Q&A with next generation Chicago blues artist Michael Damani, brings the infamous style of west-side soul and blues to the forefront of a new breed

"A lot of people think of Blues as sad music, and perhaps even disgraceful to black people as an art form. Nothing could be further from the truth. The blues is soul power and the blues is truth. Many times, people tell me that although they are not blues fans, that my performance touched them. I hope that every musician or performer who has a passion for the blues can experience what I have explained. There's nothing more eye opening than experiencing the power of the blues for the first time."

Michael Damani: New Windy Blues 

Michael Damani is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of new generation and member of the Original Chicago Blues All-Stars. He started playing guitar at the age of 15 and quickly grew to love the instrument as an outlet to channel his creative drive. A deep love for the blues combined with a curiosity for the sounds of jazz and R&B is what forms Damani’s creative essence. He has the attitude of a young prodigy determined to become a true master. Damani loves Hendrix, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan but has a sense for the crucial factor that ties these music giants together – The Blues. Michael was “discovered” at a weekly jam at Motor Row Brewing, in Chicago and quickly became a stalwart of the group. Raised in Silver Spring MD, and moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College. He has spent the last several years honing his skills as a guitarist of many genres and is excited to continue to develop his skills for all eternity.                                                          Michael Damani / Photo by Julia Sky

The truth of the blues is his calling and he answers time and time again with unflinching determination. Some of Damani’s notable blues influences include modern artists such as John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr, as well as legends Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. After joining the Chicago Blues All-Stars at just 22, Damani’s reputation in Chicago has been steadily growing, seeing him tour France, Canada, Brazil and Australia with the band. The experience he gained with these seasoned blues masters has been the perfect catalyst for his own endeavours and his solo album, Mighty Oak (to be released in 2021) tells the story of his life through striking lyricism, full-rounded melodies and blues guitar solos.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Blues is a universal language, and people all over the world come together to celebrate it's majesty and truth. Journeying to places like Brazil, Australia, and Canada has given me the opportunity to experience the impact that Blues culture has on people from all walks of life. It is very eye opening to realize that music that began in a field or someone's front porch can become an internationally appreciated heritage.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My repertoire is comprised of songs that make me feel a spiritual connection to the artists performing the song. The concept of soul music is fascinating to me because it brings this connection to life through music which naturally sparks my curiosity. This is definitely where my creative drive comes from and this is how I gain inspiration for original material.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I once had the privilege to meet Trombone Shorty when I was in high school. He advised me to listen to everything, but then to make it my own. I've taken this to heart and I always strive to discover my identity through creative endeavors.

"My repertoire is comprised of songs that make me feel a spiritual connection to the artists performing the song. The concept of soul music is fascinating to me because it brings this connection to life through music which naturally sparks my curiosity. This is definitely where my creative drive comes from and this is how I gain inspiration for original material." (Michael Damani / Photo by Mark Kovosa)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I am a member of the Original Chicago Blues All-Stars. This is the band that was started by the late, great Willie Dixon. Willie's son, Freddie is a current member of the band as well as Jimmy Lee Tillman and Doktu Rhute Muuzic (formerly known as Roy HighTower). We perform regularly and we also host jam sessions, a brilliant opportunity for all musicians to share their talents with gentlemen of experience, legacy and musical dignity. I'll never forget Freddie Dixon yelling at me to "PLAY" as he could sense that I was not giving my 100% this particular performance. He was right up in my face screaming "PLAY!!!". Well let's just say he hasn't had to do that in quite some time.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

One thing I miss about older blues is the singing! You just don't get a voice like Howling Wolf's or BB King's today, these guys were truly world class. My hope for the blues in the future is that it continues to spread it's joy and magic for as long as people are playing music. My biggest fear is that people will choose to remember people like Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin and forget about the legends like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Mississippi John Hurt. Not to say anything against Eric Clapton, but it's important that we remember where the blues comes from.

What would you say characterizes Chicago in comparison to other US blues circuits? what touched (emotionally) you?

To be honest the only thing that's different about the Chicago's blues community compared to others is the demand. Chicago of course being so well known for the blues, has more blues clubs, more talent and more virtuosity. Other than that it's the same. Just people coming together to enjoy great music.

"The Blues is a universal language, and people all over the world come together to celebrate it's majesty and truth. Journeying to places like Brazil, Australia, and Canada has given me the opportunity to experience the impact that Blues culture has on people from all walks of life. It is very eye opening to realize that music that began in a field or someone's front porch can become an internationally appreciated heritage." (Photo: Michael Damani with The Original Chicago Blues All-Stars)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

I'd say the most important lesson I've learned is to always be professional. This business is all about connections so it's important to always conduct yourself a certain way.

What is the impact of Blues on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

A lot of people think of Blues as sad music, and perhaps even disgraceful to black people as an art form. Nothing could be further from the truth. The blues is soul power and the blues is truth. Many times, people tell me that although they are not blues fans, that my performance touched them. I hope that every musician or performer who has a passion for the blues can experience what I have explained. There's nothing more eye opening than experiencing the power of the blues for the first time.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

If I could take a trip on a time machine, I would go to the Regal Theater in Chicago back in the 1960's. All the greats came through there and it's where BB King recorded his iconic "Live at the Regal" album. I would love to experience this concert live.

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