In defining the concept of good music, it goes without saying that it is subjective to the listener's taste both in styles and personal preferences.
When the weekend arrives, it is common to see people heading out to catch a live music show in New York, Philadelphia
, and other cities across America that are popular artist havens. Some of the most interesting original music can be heard while walking on the boulevard passing by a small café or night club where indie artists perform live acoustic shows in an intimate setting of music, java and cuisine.
An indie artist is a free agent, free to write and perform whatever music they feel passionate about. They have the individual freedom of choice and power to do so in relation to their career. Along with that freedom comes the reality check that success in the business of music is not an easy goal for an indie to achieve. It is clearly a road filled with uncertainty. Success on the grand scale of national recognition and net worth are not guaranteed. Those who break through get there through unpredictable opportunities that are connected to the artist's sheer perseverance, tenacity, and time driven destiny.
The indie lifestyle is about writing, recording, performing original music and so much more. It requires multitasking off stage where the artist wears the hat of the promoter, the hat of the artist while somehow finding the delicate balance between the two. From writing new music to sending Facebook invitations about their next gig, the promotions and the creative must be part of the regular schedule of activities to be effective as an indie artist.
The dream and the goal of every indie on the scene are to one day attain the backing of a major label that will come in to their world with all the bells and whistles of top of the line promotions, graphic designers, fashion stylists and so on. They dream of one day just being the artist with all the support needed around them in place so that they can give full focus to creating music. Until then, they must continue their walk wearing dual hats. Just as a blade of grass can sprout through a crack in the sidewalk, there is occasionally an indie artist who arrives to higher ground by sheer fate or what some would describe as a lucky break.
New York native and now Philadelphia resident, Lili Añel, is one such contemporary indie artist who has arrived to national recognition with the grounded perspective of an individual who takes it all in stride. Her popularity as an indie artist is representative of her insight and passion to create original music that appeals to people from all walks of life. Her writing style lyrically speaking is based on the open expression of her inner truth many times awakened and revealed in an improvised jam session at a night club.
Añel shared in a recent interview about a night club where she likes to go to find her inspiration, the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. It was the first club where she took to the stage and it remains her favorite. In her seasoning as a live performing artist, she has learned to connect on stage with the audience at hand and in doing so naturally transform any venue into her living room metaphorically speaking delivering in the concert experience the open book of her life... so far.
There's something for everyone in Añel's most recent cd release, I Can See Bliss from Here
(Wall-I Records, 2013), a project she produced with Dale Melton and one that marks her 6th recorded release. The core essence of its content is autobiographical with each song unveiling a chapter in Añel's journey to date giving melodic insight into her victories and struggles as she takes constant strides to simply be herself. In the same breath, the songbook is transcending in that it can reflect the biography of anyone who has walked in her shoes.
With the foundation of the songs built upon Añel on vocals/guitar and Melton on piano/organ along with other seasoned musicians following their lead in studio, the project stands on its own stylistically as a unique contemporary musical fusion mix of Jazz, Latin, Afro-Cuban, Blues and R&B that creates its own authentic identity that is respectable in artistic integrity and mood.
Subject wise, Añel makes it a point to rise above the mediocrity of cookie cutter music in her creative writing,expression and the message behind her music. In the area of lyrical prose, Añel explores the depth of human suffering and triumph through poignant revelations and insight. Her songbook is conversational in lyrical format with a symbiotic message put to musical flow.
"Something to do" tells the story of Añel's childhood, growing up in tough economic conditions in the Barrio where her mom worked six days a week to care for her and her sister. "My mom...she sacrificed for me and my sister... She did what she had to do...it was her something to do." Raised in the Barrio, Añel learned street knowledge early on as a child to survive; and in that neighborhood, her family extended from her immediate family to her street family all of whom saw each other on one level as familiar faces sharing the common ground of survival. Añel sings about giving a neighborhood bum some money to keep an eye out for her as she moved about on the streets day in and day out. In addition to doing what she had to do for her protection, it was also her way to reach out to help him, to give him a goal to focus on besides drinking his life away. She gets it across that every human being needs a goal to achieve and a connection to humanity in order to breathe life into their purpose and existence.
In spite of the economic hardships faced by her mom and family in her childhood, her mom's strength taught her to believe in the possibilities. That life lesson set Añel up to be equipped to get through life changing adversities now as an adult. The single features Añel's smooth vocal delivery laid over a solid rhythm section that creates a mid-tempo Latin jazz breezy feel.
"Best Part of Me (Song for Joey)" is Añel's anthem and salute to the precious beauty of a mother's love for her child. All of the walls come down as she sings with her heart wide open about her love for her son, Joey. Añel sings of enjoying simple moments in time brought out in her deep reflection.It is an acoustic vocal ballad emotionally heartfelt in its lyrical story line and acoustic melody and harmonies. The feel of this song is reminiscent of the legendary Phoebe Snow
in simplicity of art and vocal rhythms. The acoustic picking flows gently in tone as she sings of her deep bond with her child as it reaches beyond the heart to a oneness in spiritual connection.
The range of interpretations of this song is broad in scope and depends on the listener's creative connection to the music. When looking at the poetic language of the song, it can symbolically even be about the love shared between soul mates. It can go several ways with the writing and that is what makes this piece eclectically masterful. "You're the best part of me I hope you see what you mean to me. Before I even knew... I knew you'd be the best part of me..."
"Go Home" shows off Añel's down home blues skills on vocals as she drops acoustic blues to a hip stylistic retro moan at the top of the track on the intro. The song's straight ahead lyrics show her artistry in attacking her blues like,"I want to go home soon cause I can't do no mo work today. Lord please take me home soon. For I am lost and I can't find my way..." Añel makes it clear that she can embrace her troubles and deliver it with the organic raw feel of Bonnie Raitt
and the rich flavor of New Orleans
style blues making it her own.
"Out of Control" takes the listener into the vicious cycle of her inner turmoil being lost in the madness as she battles between her head and heart for direction in her life's journey. She sings of making her own decisions and being her own woman now facing being out of control and not wanting to be in that state of being. The lyrics are concentrated and real flowing over a contemporary smooth jazz musical track that fits the lyrics in the pocket.
The project's lead single, "Climb the Wall," is Añel's emotional catharsis artistically painted in the canvas of song. Añel speaks as an individual schooled in street knowledge and fluent in poetic lyricism while openly painting the picture of her own struggles in the human experience. The lyrics tell the story of the economic recession and how it affects the lives of people from all walks of life in different degrees in challenges of uncertainty.
"Climb the Wall" unveils and weaves through her fears, pain, and insecurities to give birth to her inner conviction and courage to overcome it all. Añel is a relentless survivor who sings in the key of "straight talk" about hitting rock bottom and getting back up to talk about it.
The lyrics are broad enough to cover any circumstance that presents itself as an obstacle or challenge to anyone of any economic status or class whether rich or poor, old or young. "It can all be gone forever/in the blink of an eye/lose your job/lose your car/lose your house/lose your mind... what's left to help us."
Añel "climbs the wall" and during the process of coming back up, she defies the effects of the economic recession with the coping mechanisms of audacity and hope, tools that she uses to fight through the struggle to find the answers.
With the demands of an indie artist's lifestyle, Añel faces the darkness through the safety of her music determined to find her way to the light of day. "Maybe I can climb the wall...get to the other side... scale the hurt... leave it behind... find the answers..."
Añel shared that "Climbing the wall is the easy part. Beginning the climb is the hard part;" and overcoming that fear is what Añel drives home on this single. Añel reveals her sensitivity and understanding of the human condition through well thought out lyrics resulting in a musical creation that is both streetwise and metaphysically teachable. Nothing is impossible to overcome. She recalls the words of her mother to her as a child and suddenly now as an adult, she understands more about the task ahead. Escapism and realism meet the music with this project representative of Añel's sincere artistry and it all makes sense.
In the process of writing the music of this project release, Añel goes through the rush of recollection of the strength of her mother, steps into her shoes as a grown woman of depth and finds healing and discovery of the light at the end of the tunnel through the art of the music.
Looking back at the struggle, the irony is seen in the fact that the hard times became the catalyst to create a project born from the depth of her own human experience. She reached inside and somehow found a way to get to the other side with the caliber of quality in a musical project comparable to a major recording artist.
After speaking with Añel in our recent interview, it is notable that her indie rise is in progress organically speaking. Her daily schedule of promoting this project is nonstop even more so lately with the news of her receiving an official nomination at the Tri-State Indie Awards in the category of Emerging Indie Jazz Artist. On top of that, her single, "Something to Do" is doing something extraordinary on the radio airwaves particularly on NPR's WRTI with the record soaring up the top 10 to the number 3 position of this week's Jazz Hot 11 charting amongst artists like Joey DeFrancesco
, Houston Person
, and Ahmad Jamal
With the momentum of her new release underway, she aspires to hit the road and travel to new venues across America with the music and the message. She shared: "There are many places in the U.S. I'd love to perform, places in New York City, the City Winery, the Highline Ballroom, Town Hall, however, setting my sights high, I'll say I'd love to play The Blue Note. Then there's Yoshi's in San Francisco, JazzFest in NOLA. I would love
to play at The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia where I live now, specifically Verizon Hall. It's a beautiful space and the sound is amazing. "
Añel continues to climb the wall of the ever changing music industry as a respectable indie artist doing it her way while keeping her human dignity intact with the spiritual purity and humility of woman who is on a mission to find the answers, and through her music inspire someone along the way.