ZamBezi: ShelterVision 2020

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2020: The Year of Countless WTF Moments!  The Year of Fear, Frustration, Ample Disappointment, and sadly; Loss.  A Loss of Humanity as a whole. A Loss of Hope. While most were unsure of what was next; some of us utilized this time to do what they do best. Create. Throughout all the attempted division of the Evil Empire comes some Dope Diversity.

Along comes veteran beat junkie, ZamBezi, with ShelterVision 2020. I’ve known musician & marketing maverick Damon R. Howard aka “DameDigi” aka “ZamBezi” since the late 80’s. From early performances with his original alternative indie-rock band the Verge (RIP Christopher Tucker) and interplanetary funk rock band Comet vs. Planet, I’ve followed my brother’s musical career from Coast to Coast (Philly/DE to Venice Beach/LA).  He’s evolved personally, professionally, and musically and has truly defined his own sound. I caught up with “Bezi” to obtain the 411 on his latest project. 

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CLICK IMAGE BELOW TO STREAM ON SPOTIFY.  AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE!

MusicEXTENDED PLAY’S JAY ELLERBE INTERVIEWS ZAMBEZI

Screen Shot 2020-07-20 at 04.12.09Jay: What’s Going On? Sign “O” the Times. Shelter Vision 2020. Do you see where I’m going with this? 

Bezi: Wow man, I’m grinning ear-to-ear. You got some wordplay, huh.  I totally see where you are going with it, and I know you don’t mean to put me in the same sentence as those two musical prodigal geniuses. You are definitely on track when you picked up on this being a total fluid concept album (EP).  Wildly enough, you received and heard it first w/o the interludes and still caught that.  Jay-E’s got the keenest ear and musical comprehension in the game! 

But seriously, thanks for seeing the bigger picture of this concept EP, as it set out and became a mini-soundtrack of today’s times  in one current cohesive art piece. Just like Marvin Gaye & Prince intended on those 2 game changing albums. Now, I’m only speaking in theory, not musically, so don’t get that twisted, readers.  Respect to those two Kings.

Artists that are inspired to conceptualize an album, etc span all genres, mediums and generations.  I’d also say that Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and  Nas’ ” Illmatic”  were forward in my process of structure with interludes and Nas’ storytelling vantage point but thru instrumentals.  Even visuals like BDP’s “By Any Means Necessary” album cover is the feeling midway through the album for a track or so. 

Jay: You managed to capture feelings with your Tempos and Basslines. More layers than cakes. Care to walk us through a track by track overview?

ZamBezi:  Well as a rhythm section musician first and foremost, I tend to lean towards a groove and it has to feel like a full band playing in the studio, although I’m mainly producing  digitally on this particular project. Each layer has to be taken as a different instrument or musician playing for a full band sound but also layered sonically in the mix.  Since the final EP has the “Interludes” on them, I’ll begin with explaining the concept of a “5-Step Program” or stages I was going through to cope with all of this 2020 Madness.  The Global Pandemic, and then the Civil Unrest in America which also spread world wide in the matter of one spring season.  So the interludes represent both C-19 and Civil Unrest and the 5 Steps (song titles) are the each of the five stages (songs) played instrumentally in soundtrack form.

ZamBezi_WuMaskNature001: BREATHE  With the initial panic and shock of the Pandemic, it’s basically a song that represents trying to overcome that anxiety, starting with the power of the breath and quieting mind for self control. String and melody heavy with a dash of “Hope”.  The sounds and the tracks are supposed to weave in and out of one another like a breathing technique. Oh snap, I’m probably sounding a little “Venice Beach Hippie” but I will tell you, yoga and meditation are holistic gifts to the mind body and soul.  Just start w/ controlled breathing is the point and pull it together for a sec is what this song is about. 

002: SUPREME  Overcoming the initial panic of Entertainment and Hospitality Industry being shut down… everything goes online and looks a little promising as a short term solution but also advanced ways for artist to perform and market on social platforms.  DJing and live stream Battles, Parties, and Quarantine Festivals started to tie us over so I began diving into my home studio while working remote.  Anyhow, this one’s just a “Focused/Positive frame of mind” song to counter-balance the anxiety and self-calming in Breathe. It’s supposed to be the most cosmic hip-hop of them all and I’ll save the meaning of the intergalactic bridge for sometime offline. Crispy drums & cymbals. Shortest runt (song) of this litter. 

003: REVOLVER  Shelter in Place orders have taken hold on local and state governments in the US.  It started getting weird with all the essential needs shopping etc. The song’s main melody kinda loops around to represent the monotony we all began to feel being quarantined for so long, but holding steady like the groove. The chant/choir melody was me playing around on keys trying to make sounds that feel like human conformity but with some hope or promise.  I’ll probably use “Hope” a lot, I’m gonna warn you now.  It’s the balance to the darkness.

004: UPRIZING  This one is the most benevolent in story and sound. It chronicles the experience watching the civil unrest unfold (rightfully so). Horns & Keys represent the civilians, the basslines and creepy strings are the government, military and obviously the police.  So the song is supposed to sound like the actual marching (beat) and the combat zone going on in real time (protests, riots etc)The sounds on the layers are supposed to clash a little bit (even though same melodies and key) to represent the resistance and combat of war.

005:  GRATITUDE  The final cut was chosen and placed here to showcase a feeling of global unity from post-peaceful protesting as well as the rioting. The large, open-aired tribal beat propels the song’s message.  The main thing about the song is that the melodies have a feeling of overcoming or breaking through the other side of exposing race-related issues at the highest level, yet the b-section caveat is two folded; the pandemic is still here and the surface is just scratched on global civil unity.  However just gotta be grateful for not falling victim to the pandemic yet, and having faith that we are gonna get thru this year and these situations.

Jay:  Personal favorite?

Bezi: Aww man, do I have to?  They are all different and chosen to tell as story, so a few  cool, mostly formulated songs didn’t make the cut.  I love and hate’em for various reasons.  I’d say Gratitude or Revolver, although Breathe was the catalyst to the whole project and first one completed, and easiest one for the public to digest as a whole.

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Jay: This is a visual piece for the ears. You hear so many of your musical influences in this album. RZA. 80’s synth; even some Neptunes and Daft Punk (Tron). I feel your appreciation of many diverse producers. You’ve created your own sound. 

Bezi: Thanks, Bro. I want to transcend genres, as they are boundaries. I’ve been listening and submersed into various genres for decades. And as you know, I started out in bands as a touring musician 25+ yrs ago.  However,  I’ve been crafting my own solo production style/sound for last 13 yrs on and off.  Back on the grind now!

Jay: Gimme your Top 10 producers of all time. No particular order. I know there’s more than 10!  I’ll wait …LOL! 

ZamBezi: Yeah man there’s no way! Too many different genres, styles and trendsetters to narrow down 10.  Perhaps it’s better if I just ramble off as many that come to my head and stop when it feels right:

Quincy Jones, John Williams, Phil Spector, Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, George Martin, Butch Vig, Steve Albini, Prince, Trent Reznor, Brian Wilson, John Leckie, Brian Eno, Nile Rogers, Steve Lilywhite, Jon Brion, J Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock, DJ Premiere, RZA, Neptunes, DITC, The Alchemist, Dr. Dre, Dungeon Family, Q-Tip, Teddy Riley, Babyface, Kevin Parker, Josh Carter and Questlove. 

Jay: What other projects do you have going on? 

Bezi:  I assume you mean music related projects, correct?  Because my portfolio is rather diverse and I am heavy into the professional digital marketing sphere. Music-wise there’s quite a bit on the project board, actually. I’m already working on new ZamBezi music that will probably have more live instrumentation or vocal collaboration but not necessarily 50%. We’ll see.  I want to drop a new single both A & B side (meaning 2 songs, youngsters) in August. I’m also finally going to put out The Prequel to ShelterVision called “A.W.O.L.” in August.  It’s soley influenced by my 13-15 yrs in LA, and chronicles the Westside Beach vibe but from my cosmic soundscape lens.  Plus, I’m sure DameDigi will be in the mix DJing via stream or putting out playlists at least this Fall. I have enough projects to carry me to Summer 2021.

Jay: Are you playing all the instruments in this? 

ZamBezi: Yes, I am a musician first and foremost by way of my drumming roots.  Although I played each instrument track of each song digitally, instead of standard analog band setup, I approached it as if it was a band layering this project and writing all of their pieces and production performance.  There are no song “samples” on any ZamBezi work thus far.  Even the “choir vocal sound” on Revolver is actually me playing the notes of a voice sound on keys.

Jay: You have even more to say lyrically, but are you strictly beats these days? 

Bezi: Well thank you for also knowing some of my back catalog.  I love writing lyrics of all musical genres.  I just haven’t figured out if I should be performing them or if I should just write and produce when it comes to lyrics. I haven’t taken the focused energy to perform lyrics anywhere close to the writing.  Plus, I find solace in the production because it seems to be the bigger pieces a song’s puzzle.  I’m a multi-faceted drummer/musician like a digital Dave Grohl, Neil Peart, Andersoon .Paak, etc.  Most people have no clue that Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Steven Tyler, Phil Collins and many more were drummers at the core. 

Jay: Randomness…Is The Verge’s Phenomenon on Vinyl? 

ZamBezi: Funny enough, that would be really awesome and I was thinking about that a while ago. That album was professionally distributed on CD only at the time. That was back in the day when indie labels were newly minted by major labels as subsidiaries. So we produced it ourselves completely and then had the label (Big Deal/Caroline/Virgin) put it out and send us on a national tour.  We don’t even have a digital presence..I guess I should fix that someday.   I’ll have to ask my other living band member Lorren Sherrell aka LKS-1 if he’d like to do a small press run of some Vinyl!  I’d totally be into it and send you copies personally.  

Jay: Is your son a fan of his Pop’s music? 

Bezi: Well Liam Kingston is 3, and knows his dad is a DJ and did music videos in LA, so he has his own curated playlists.  He’s totally into music and is already a little performer with killer rhythm and dance moves.  Such an old soul. He loves lyrics and vocals so is actually into singing too!  Does Liam like my music…well he actually dances to  “Revolver” on this new release.  Kids don’t lie, so that was my son’s “Thumbs Up” stamp of approval.

Jay: What do you want heads to know about ZamBezi that they may not already know?

ZamBeziWu_DC_UnionstationBezi: I think a small circle of people “in the know” have a bit of an idea, but not the masses. ZamBezi is the uninhibited and ultimately most creative yet elusive of the SwitchFlip crew. “He” was created on the East Coast, but flourished in Venice Beach /Santa Monica artistic community.  Besides music production and instrumentation there’s a graphic/visual  arts side.  You know, it use to be hard for people to understand others that are multi-faceted.  I think artists like Pharrell and Kanye have paved the way for more musicians to be taken seriously in other major fields of art, film, business, fashion, tech, or whatever.  That being said, I kinda “compartmentalize” myself so it is more palatable for the general public. 

D-How is the notorious digital marketing guru, DameDigi is the tastemaker and DJ. Those 2 “compartments” have made waves on both coasts more prominently when it comes to business and recognition.  However, ZamBezi is the pure artist that is unapologetically who he is, and only lives in his world of art.  The greatest takeaway for people to hear is that it is never too late to be who you are.  Always make sure to be your authentic self and go after your goals and dreams regardless of what other tell you or think.  ZamBezi just appears on free-will every few years or so, but I think he’s come out of the shadows now since the world is shifting and there’s more platforms for self expression.

I admire my multi-faceted artist peers and have much respect for people that create on a high level in any of the platforms that they feel comfortable expressing themselves.  Although a graphic artist myself, I chose this cover collage artwork “The Disease You Carry Home” (by Mighty Joe Castro) because Joe’s an ILL graphic artist, skateboarder and most importantly a wicked guitar player/songwriter.  We are longtime friends that both played in separate groups with my original bandmate Christopher Tucker. Castro played lead guitar in Tucker’s post-Verge critically acclaimed band “The Situation”.  So, I’ve come full circle, and now is the time to set ZamBezi loose so stay tuned!

Jay: Nothing but Love, Damon. Continue to Be safe, Brother. Peace. 

-Jay Ellerbe

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Jay Ellerbe is a recent addition to the SwitchFlip Media Family. Mental Health Professional. Real Life Documentarian. Father. Lover of Music. You can catch him @Extended Play Records 204 Rehoboth Ave Rehoboth Beach, DE. 19971 diggin’ in the crates… 

ShelterVision: 2020 Cover art “The Disease You Carry Home”  by Mighty Joe Castro. Support your Local Artists and Businesses.   

Click HERE to Play on Spotify. Available Everywhere Now!

ZamBezi ShelterVision 2020
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