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Rhythm is in Africa

Rhythm is in Africa

Maxwell is an American (of Caribbean descent) singer-songwriter, record producer, and actor. After receiving a keyboard at 17, the Brooklyn native began composing music. Heavily influenced by chart topping RnB of the 80s, the shy kid from New York has been credited with the rebirth of soul in the late 1990s along with fellow artists Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Bilal. Coming from a rough neighborhood, his life could have taken a turn for the worst but with his passions and faith in God he was lead from NYC to Jo’burg to London. The “King of Hearts”, the “Musician Who Never Ages”, was struck by African culture in his journey. We had to chat about ladies and Africa with him.

First things first, I know you are a big fan of the New York Knicks, is there still hope for them?

I had to be a fan. It’s kind of like a religion. That’s what you do, growing up around here. I’m a big sport fan especially basketball.

Do you need to be an eternal lover in order to write love songs?

It’s funny, I get that a lot even though most of my materials are love songs. For example, “Pretty Wings” is a break up song but a lot of people are playing it at their weddings. I love to have a little bit of fantasy and reality combined.

Is this why you never got married?

No, I’m shy. I believe commitment is a long lasting friendship that grows. The time will come for sure.

What are you expecting from the woman of your dreams?

I leave it to God. Women in my life go through so many things, nobody is never good enough for my fans. When it happens, I will take my time before announcing it. As a matter of fact, I might even be married now.

You are recognized for making classic albums, is this why you take an average of 7 years between each album?

It comes by accident. Music is my passion, a hobby, not a job. People who follow me have high standards, they expect quality. It took me 22 years for my first album, then it went pretty fast. I am taking my time to get information, to feel and sense. I need to create something that touches people around the world.

Does music need to grow in you first?

It is more about the experience than music. I need to write from a place of truth, in order not to disappoint my audience. Even if they don’t like the song, they will feel it is real. I am putting feelings out there.

So what are you doing between albums?

I went to Africa, explored the world. When I was hitting my 40’s, I wanted to go to Jo’burg, Dubai… It might sound like I am ass kissing right now, but I was blown by the fact that Caribbean and Latino music are so connected to the African ones. It forms one big thing. I love the energy of Africa right now. The culture and the style are amazing. I am so happy for my friend, Edward Enninful, who became editor in chief of Vogue UK. It comes in waves, but people are starting to see substances of African and Afro-American music, fashion, art and literature.

What does Africa mean to you?

It is the center of universe. The most beautiful place I have been to. I have been there 8 to 9 times. The landscape, the culture, the food, the music are so dope.

Are you following any African musicians?

Hmm, let’s see: Angelique Kidjo, Skepta, Wizkid, Youssou Ndour are fire. I love how Africans who moved to London affected RnB music like Omar, Misha Paris and Soul 2 Soul. Rhythm is in Africa! There is something unique about Africans…you got it. People of color are so indispensable in art and fashion.

Were you still involved in charity during your hiatus?

Yes, definitely. Being born in Brooklyn I have noticed that the heart of success and achieving goals is based on education. The more you know, the more you can become I am involved in UNITAS (an NGO fighting against human trafficking) as an Executive Director, I am also part of Artists for Peace and Justice which encourages peace and social justice while addressing issues of poverty and enfranchisement in communities around the world.

Can you tell us more about APJ?

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APJ is strongly involved in Haiti through programs in education, healthcare, and dignity through the arts. I went on tour in Haiti with Mary J Blige after the tornado. I always took education for granted, it was so easy to me. Over there, I saw people hungry for knowledge. It was 6 years ago, I guess I am in partnership with them for the rest of my life because I see real results of what we are doing. Things like a cinematic institute, a radio institute, or kids making movies. Creativity is amazing in most impoverished places because they have no other choice but to be creative.

With social media it is more and more difficult to share one’s opinion without being trolled. Yet, you were strongly influenced by artists and peers with strong political views like Marvin, Erykah or D’Angelo. Have you ever thought of making a more political opus?

I do but things are more complicated than a simple #. You need a legislative understanding of what you want to achieve. Especially with our current situation, you don’t want to get me started. Our political situation is coming to the surface. The best way to protest is to touch people’s pockets. We all are Africans and we got to find a way to unify.

I have read that is is important to you to always wear a suit to perform, is it true?

I can do casual but I feel people taking time to come and see me. They do a lot of plans and sacrifices so I think the least I could do is to be on my best.

I have heard that you have a crush on an African brand?

It is true, high quality House Adrien Sauvage from Ghana. Lately, I have been dressing mostly with African designers.

What is your secret to staying in shape over 40?

I don’t drink much, I am going out less than before. Also, I eat less red meat… The bottom line is to respect the body God gave us. It’s a blessing what I have been able to live.

Last words for our readers?

Believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. I failed so many times. I remember going to the Grammys and running into 10 people who did not sign me. God is going to bring you to the right person at some point. But remember, after you’ve got what you asked for, there will be a whole bunch of new problems rushing towards you.

By Maximilien N’tary-Callafard | Photography: Horacio Hamlet | Stylist: Nicolas Klam Assistant | Stylist: Sarah Gentillon | Grooming: Vernont Scott | Location: Red Rooster, Harlem
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