Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

SHANTEL: TIME TO SHINE

Shantel
Shantel Shantel Shantel Shantel

With its stated aim being "to re-introduce the world to the traditional sound of quality soul and smooth R&B", the LA and New Jersey-based Mo-Philly Music Group this month launches in the UK via the release of 'Arize' - the debut album from Caribbean-born songbird Shantel Joseph.

Pioneered by the undulating, smooth grooves of Shantel's debut single 'It's Over Now', musical moods on the aforementioned 'Arize' range from the hypnotic sensuality of its uplifting title track and the blues-tinged, intense balladry of 'Love'; to the bass-burbling funk of 'Don't Get It Twisted' plus a gritty update of The Jones Girls' Seventies chart-topper 'U Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else'. All of which unquestionably fits the "return-to-the-real" remit of Mo-Philly. Which interestingly, prior to its inception, saw its founders - US industry vets Jimmy Levine and Raymond Earl - contacting both Philadelphia International's Gamble & Huff plus legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy, to tap into their original proven formula for developing and producing successful R&B/soul music with longevity and integrity.

"Musically, for this first album, I simply just wanted to express to the world exactly what I've been given. Which is the talent to write lyrics and to sing songs", begins a laid-back, warm-mannered Shantel: "I was raised on jazz; funk; old skool R&B... And, because I wanted to convey to everyone the truth about who I am and what inspires me, those are the musical elements I put on my record. Then lyrically I decided to take from my own experiences, while at the same time using uplifting, positive words to help people pick themselves up when they have no other recourse. So, with the track 'Arize (It's Time To Shine)' being all about encouraging people to just keep pushing through turmoil and through adversity, I felt it was definitely the right song to use for the album's overall title."

Interestingly, the organic-flavoured, lyrically-intelligent 'Arize' is almost entirely produced by Mo-Philly co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Raymond Earl. Whose link to the original Philly Sound came through his being the one-time bass-player in Philadelphia's Gold-selling Seventies/Eighties soul-disco outfit Instant Funk (of âI Got My Mind Made Upâ fame): "I first met Raymond through a musical friend of mine - who's actually still a member of Instant Funk - in Arizona", enthuses Shantel, who impressively co-wrote all the songs on said LP herself: "And, because we bonded with each other musically right away, we decided to form a partnership. The fact that Raymond could play so many instruments was to me just amazing. While, when it comes to being in the studio, his work ethic is just INCREDIBLE in terms of making sure everything's right and everything's accurate. I mean, we just could not sleep until everything sounded up-to-par with what was being played on the radio! To me he really is just an incredible producer and artist."

Originally born on the West Indian island of St. Lucia, Shantel moved as a child to Brooklyn, New York. Where - in addition to being influenced at home by her mother's love of Chaka, Whitney and Sade - she absorbed the many artistic influences of her ethnic neighbourhood, before relocating with her family to (an environmentally very different) Arizona during her teens. With her High School years there proving highly creative - she began writing songs as a means of expression before going on to singing regularly in local talent shows, beauty pageants and sporting events - after graduation she straightaway began honing her skills on Arizona's club circuit as lead and backing vocalist with local band Kaufee. Indeed, it was also during this time that she was first introduced to the aforementioned Raymond Earl.

"Once Raymond saw that I was ready to move to the next level - that I didn't only wanna sing for my friends or at a show here or there; that I actually wanted to be exposed to more people and let the world know what I had - he was like 'You know what? You really have something GOING here! You may wanna consider moving to the East Coast, because I don't think there's anything in Arizona FOR you!'", she recalls clearly: "Which really did start me thinking. You know, for years I'd sang with Kaufee. But it just never seemed that either me, or my friends in the band, would be able to break away from the kinda regional level that were on. So - after some deep thought, speaking again with Raymond on the telephone, and then actually taking a flight down there for him to hear a CD I'd already done - I decided to MOVE! And that became the pivotal moment that really changed EVERYTHING!"

⦠At which point aforementioned Mo-Philly CEO Jimmy Levine takes up the rest of the story: âRaymond invited me down to his studio one day to hear Shantelâ, relates the talkative music exec-cum-soul vocalist (Jimmyâs own 2006 LP âShare My Loveâ sold over 500,000 units in the European and Asian markets): âShe was recording some backgrounds for her album. And, after that session, Raymond and I kicked around some ideas. He was like âMan, with your background in Motown and my background with Philadelphia International, we oughta DO something!â... And thatâs when I first came up with the name âMo-Phillyâ! So from there Raymond and I set about creating the Mo-Philly Music Group, and our mission statement to this day remains to keep the music real and to keep R&B ALIVE! You know, it was our intention to create not just a record company, but a MOVEMENT - to rediscover good lyrics, good melodies, and wholesome music. And so far Iâd like to think weâre doing a pretty god job!â

âI mean, right now Shantelâs album is getting response in 32 countries around the worldâ, continues Jimmy with genuine enthusiasm: âAnd, in terms of her talent and artistry, sheâs exactly the type of singer and writer that the Mo-Philly movement is all ABOUT! You know, when I went to the studio that day and watched her for the first time, I said to myself âNow that girlâs GOT something! We have to DO something with her!â⦠Which is why Mo-Philly right now is 100% behind promoting, marketing, and branding the name âSHANTELâ all across the world! We truly are looking for great things to happen with her!â

The album 'Arize (It's Time To Shine)' is out now through Mo-Philly and is available to buy by clicking the buy now button below. Also, you can read Sharon Davis' interview with Mo-Philly CEO Jimmy Levine here in this issue of B&S.
Words PETE LEWIS

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