“Man discovered soul music as the answer to a desire for a higher emotional expression” ~ DJ Soulswede
To know when and how to ask the meaningful questions of a life, to take the pause, to create space, to fill it, to breathe, to phrase
your words just so, just enough to touch, to procure the truth, to connect: these are the tools of an artist, a musician, a singer. How appropriate that these are also the tools DJ “Souly” Soulswede uses in every interview to reveal the heart of those who share his creative sensibilities. He can because he knows something about them. Knows a bit about how it’s done, good artists usually do.
How a European born and bred in Sweden learned to connect with the spirits of those faraway brothers and sisters reared in the urban streets, storefront churches, bayou swamps or red dirt plains of the Americas speaks to the universality of Black American Music (BAM), but also to Souly’s heart. The answer to this riddle may have something to do with Souly’s rearing in the church, like so many of his musical icons. In sanctuary, he learned to pay attention, to hear what lied beneath the clean, sweet notes, listening for the tumultuous storm laced in the heartfelt testimonies of worship and survival. Under carved ceilings and stain glass filtered lights, Souly learned chords from his musician father, eventually trying his own hands at keys, drums, and flute in his search for a creative calling all his own.
While Souly’s education as a musician was short-lived, his hunger for rare sounds remained unquenched. His search led young elementary school hands to claim his first imports from across the pond, admiring the proud covers and fingering the ink black vinyl of George McCrae Rock Your Baby and Randy Crawford’s Secret Combination, marveling all the while over the mysteries and life lessons held within. Others followed: Stevie, Marvin, Curtis, Dionne, those with something to say about the secrets of the soul. Studying these early projects and the subsequent stream of unheard R&B, funk, and gospel sounds planted the early seeds of curiosity about their creators and the earnest desire to share with those Swedes little exposed to this music’s greatness these songs that inexplicably seemed to know him.
At age 17, Souly got his chance. First, as a DJ at a local station with a pioneering mono radio program, Soul Power Radio (eventually becoming Soul Food), that introduced his countrymen to the soulful sounds of Stax, Bell, Solar, Atlantic, Motown, Philly International, and the pioneering house labels of Trax and DJ International—so many urban labels of performers who’d go on to become global legends. Earnest youth and a vivacious appetite for street sounds propelled Souly to write his own scripts and edit his own shows right from the start, developing his artistry for curating the perfect soul show while still little more than a boy. His teenage tenacity paid off, landing respected R&B star Tyrone Davis for Souly’s first interview. With practice, a parade of major stars soon heeded Souly’s call, adding that final element to what would eventually become DJ Soulswede’s industry signature: an intimate, one-on-one conversation about what made an artist’s work something great. It wasn’t long before freelance gigs with Swedish National Radio’s well-respected Soul Corner followed, with the then 20-year old interviewing such luminaries as Robert “Kool” Bell and Dennis “DT” Thomas of Kool & The Gang.
Souly’s rise was not without some controversy. The foreign can breed fear, and as the unique cultural purveyor of BAM in Sweden, Souly debuted music and artists that few other disc jockeys of his day were touching. Threats of violence followed success for a time, causing the unassuming young DJ to become something of an accidental activist for R&B music and BAM musicians, even as he left work by the backdoor. Un-thwarted by bigotry, throughout the 1980s Souly brought to the attention of Southern Swedish audiences the lives and music of artists as wide-ranging as gospel’s BeBe and CeCe Winans to funk’s Mitch McDowell (of the innovative General Kane), eventually earning both industry acclaim and artists’ respect.
As New Jack Swing and hip hop made their entrances in the early ‘90s, DJ “Souly” Soulswede took a hiatus from his devoted radio audience, to travel, learn and evolve from the earnest young DJ of his 20s to an experienced, learned Renaissance man in his 30s. Eventually, Souly returned to radio through a whole new medium, just as the new century began to unfold. By the mid-2000s terrestrial radio had a rival in the Internet, and by 2006 Souly was once again at the forefront of a new musical frontier, this time on the web- and satellite-based Solar Radio. Just in time for the musical maturity of a slew of new L.A., Tokyo, Philly, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, and European artists, both on and off major labels, Souly’s popular Solar guest slot helped too bring awareness to a new era of independent Black music of all genres for audiences longing for the classic sounds of old.
Souly’s comeback experience with Solar, coupled with a well-timed conversation with LeVert group member, Marc Gordon, about the death and impact of Gerald LeVert, urged Souly to again be on the forefront of yet another innovation on music and music journalism: the soul music website and blog.
“Marc’s story gave me the strength and courage needed to trust in myself and focus on my goal,” said Souly, ultimately revamping his renewed Solar show as The Soulinterviews Radio Show to give heightened exposure to his new artists’ interviews, spotlight fresh talent’s material and to cover those artist he could not immediately interview. Strategically, Souly concurrently launched his very own Soulinterviews.com in June 2008, internationally delivering the signature interviews promoted on his radio show.
At its launch, the Souly administrated Soulinterviews.com was a full service site inclusive of music podcasts, reviews, essays, and articles about the artists that made soul, funk, jazz, house, gospel and Detroit techno a love affair several decades in the making. From Chaka Khan, James Mtume, The Jacksons, Dionne Warwick, James Ingram, Philip Bailey and Bootsy Collins to Angie Stone, Freddie Jackson, Joe, Keith Sweat, Van Hunt, Lisa Stansfield and Teena Marie, all the legends made a pit stop at Soulinterviews.com to engage Souly in an exchange like few others found in music journalism: not an interview interested in gossip and innuendo but one that allowed artist the rare opportunity to delve into the stories and experiences behind their music. Be it Charlie Wilson, Philip Bailey, Chris Jasper or dance music pioneers like Josh Milan (formerly of Blaze), Souly got artists to open up and tell tales they’ve rarely, if ever, shared, crafting a unique listening experience for the global Soulinterviews.com audience. Through these ventures, DJ Soulswede was taking the pulse of the music industry, one artist at a time!
Refining Soulinterviews.com even further in more recent years, Souly has crystallized his vision to exclusively focus on the lifeblood of an artist’s work through each of DJ Soulswede’s carefully cultivated interview podcasts, slowly phasing out all other site distractions until only one man and one artist connecting at the most human level possible remained. Under Souly’s well-honed curation, together locked in the timeless art of honest storytelling, Souly and his esteemed guests create something fresh and new for audience members around the world, something an awful lot like art.
By L. Michael Gipson
(An award-winning writer, public health and youth advocate. Music Editor at SoulTracks.com)
© Soulinterviews.com December 2012