done as a judge . . . and that somehow you felt that music was a better way to address these issues. Was this the case and could you go into the reasons why you came to this decision?
CG: I must confess that perhaps I may not have expressed myself with sufficient clarity on my web site on this point; to be clear, I have no problems with being a judge; indeed in the execution of my duties and functions as a Judge I achieve the objectives of the mission statement of my mandate, which is the timely delivery of justice for all, without bias, prejudice, malice or favour, but to render to everyone their just rewards and thereby balance the issues, and, if I may say so, I am very good at it.
Rather, the problem lies in the fact that the law in no wise provides the spiritual upliftment and satisfaction achieved through music; further, there is no comparison between the two. There is no substituting the absolute joy of performing with the satisfaction of contributing to the Administration of Justice and make no mistake the job is powerful and august. Further, anyone, with the proper training can become a Judge; not many people can do what I do when I sing.
PW: So, somehow the act of singing itself can somehow do something that even your work as a judge can't?
CG: I have come now to realize that my most fervent desire, nay need, is to sing and that this is my purpose in life. My need to sing outweighs any other objectives or desires (except being a good wife and mother). My need to sing therefore is not borne out of a desire to "address any issues" it is simply to sing.
I came to this realization (reason) as a consequence of a performance sometime last year, during which performance my soul remembered the joy of singing, since then everything has changed and now the law holds no claim to my heart, my spirit, not even my mind.
PW: The Music Industry as it currently is structured seems entirely based on the multinational companies, most of whom are working mostly in the context of the United States. Now, I'm not saying Jamaica is a "backwards" country, but it certainly isn't part of the United States. Do you perceive this as being a negative or a positive aspect of your musical life?
CG: Absolutely, being a singer who seeks to sing for the world needs to be in the United States, because that is where the opportunites lie, thus yes living in Jamaica as a singer is a negative thing, as it relates to my aspirations.
PW: How has your online musical presence changed this situation for you?
CG: Well, for one thing, it allows me to communicate and interact with fellow singers and musicians, which makes my situation bearable, more importantly, I have made friends with some of the most beautiful and talented like-minded people in the business.
Being online has also thus far provided and opened up great possibilities, for example, I have received numerous song submissions from composers/writers, most of which are of the highest quality and I intend to record these songs, and thus hopefully be able to leave the law and return to music.
PW: Does the fact that Jamaica has a distinctive musical style make up part of who you are artistically? Do you try to express this cultural specificity through your music or do you try to achieve something more "universal"?
CG: No, the fact the reggae is the indigenous music of my country has absolutely nothing to do with my style of singing. I recognize the greatness of reggae, but I find it limits me as a singer because reggae songs simply lack the musical range, complexity and emotion that I try to achieve and evoke in my performances (although I do perform reggae songs during my sets when I perform). Perhaps no one day a composer/lyrisist in the reggae genre will compose a song that will provide the ingredients that I require.
I am unconscious of the presence or influence of any "culture" in my performances. That is not to say that I am not extremely proud of reggae and my country men for developing the genre and our culture, however I prefer to do songs that allow me to "belt" out notes and be musically exciting, innovative and full (range, modulations, verses, choruses, runs/slurs and intricate melodic movement). When I sing, I simply interpret a song with my own true voice with passion, emotion, precision and joy. I love to do songs of all genre, especially rock and ballads. I love rock music because of the energy and the drive, and I love balldas because they allow the expression of emotion.
PW: I had to laugh when I read that you "used to be a diva". Don't you think that for any singer, it's necessary to be just a bit of a diva in order to be fascinating enough for people to spend an hour looking at just you? And can the idea of being a diva maybe change with time and experience? For example, is it possible to be "Mom" at six in the evening serving dinner to your kids and then the "Diva" at ten singing at the theatre?
CG: Before we can discuss the concept of being a "diva", we must first determine our definition of the term. I define a "diva" thus: one who is vain, arrogant, self-centered, insensitive, egocentric, conceited, demanding, contemptuous and disdaining of others, haughty and selfish. Since this is my definition of a "diva" and since this describes who I was as a young singer, I hereby speak with authority when I tell you that such a person is disgusting, unbecoming, unseemly, undignified, dishonourable and a downright bore, not to mention difficult to work with.
PW: Well, I've worked with those kinds of singers myself...and your description is right on the money!
CG: Using the above definition, I do not believe that a singer needs to be a "diva" in order to command and maintain rapt attention and facination from an audience during live performances. In my opinion, all that is needed is true talent, honesty (true to one's self and to the audience), love, beauty (in spirit and body), the ability to communicate with the audience, dignity, bearing (posture), being comfortable in one's skin and ease and brilliance and a high standard in the deliverance of the music; and of course choosing the right songs, that is, choosing the songs best suited to one's voice. No singer (irrespective of their range, emotive ability and/or voice control) is able to perform every song to the highest standard, thus each singer should choose songs that are compatible with their particular voice (gift) and which will showcase their voices to the maximum potential.
Now if a "diva" is simply a "super star" or a singer (unknown), who has attained the necessary balance between humility and brilliance, then I would welcome being regarded as a "diva". My comments on my web site were informed by my definition as aforementioned and speaks to who I was as a young singer.
Further, if the latter is true, then yes a singer, indeed any performer is able to be a mom duriing the day and a "diva" at night, lol. And I would venture to say that that is who I am today.
PW: I read your "tips for singers" on your website and reading through your very good advice (daily exercise, no smoking, no drinking, lots of rest etc), I was hit by the fact that this is really a mental discipline for you, almost like a "Ninja" warrior sort of thing. Are there other levels of this (philisophical, spiritual) above simply the physical discipline in your thinking?
CG: Absolutely, the performance of music is a spiritual process, its a Divine Gift and I believe that it is the responsibility of the custodian of the gift (the singer) to be prepared to perform to the best of one's ability and to do so requires a well conditioned physical state, which requires discipline, dedication and sacrifice. So that the singer must attain the uptimum physical condition in order to produce, channel and deliver the gift (the music) to the highest standard. A performing singer who is unfit and/or is an abuser of any kind of substance, is unable to perform at this level and is thus failng to achieve the objectives and purpose of the gift. Thus a singer's the body must be prepared and fit to perfom, since it is the vehicle through which the spiritual objective is achieved. In my opinion therefore, music is a spiritual process, a spiritual purpose with spiritual objectives and a singer must be physically prepared (fit) in order to acheive these goals.
In my opinion, the purpose and objectives of a truly gifted singer is to sooth the broken hearted, lift spirits, reiterate values of purity, conviction to rightousness and Glorify God.
PW: I see that "mentoring" is a really integral part of your website. Do you have any younger singers (or even older singers) that you are helping along or is this something that you would like to expand?
CG: I am attracted to the idea of mentoring because I believe that we should all share our knowledge and experiences. If I succeed in helping a young singer hone their talent and learn "how" to sing, I am elated and cherish the opportunity. My objective is to assist other singers to become excellent in the delivery of their art/performances. In my opinion, singing is spiritual and is therefore an art, but in order to fully expoilt the art, one has to acquire the knowledge and discipline of the art; so that those of us who possess this knowledge should share it, since knowldege is power and is of no value if not shared or passed on.
Yes I am presently providing voice lessons for older and younger singers; some have greater aspirations than others, notwithstanding I treat and teach each singer with the same intensity and at the same level, (of course this depends upon each persons natural ability). I do this for the love of it and without remuneration. I do not accept any remuneration because, by virtue of my job, I am forbidden to earn income from any source other than official duties, but more importantly I find that teaching a singer "how" to sing brings me great joy and thus this is my reward. In any case knowledge is to be shared, otherwise it dies with the "knower".
PW: What's the best way, other than your IndieMusicPeople.com page, to follow your career?
CG: The best way to follow up on my aspiratons, my dreams and thus make my dream a reality is to return to the recording studio and produce excellent musical works, thereafter obtain a good manager and an agent and thereafter return to the stage (all over the world) would be my Website http://www.carolgonzales.com/ which will have news about my upcoming performances, recordings and other musical activities.
PW: Thanks for sharing your story with us.
CG: It was my pleasure.