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Youman Wilder

After performing In New York, Africa and Europe, Wilder has been hailed as the next big thing.
He just performed with hip-hop singer "Case" who he blew off the stage, and then turned the Montreal Jazz Festival on it's ear's with the best concerts in 10 year's of the legendary Jazz Festival.

Montreal has been a hotbed for singers and musicians. Youman Wilder has made Montreal a home away from home. He has sold out several show's and is dating Montreal model/actress Kia Shoremakin.

I caught up with this Indigence Jazz recording artist in his suite at the swanky "Boek nu -La Tour Centre Ville Appartement." The handsome, muscular singer had been recording all nite, but was in great spirits as we started our conversation.

JazzReview Youman, how are you? I see you are making Montreal a constant stop.

Youman Wilder (laughs) I have always loved Montreal, I like the music scene here. It's kinda like a mini New York City, and it seems that I have been able to have a solid following when we come here to perform.

JazzReview How's Kia? She is always at your shows, and how did you two meet?

Youman Wilder Oh she's fine. She is at a photo shoot, and yes, she is at the shows and I like her there. It's funny because sometimes I never know when she is at the shows. We met kinda strange. I was at a Aretha Franklin show in LA and she was sitting next to me. We talked and after the show I left, and like maybe 3 hours later, we ran into each other again at Jimmy's Deli up in Hollywood. So we spoke until 3 in the morning. I didn't know she was a model and a VJ on MTV Canada, and she didn't know I was a singer. We spoke about any and everything outside of music and fashion.

JazzReview How is the relationship?

Youman Wilder It's good. She is a solid sista, very classy and just a real lady. I mean I am this guy from Brooklyn and she is this Montreal entity, yet we seem to have a lot in common.

JazzReview Such as?

Youman Wilder We are passionate about politics and we have a great love for art, we are both avid collectors, we like good soul food, and we love our culture, and social justice, she also seems to give me balance. She is teaching me French, and I am horrible (laughs) so don't ask me to speak it.

JazzReview Wow, seems like you two are getting serious?

Youman Wilder We are doing well, now can we speak about something other than whom I am dating? (laughs)

JazzReview (laughs) Well let's talk about you getting SRO audiences and these shows that seem to be the talk of Montreal.

Youman Wilder I love this city and the way it's embraced my style of Jazz and Soul singing. Here in Montreal, unlike back in the States, it is about the music and less about image. I think videos have helped destroy the quality of music we hear because you now look at music as opposed to listening to music. So now you get all these kats who sing alike, look alike and write alike. There is no originality in R&B music now.

JazzReview Jazz purist here seem to get annoyed at you because you will sing some great Bebop or sing a wonderful torch song then you will do something like a Prince song. What do you say to these critics?

Youman Wilder I say nothing. I sing music. I came out of the Baptist Church. I have a passion for Jazz, R&B, Gospel, some forms of Hip Hop and World music. I think critics who get on today's Jazz cats are seeing music as if it's 1945. I mean if you listen to Count Basie, Lester Young or Louis Armstrong, you can see how they are embracing blues and swing, as well as the church.

Now you have singers and musicians that have come out the church and have come up listening to hip hop or Neo-Soul based music. So how they blend the sounds of today should be embraced, not critized. I am lucky I can sing Jazz from a traditional standpoint, but I can embrace the sounds of today and incorporate it in my shows, which I do. I don't limit my music. I want to be inspired by Kim Burell, Chris Botti or James Carter. I want to take it all in, and I do.

JazzReview I must say you do sing Jazz extremely well, but I see you as a gifted soul singer as well.

Youman Wilder That's fine, I have no problems with that. I come out of that world. I am proud of that's me, it's my passion, it's my heritage. But I like all kinds of music, whether jazz, blues, gospel, or classical music. If it moves me, I want to hear it. I want to be moved by it. I mean, let's take Ravel. His approach to French classical motets are beautiful. They are so moving. So if it touches me, I want to hear it and be moved by that music. I mean I saw Aretha Franklin in concert in LA and man, she was awesome. The power and conviction in her voice and style is unmatched. Then she sang some Puccuni and it was brilliant. So if it moves you, sing it.

JazzReview I know you get this a lot, so I will just ask you--when I hear you sing Jazz, I hear the influences of Al Jarreau and when I hear you sing soul, I hear Al Green. Did they influence your vocal approach? And your body is amazing. What is your workout regimen like?

Youman Wilder Yes, they are two of my favorites along with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Billie Holiday, Marvin Winans, and New York City local singers like Mike Davis, Melanie Daniels, Frankie Paris and Ron Grant. I am inspired by wonderful singers and musicians. I think people sometimes put more emphasis only on people who have a record deal. I have been onstage with so called celebrities with deals and was like "The Image is great. the talent is suspect."

As far as working out, I am doing less weights. I use to bench up to 325 lbs. Now I will max out at 250 lbs. to 275 lbs. I was getting way to big so now I just work out lighter and do more running and stretching. I was overdoing it so now I have a better, more balanced work out program. Come work out with me one day.

JazzReview No, no. I cant workout with you. I would be in pain for a week.

Youman Wilder (laughs) I will take it easy?

JazzReview -You sang a song at your show on Friday called "Love Has Left Me." It was so beautiful and you seemed to be crying onstage. Why was that such an emotional song for you?

Youman Wilder Well, it's a song I wrote about my mother who passed away 3 year's ago. I seem to never get passed the 2nd verse before I just kinda lose it. I miss my mother, my friend, my mommy, but I am here with my brothers just trying to be the man she raised me to be.

JazzReview You recently performed in Vancouver where you were the toast of the Vancouver Jazz Festival. How was it to have a coming out party at such an event where the entire festival was speaking about your two nights there?

Youman Wilder I don't know if it was a coming out party for us. I think because we followed Al Green the 2nd night, people just kinda stayed and seemed to enjoy what we as a group had to offer. I think performing in Sweden this past year really created a strong buzz for us, and doing the Holland Out Door Jazz Festival with 20,000 was also a wonderful blessing. Those shows really showcased us at our very best.

JazzReview You have such a great band. How did you such a great collection of musicians?

Youman Wilder New York City. If you want your music played right, give it to a New York City musician.

JazzReview You have been recording your CD. How is it going?

Youman Wilder The Project is going well. It's more of a social conscience type of a CD. I just did a song called "Homeless in America" with a South African vocal group called Daui. They are a brilliant group of singers and I am hoping that Grammy Award-winner Paula Cole will do a song I wrote called
"I Am." There are a host of singers and guest musicians on the project so I am looking forward to the recording process on this CD.

JazzReview You turned down 3 different record deals. Why in the world would you do such a thing?

Youman Wilder They wanted to rip me off of my publishing and the contracts were so one-sided that if I sold 10 million records, I would still be in debt to the label. Hey, I am a college graduate, not some kid off the damn street. So I was like "hell no!" So I went and did some off Broadway musicals, then made money singing in New York nightclubs, also singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I am a guy who is making a living singing, so I didn't need to have a recording career to make a living in music. I had a solid following in New York and I had colleges I toured. I was able to make a good living without selling out.

JazzReview How would you compare the music scene in New York as opposed to say Montreal or Europe?

Youman Wilder There is a huge difference in the States. In New York, most the people who run night clubs really aren't good. They aren't music lovers. They are businessmen and businesswomen first, with little or no knowledge of music and no regard for the musicians who work there. In Europe you are treated with a lot more respect and the club owners really seem to care about the product that is on stage. They are music lovers.

JazzReview You have been out here for a minute and I tend to see a lot of singers and musicians at your shows. You seem to be influencing some of the local Montreal musicians. Is that something you recognize as a singer?

Youman Wilder I don't know. I mean I have always been around musicians and singers in New York and all of us seem to feed off each other's talents. I mean I am delighted that they come and see me as someone who has something to offer.

JazzReview You recently turned down to sing on another artist record. Why didn't you record with them?

Youman Wilder Well, they used the word "nigger" on the song and I was not going to be a part of that in any shape or form. It's one of the main reasons why I have no respect or interest in Rap music of today.

JazzReview So you don't like Rap music?

Youman Wilder I am not saying all rap music, but 90% of it is tasteless garbage. Rap Music has become that uncle that we never wanted to invite to the family reunion 'cause we know he can be embarrassing. As a black man of conscience, I have to say that most Rap music is a major insult to my people, my culture, my legacy. It's like if you want to help keep a people down turn on a rap son. We as a black people cant ask for respect as a people when we don't demand respect from each other. These record companies are just as at fault as the black artist who shows that self-hatred and will sellout their people's pain and progress. It's a damn shame!

JazzReview Wow, so you wouldn't collaborate with a Rap artist?

Youman Wilder Oh I would do something with a ton of Rappers...people like Common, Mos Def, KRS-1, Talib Kweli and underground rappers who have something to say. I will never collaborate with one of these 21st century recaptured house negroes.

JazzReview What are you doing as far as touring this spring and summer?

Youman Wilder We are returning to Europe--England, Amsterdam, France, Copenhagen,Germany, and Belgium. Plus we will be in Canada--Toronto, Vancouver and back here in Montreal. So it will be a busy spring and summer. I also have a project I am casting in New York. I am writing a play on the life and music of the great 70's soul singer Donny Hathaway. He has been a huge influence on the shape of African-American singers in the last 30 years. As a singer and musician, he was on the same level as Stevie Wonder and "Ray Charles.

JazzReview Donny Hathaway was such an incredible artist. I look forward to seeing how that production comes about. Now, what are you listening to these days?

Youman Wilder I am listening to lots of Ella and Sarah. I just picked up Jon Legend and Diane Reeves, so I am one step into hip hop and one step into the traditional. And Kia got me into [Montreal's own] Ann Peoples.

JazzReview You seem to have a real understanding of how you want your music and sound to be. Is that a conscience effort?

Youman Wilder Oh yes. I cant sing or write songs that don't tell a story or addresses a point of view. I want it to speak about love, God, struggle and faith. I need, I demand that my music be accountable 'cause that's what we will be judged on. I want to address racism, sexism, love and the human condition. The human condition can be beautiful or sad. I want to show and sing about both.

JazzReview You have been so sweet to speak to us. I know between 2 shows a night and recording and your CD, you must be exhausted. Thanks so much for sharing your time with us.

Youman Wilder Oh it was my pleasure let's do this again.

Photo by: Ros O'Gorman © Montreal Music Festival

Youman Wilder spoke with Undercover's Tim Cashmere And Katharine D' Amato

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Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Youman Wilder
  • Interview Date: 5/25/2005
  • Subtitle: Love and Hip Hop in the Montreal Soul
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