I had a chance to catch up with the upcoming macher in the music world, Diwon, as well a chance to catch a few great words from one of his musical artists, Y-Love. Discover the roots of a producer and musician’s sole, and here from Y-Love about his favorite spots in DC, and his connection to Shavuot. Also check out their show this Sunday.
Sunday June 12th Live in D.C.
$4 D.C. Show @ Chief Ikes with Flex Matthews, Y-Love, Kosha Dillz, ill prophet & Diwon Live in D.C. 8pm doors $4 21+. Address: 1725 Columbia Road Northwest DC 20009 www.chiefikes.com Facebook Event
GTJ: I know that you are CEO and also music aficionado/mixer/maker, as well as family man. How do you find time to do all that you do? Where did your story begin? What motivated your journey into music?
Diwon: Well, My first label began in 2001, called Modular Moods. Shemspeed grew out of that as a promotions company and label in 2007. The original concept was to work with the best Jewish artists, whether they are on Shemspeed records or not. I think it was more niche in the beginning and over time has become a little more mainstream, more crossover and universal but still with a very strong positive Jewish message.
The focus with most of the artists on Shemspeed seem to be diversity and unity. I think we are breaking stereotypes and opening up peoples mind both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world. Our artists come from the perspective that we have more similarities than differences, lets focus on the similarities and collaborate on those! celebrate those, create more of those….That’s why you will see DeScribe, a Chassidic kid from Crown Heights who spend a lot of his day praying and learning Chabad Chassidut collaborating on tracks and videos with tons of different artists from Jamaica and Trinidad, including Bob Marley’s family. I think this wakes up all communities to our shared mission of perfecting the world and realizing that each of us is a piece of G-d. Shemspeed is all about signing and working with groups with positive and unifying messages, but with music that is appealing to a wide range, I guess you could call it cross over music. We don;t usually sign groups that would only appeal to the Jewish community, there are hard core religious labels that are generally homes to those groups.
We want to learn and build and inspire. At the same time, we have artists that have Jewish messages and maybe middle eastern sounds, but non Jews who listen to it just look at it as, say, a hip hop CD. We aren;t putting out albums that are klezmer hip hop and rapping in Yiddish, we don’t pick up the overtly niche. Once in a while we will release a side project like Shir HaShirim, but it is just that, a side project. …our main releases are way more ‘pop’ and mainstream in a sense…The reason for that is because our staff, like the majority of American youth, listen to hip hop and pop and things that move our culture and we like to mix our taste in music with our beliefs and ideals. We want to be a light unto the nations and have a powerful effect on the world, we see our music (instrumentally) as in line with what is moving the youth of today and our music (lyrically) in line with our mission as Jews to uplift and set an example. One of our touring artist that has been all over TV, Radio and magazines is Y-Love, a black Jewish artist from Baltimore, he along with myself (Diwon) make club music as way to get these messages out in mediums that the messages are lacking. We work with artists like Matisyahu, who is very inline with out mission which is creating global universal music from a specific and spiritual place and I think the world is seeing how badly this type of music and message is needed at this exact moment. Shemspeed is a conduit for this type of crossover music by Jewish musicians that speak to the world inspired by ancient texts and beliefs.
AND Y-Love was the first artist signed to Modular Moods/Shemspeed. The mixtape we made was probably one of the most original urban Jewish pieces to that day. It was a classic mixture that introduced Y-Love to the world. The MC dropped his lyrical skills over a genre smashing blended classic mixed by myself (Diwon). It mixed club music with indie rock and brazilian baile funk all with Torah inspired lyrics and even some Aramiac. One of the newest artists is Brody, an incredible Israeli singer who makes soul hip hop and r’n’b. His songs mix soulful vocals in Hebrew and English with hip hop head nodding beats and introspective lyrics.
GTJ: You have a great passion for music. What’s the root of your story? When did you first have that ‘Aha’ moment with music?
Diwon: I’m a Navy brat so I grew up in different cities and countries every few years. I was born in San Diego, CA and went to all sorts of schools throughout my early years…sometimes it was the Military school on the base and other times we would drive far for me to go to the Jewish school that was miles away, it really depended on the country and the Jewish options that were available.
Music keeps me excited about life, whenever life seems stale or repetitive I will hear music or make music that will reenergize me and get me excited about being a part of it all. The first memory I have with music being a part of my life was when my family was stationed in Naples, Italy and I was on the bus on the way to military school. The bus driver would have all these 8th graders play whatever they thought was cool at the time. I got my parents to take me to the Commissary, I was 9 at the time, and I told them I wanted the Montley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” tape. I was really into the tape, probably because it had reminded me of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” cassette. I took it and told the driver to pop it in his tape deck. From that second on, every kid on my bus looked at me in a different light. That was the first time I saw music change how people viewed others. In college I started to get into the klezmer fusions music that was being made in NYC at the Knitting Factory and Tonic via CD submissions that were being sent to the college station that I was a music director and DJ at, at the time. I started to really dig it, especially Masada which was John Zorn’s book of original Jewish compositions. Until I heard Masada, the only jazz that had been able to mess me up that bad (in a good way) was Ornette, Coltrane & Davis. I found 3 other people in college and eventually convinced a fourth that we should start a group (called Juez) that mixes break beat, punk, jazz and klezmer music and start playing house parties. People would dance as if they were at a Ska show and back in 2004 or so we started playing with Matisyahu and when I moved to NY I would DJ, play drums in that band and put my other musician and artist friends on the bill. When I saw how people felt like they were a part of something fresh and were excited about Jewish expression, I myself started to get more and more into it. I met an aspiring rapper back in 2001 while studying outside the old city of Jerusalem, his name was Yitz Jordan and at about that time I wanted to put together Jewish hip hop like no one had ever heard. I remember telling Yitz who started going by Y-Love, that if he is ready to start really working on rap and recording, we could make the most amazing music the Jewish world has ever heard. We put together a mixtape called ‘dj handler presents Y-Love’ back when I went by dj handler and not Diwon. The mixtape blended old school hip hop, brazilian funk, soul, electronic tracks and indie rock with Y-Love rapping about everything from the national Jewish population survey to his talmudic studies in Aramiac. I still look back at that mixtape and feel that it captured a time in Jewish history. Since then I think that my work with Shemspeed, Y-Love and Matisyahu’s work has all become even stronger but not through becoming more niche or overt in the messages of the music, quite the opposite, I think it is stronger because the music has become more universal, it is music for the world, while still being naturally infused with positive messages and Jewish thoughts. I still love to release music that is niche, such as cinematic instrumental music, and niggunim records and the Sephardic Music Festival CD, but I like to balance that with music that is pop and for the radio. There is something strong about a track that’s sort of ‘radio music’ pop that has a Jewish message. I see my mission with Shemspeed to produce music and programming that reflects our mission as Jews of being a light unto the nations.
I have always thrived on collaboration and I always have a dozen collaborative projects that I am either producing or playing on at any given moment. As far as how it began…..In college I was writing songs on my guitar and playing this sort of experimental music with a drummer friend, but meanwhile I was really into the hip hop scene that was happening around me and the university. I was a DJ and music director at the college for 4 years and was blown away by a few of the artists that were in school with me. At the radio station I was the recipient of tons and tons of albums and press releases of bands trying to break it into the mainstream through the college market. I started to get a feel for the whole promo game and what works and what totally did not. Meanwhile I started booking shows for my band with some of the hip hop groups, I was getting press and selling out shows and so there was a sort of buzz going around. I thought instead of releasing my CDs as glorified CDrs, I should take it on more professionally, press up the CDs with a UPC, amazing artwork the kind that begs you to open the CD and then I put together a marketing and college promo campaign….with the very first release we hit the top 10 hip hop charts. After, that everything started to come together. more people wanted to collab and I wanted to take what I learned and help as many groups as I could. Of course, only groups that blew me away, at the time Educated Consumers and bellflur and then my own band, Juez. Since those days I started Shemspeed as the public face for all that we do and have since toured the world and put out incredible music with incredible artist. THis winter we kick off our 7th annual Sephardic Music Festival!
GTJ: I know you guys also work with Matisyahu. What’s up on
your work with him?
Diwon: Well, our first release of his was on our Sephardic Music Festival CD, http://sephardicmusicfest.com/cd/ an amazing track he did with a Yemenite chorus by the singer of Moshav. Then he asked me to produce his “Miracle” music video and I was glad to and finally, we released a collaboration of DeScribe and him for special needs kids. you could check the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6LZNuESxq4 Lots more to come, we love Matis and beyond being a collaborative artists on Shemspeed, he is on our advisory board 😉
GTJ: So Y-Love, shavuout just came up. Any reflections and connections with your “this is unity” song and the message of the holiday?
Y-Love: We know from Kabbalistic philosophy that “the King will not sit on a broken chair” – If we want divine blessings to come to us, if we want G-d to “come down and sit on His throne” in this world, the chair has to be whole; the people must come together in unity. Before the torah was given, the people camped together as one – how could the torah be given to people in discord with divisions? Unity is a prerequisite.
GTJ: So I know you sometimes frequent DC when you’re not in the big city. What are some of the places you love about DC? Any place in particular?
Y-Love: I love dc nightlife of course, but honestly one thing I love about dc is the embassies and consulates. Seeing people from all over the world come together even for quick lunches – I love seeing things like that. plus im addicted topolitics – I scream at the tv watching c-span like it’s the world cup – so i dig the whole k street/capitol hill vibe too.