Features > On the Horizon > Raul Midon
Raul Midon

 


Official Site

 

 

 

   It's rare that an artist arrives onto the pop music scene so fully loaded with the kind of hit-making potential that singer-composer-guitarist Raúl Midón possesses. The New Mexico-born, New York-based Midón makes his recording debut with State of Mind, produced by Arif Mardin and Joe Mardin for Manhattan Records. The 13-track collection of Midón originals is a remarkable mélange of soul, R&B, pop, folk, jazz and Latin. The CD places on display his earnest, lyrical songwriting; full-bodied vocals steeped in soul; a singular syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused acoustic guitar style; a unique vocal trumpet improvisation; and hopeful disposition.

   While you can hear traces of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano and, Richie Havens in his music, Midón is an extraordinary original whose passion is expressed in his indelible songs. "I like to celebrate the possible, the highest, the best of possibilities for human beings," says Midón, who has been blind since birth and is the son of an African American mother and an Argentinean father. "It's easy to be pessimistic given the state of the world. But I'm inspired by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi who had the ability to transform. Collectively we create an enormously powerful force that can change the world and overcome any obstacle."

   As for working with the Mardins, Midón says, "We're coming from the same place. Arif is really into melody and comes from a jazz background, but with a firm foot in pop. I love good melodies and lyrical hooks, but I'm also musically trying to play something interesting. Joe is versed in all aspects of the recording process, from the notes to the sounds. That is to say he knows what mic to use to get a particular kind of guitar sound. He has the vision, discipline and training to bring out the best in the studio and you know that when you are done you will have something that sounds superb."

   State of Mind is a revelation. The CD not only trains the spotlight on Midón's buoyant delivery, but also boasts a guest roster featuring Stevie Wonder (a guest harmonica performance on "Expressions of Love") and Jason Mraz (a vocal duet on their collaborative song, the reggae-inflected "Keep on Hoping"). In addition there are contributions from Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin and percussionist Sammy Figueroa (on the Afro-Cuban sizzling "I Would Do Anything."), harmonica ace Gregoire Maret and percussionist Cyro Baptista (on the exuberant "Sunshine") and jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris, who performs on the sublime "All in Your Mind." This last song is Midón's way of opening a window on what it's like to be blind. "I wrote 'All in Your Mind' to talk about how, when you're blind, you perceive everything through your imagination."

   Even before he entered the studio with the Mardins, Midón was accumulating the kind of accolades reserved for seasoned pros. The New York Times called him a "virtuoso," while Newsday heralded him as a showstopper. The Washington Post commented that Midón's "style is a febrile amalgam of Stevie Wonder vocals, feel-good pop songwriting, sophisticated jazz harmonies and a ferociously aggressive way of playing acoustic guitar."

   Midón followed college in Miami with a career there as a solo artist and studio background vocalist in the Latin music arena. Midón moved to New York in 2002, where he began performing in clubs. Work with DJ/producer Little Louie Vega resulted in international gigs and the album Elements of Life. After performing Stevie Wonder's "Make Sure You're Sure" at Carnegie Hall for the concert "The Movie Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard," he contributed one of his own songs to the score of Lee's film She Hate Me.

   However, Midón hastens to note that his move from Miami to New York was fraught with risks. "I gave up the Miami studio and club gigs, some of which were glamorous. I wanted to make it on my own in New York, which is such a hotbed for music of all types. But that meant that all of a sudden I was doing pass-the-hat solo performances in small clubs. It wasn't easy and people thought I was crazy, but I felt that I needed to. If I didn't, I would be forever asking myself, what if I had tried? Sure, I had some breaks, but the night after Carnegie Hall I was back playing in a club."

   But when opportunity knocked, Midón answered. He's opened for world music diva Cesaria Evora, and performed opening honors for guitar hero Jeff Beck (who said afterward, "It's refreshing to see that there's still talent out there. I'm a fan."). After being turned onto Midón via a Kennedy Center performance viewed over the Internet, Jason Mraz enlisted him for his 2004 acoustic Tour of the Curbside Prophets. In city after city, Mraz's young audiences were entranced with Midón's songs and style.

   A different kind of audience‹older, more in tune with '70s and '80s pop‹was wowed by Midón's opening set for Michael McDonald's performance at the Beacon late last year. His voice soared, his trumpet vocals provided rich harmonies, and he grabbed, slapped, clawed, beat his six-string acoustic with a percussive, harmonics-sprinkled attack. The crowd was hushed for Midón's solo appearance, and he received a standing ovation. "I've played for very diverse crowds," he says. "I hope to speak to all ages with the new album."

   Midón traces his own beginnings back to the tiny town of Embudo, N.M., north of Santa Fe on Route 68. His Argentinean-born father was a professional dancer who left home at 17 and danced his way through the U.S. before settling down in New Mexico with his New York-born wife (who died when Raúl and his identical twin brother were very young).

   "Very early on I knew I wanted to play music," Midón says. "I'd be riding in a car and I'd listen to the rhythm of the turn signal. I heard music in everything, from a car horn to the crickets."

   As a child, Midón was initially attracted to the percussive native folk music of Argentina (his first instrument was drums). After becoming fascinated with his dad's collection of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis records, he began to explore jazz, and later the pop music of the day (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder).

   Meanwhile, Midón was taking guitar lessons from a flamenco player. He later turned to classical, then jazz guitar. He notes, "The way I play today is an amalgam of all those styles, mixed with my fascination with the great rock and blues guitarists like Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Today, Midón says, his guitar style‹more muscular and assertive than folksy and quiet‹is still evolving. "I'm constantly trying to integrate everything I know musically into the guitar. I'm trying to make it sound like an orchestra."

   State of Mind opens with the rousing title track, a tune about Midón's first months as a struggling musician in New York, with mouth trumpet and guitar harmonies. Other numbers include the spirited "Everybody" (written as an empowerment response to the heroes of 9/11), the radio-friendly soul/R & B vibed "If You're Gonna Leave," the romantic pop melody "Mystery Girl," the flamenco-inflected "Never Get Enough," the balladic beauty "Suddenly," and the love song "Waited All My Life," which Midón wrote for his wife. Another dedicated song is the brisk and bright "Sittin' in the Middle," written and sung in tribute to Donny Hathaway.
The overarching sensibility of Raúl Midón's auspicious premiere, State of Mind, is a sunny optimism‹that despite the dark days there is a light. "Part of our mission as artists, besides entertaining," Midón says, " is to say something positive, without preaching, to our audience, whether it numbers in the hundreds or millions."