Illustrate Magazine's Interview for Ari Joshua's "SoulMine"


The sound of Ari Joshua, a talented musician and performer, is as varied as his upbringing. Ari’s love for music was obvious even as a young child. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and raised in Seattle, Washington. He received a scholarship to study music on the East Coast after graduating from high school, where he honed the power of musical expression. Ari has established himself as one of the most adored artists in the music industry thanks to his commitment to his craft.

The second of three funky & soulful songs from this quartet led by Ari Joshua will transport listeners to the heyday of traditional jazz, soul, and funk music. “Soul Mine” is the group’s second offering. Listeners will be moving and grooving from beginning to end as the bassline, guitar riffs, and sax lines combine to create a musical masterpiece. The single will be available on all major streaming platforms starting March 31st. Check out the exclusive interview below:

1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?

ARI JOSHUA: My grandparents played a lot of music and my family enjoyed singing together which sparked a connection with music at a young age. I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, a place where the warm sun and the warm souls of its people and its distinct multicultural atmosphere and rich music traditions left a lasting impression on me. Mandela was still in prison when I was born, and his release and the end of apartheid happened only after we left. The political climate in South Africa during my early years shaped my world view and instilled a deep appreciation for the power of unity and change. When I was pretty young, my family decided to leave South Africa they did not want us to grow up under the apartheid regime, and we moved to the east coast of the United States. It was a fun time. After a few years we moved across the country to the Pacific Northwest with an A1 moving truck behind us with all our possessions. Seattle was a small town then, a place where I could grow up and flourish as a young artist. I spent my middle school years in Seattle during the era of Microsoft and Grunge, which made it one of the best cities in the world to be an aspiring artist in. The creative energy was palpable, and I was constantly inspired by the music, arts, and culture that surrounded me. I hold that all dear to my heart, as it was a period of growth, self-discovery, and the beginning of my artistic journey. While music has remained a constant passion throughout my life, the way it is consumed, shared and experienced has changed dramatically over time. I really value the life I have had and the memories of where it all began, and although it’s changing, I will always appreciate the power of music to connect people and bring them together. I started with tapes, records, garage bands, and that led to joining my high school jazz band, and after graduation I returned to New York City for music school.

2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?

ARI JOSHUA: From the very beginning, I was drawn to the raw and spontaneous energy of the radio and records, learning songs in fleeting moments and piecing them together with my own notebook scribbles. I also loved the feeling of making stuff up with my friends. There was something magical about that creative process, a sense of discovery and adventure that I still carry with me to this day. I am essentially a rare mix of both. I was completely self-taught to begin with. I learned from kids at school, and a neighbor up the street. I learned straight off the radio and records. There was a time when you would catch a song on the radio and you only had the time it was on to learn it. I loved that. I could learn 40% of a song the first time, and then wait a week till it came back on the radio to finish it off. If I loved the song, I would write down the name in a notebook and go to the record store. Half the time they didn’t even have the music in stock. I remember they would order it, or say it’s sold out. I would even tune my guitar to the records. I had no idea all the Hendrix stuff was in the wrong keys. To me the key was irrelevant. Of course, as I grew older and my passion for music deepened, I knew that I needed to seek out more formal education in order to truly refine my craft. My education started in Jazz Band in High School, but I was forced to play with horn players and it was like learning a new language all together. Because we were a gifted band of kids we were fortunate to perform and participate in jazz festivals over the United States as well as Mexico and Europe. I took classes with legends and was fortunate to receive two undergraduate scholarships. One was to the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University where I took private lessons with Kenny Barron as a 19 year-old and studied with Ralph Peterson, Akira Tana, Mike Richmond (Miles Davis), Badal Roy (Miles Davis), Ralph Bowen, Larry Ridley, Ted Dunbar, and Vic Juris. New Jersey at that time was a total TRIP! Culture shock but the music was great. After two years I transferred to The New School in NYC which was really where I wanted to be from the start. After graduating, I spent a few years in NYC. So yes, I was both self-taught but then formally trained, but the formal training was more in the African and American tradition of Jazz, influenced by a long list of incredible humans. At the time I knew how lucky I was. I was in music heaven. So yes, I may have started out as a self-taught musician, learning from the radio and my own instincts. But I was fortunate enough to be able to build upon that foundation with some of the greatest teachers and mentors a young musician could ask for. The result is a unique approach, and at least the makings of a style that is all my own, shaped by both intuition and education, and forever indebted to the rich traditions of the masters of all genres.

3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘ARI JOSHUA’?

ARI JOSHUA: Well, there are quite a few influences actually. First and foremost, I have to say my grandparents. They had an incredible collection of classical, traditional, and jazz records that really shaped my musical taste from a young age. The beautiful melodies of the Synagogues and holidays my family and community celebrated throughout my youth with absolute regularity also had a big impact on me. And as far as specific artists, I’ve been influenced by a wide range of musicians, chronologically it started with blues, evolved to rock, then to jazz, and now it’s all over the place. From Lightning Hopkins and Charles Brown, to Mississippi John Hurt Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Wonder, King Crimson, John Mayall, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mad Season, Spin Doctors, Temple of the Dog, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Phish, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Herb Ellis, Wes Montgomery, Freddy Green, James Brown, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia, Medeski Martin & Wood, Jack McDuff, Sun Ra, Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Rashied Ali, Kenny Werner, Robert Glasper, Bill Gates, Amon Tobin, Tipper, and many more. It’s a big list but it’s just like 1% of the list, I think each one has contributed something unique to my sound and style. Whether it’s their use of melody, harmony, rhythm, or just their overall approach to music, I’ve tried to incorporate elements of all these influences but usually it’s more from a place of being moved by what they are doing, and less technical. For my name, well my full first name is Ariel Joshua, there is a mountain in Cape Town called Lion’s Head. I was born by it. Ari means Lion, and El means of God. Like the lion of Judah. My parents had a cool sense of picking names, my sisters name means ‘Song’. I guess when I was around 24 I wanted to go for the Bob Dylan thing and started using Ari Joshua as my professional name. It was before Facebook LOL so it just stuck on my artist profiles. My family name is actually Zucker or “sugar” in German, like the face book guy.

4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?

ARI JOSHUA: I spent thousands of hours emulating the expressive sound of all the music I could. I just want to access that feeling that comes when you are connected and resonating. The music includes all the ups and downs of my life, and the lives of my ancestors. It also wants to include the feelings of everyone in the room as well, and their ups and downs. I will try to fit in with the people I am working with. I use my ears and listen to them and add what I think will best fit. I enjoy playing in a box, there is a beauty to what that can communicate and what you can co-create with certain rules and guidelines. I also very much love to paint and create outside any boxes. Billy Martin, and John Medeski who I recently worked with are the perfect embodiment of that, I could just do that forever and be pretty happy discovering the magical potential that comes from each moment. If the options of what sound is, is a complete rainbow, my ultimate goal is to explore every color of the complete rainbow of sound, and eventually go beyond what is conventionally perceived. There’s a certain magic that can be accessed through sound, beyond what can be described in words. That’s the sound I’m striving for – one of pure channeling.

5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as JAZZ?

ARI JOSHUA: First off, I am not sure there are any labels that fit for me overall other than ‘Artist’, I studied Jazz so I could access the language. I have never been one who has the end goal to sound exactly like another artist. I did however and do feel that in the quest of finding one’s voice, there are few things as valuable as emulating others. I did that for years and years and I still enjoy doing that. For me this is like a process. The first part is listening or seeing the artists in person (better in person). Once that lights a fire and resonates with me I try to understand it. I do that by isolating parts. Like ‘OOH’ I love that part with Hank Mobley or Johny Hodges is scooping into those notes. How delicate and how expressive that is! I just have to be able to feel that. I put the tape, record or the CD on loop. I play that part over and over and over till I can almost taste it. Then I try to emulate it on the guitar. Are there notes involved? Well if so I wanna know what the chord is. Why are THOSE notes so potent on that chord. Same if it’s a riff from a classic rock song. What is the riff over, what chords. What are the lyrics saying? What is the mood of the song. Angry? Dark? Is it a revelation? Then I start to get into the quantum side of it. What if I played it in a different place? What if I played it slower or faster? Or if I put it on the relative minor? What if I take 20% of it and make it my own the other 80%? How about I combine the way this musical idea feels and sits with another idea from another artist from a similar era? You get the idea. I could do a whole lecture or book on this stuff. It’s so dang infinite.

6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?

ARI JOSHUA: I love all that. I mean I think it all ties in. Spiritually, music is an undeniable force. You can feel it with the greats. It’s part of knowing oneself and knowing how one fits into the greater source. Politically music is just there to transcend. Obama made Stevie Wonder the international ambassador of peace. Listen to his lyrics and try to tell me that he wouldn’t be a great leader for the peace. I would gladly serve the music, and the times in any way that it would have me. I may want to use it one way and it may have another idea for me. Right now, I am still trying to figure that one out.

7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?

ARI JOSHUA: Both. I am certainly giving back in all the ways I possible can control. I am still learning how to do more. I think I always strive to do more, give back more, share more, make more music, make more art. I really hope as I enter the next few phases of life I can find more people to influence in a positive meaningful way.
One thing is it has changed over time, I used to want to just practice and get better at the craft, but now it’s more about the why. Business-wise things are pretty good right now.

8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?

ARI JOSHUA: For me, it’s really all about tapping into that creative flow and letting it take me where it wants to go. I don’t like to force anything or try to plan things out too much. I just trust that when I sit down to create, the ideas will start flowing and I’ll be able to turn them into something special. It’s more or less like a faucet. New ideas can come whenever I really want them to, the best stuff comes when I get out the way. Not everything needs to be the best thing you have ever done. My process is relatively fluid and intuitive. I tend to start by picking a style, vibe, or even another song that I like, and then I let the notes flow out of me. With only 12 notes and countless chord progressions, there are so many directions that a song can go in, both rhythmically and melodically. I often find that the main section of a song comes to me quickly, but the challenge lies in fleshing out the rest of the composition. I keep stacks of books filled with song ideas and have recorded thousands of song snippets on my devices. However, the real difficulty lies in finishing a song. That’s where collaboration comes in. I would love to work with a producer or someone with a producer’s ear to help bring my ideas to fruition and complete the creative process. In terms of collaborations, I’m particularly drawn to working with singers. I’ve had a blast working with Mesa (Robert Owen) in my rock band, Big High, and I would relish the opportunity to work with someone like Alicia Keys, especially if they’re experiencing writer’s block or feeling creatively stuck. At the end of the day, I believe that there are infinite possibilities for creating music, and I’m eager to explore as many of them as possible. Like a volcano, an artist’s output is often explosive and powerful, but what goes on beneath the surface, the process of creation and the experiences that inform it, is often hidden view. Like an iceberg, the majority of the artist’s work and life are hidden from public view. Like a screen on a computer with only a small portion of what is inside for the visible to the world. It’s a good analogy as to why we don’t reward the depth and complexity of the artistic process enough in the world.

9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?

ARI JOSHUA: The hardest part is the widespread inequity compared to other professions. The musicians of the world are my friends. I know these people as well as anyone. As a person who has devoted my entire life to music, it is really hard to watch as fellow artists are left behind by the political and social dynamics we live in. There are really no lobbyists I know of advocating for any kind of rights or update of the laws we have protecting creators. It’s disheartening to witness the lack of advocacy for the basic rights of musicians, including the absence of minimum wage protections. Where are the gold standards? Even the most successful artists should be compensated far more for their hard work and dedication to their craft. Those at the bottom of the industry, even the most talented need day jobs to raise families. The music industry is broken, and it’s a shame that the value of music has been so devalued and incorporated into other industries. Although we may be moving in a positive direction, my generation has been dealt a difficult hand to play with. The streaming services pay so little while enjoying huge tech-level valuations and even more so as AI takes over. Building an audience has become a significant challenge due to people being so wrapped up in their phones and home entertainment. I think there was a greater widespread appreciation of touring and recording artists in the 1990’s. Despite these challenges though, I am hopeful that we can find a ways to build strong and loyal audiences for music and continue to push for the rights and fair compensation that musicians deserve. I think the fans and consumers are past the point of no return and realize they can’t keep just consuming the music for free forever, it would lead to no more giants. It’s counter intuitive to what humans and fans actually want. So I think we will see it turn around.

10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?

ARI JOSHUA: I am humbled an over-whelmed by the success of The Music Factory. We have now taught tens of thousands of lessons, employed countless artists, and are a permanent fixture in the Seattle community raising a new generation of musical humans. I super proud of that. I am also proud that I was able to follow through with the big plan I had so any years ago trying to make a sustainable model to create in. I am more excited now about making music than ever before. Collaborating with some of my musical heroes, recording in great studios, with great engineers, and just searching for expressive and innovative sounds – it’s all just amazing. I have always had music happening, but it’s taken a while to really focus and get my head straight. There were certainly some bumps in the road, some really challenging stuff, but I feel like I’ve emerged from all of that with a new level of clarity and drive. With all of these new releases on the horizon, I am just thrilled to be making such great things happen. The art, the music, the creativity – it’s all just coming together in such an incredible way. I can’t wait for the world to hear it all and am excited to find the folks that resonate with my purpose and my art. They are out there! The algorithm, and the popularity side of the thing isn’t my cup of tea, but I have found a niche where I can focus on the art and myself, and what’s important to my dreams and my muse.

11. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?

ARI JOSHUA: I have a coach who taught me the acronym F.E.A.R. – ‘false evidence appearing real’. I spent too many years and hours and minutes concerned about what people were feeling or saying. 90% of the time the stuff I felt wasn’t even based on reality but was imagined. And even if it was real I have learned to use it as a sign that there is another direction that the universe is empowering me to go. It’s not easy work to do, humans tend to focus on that hurt feeling, but there is a world out there of options. I think it’s natural for these things to come and go, but I advise people who struggle with this to separate out what is imagined and what is real, and the accept that you can’t really control a certain amount if what others do or say. If there is a thing you can fix about yourself, focus on that instead, or if it really is just noise, focus on where your heart feels loved, heard, and where your art wants to take you.

12. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?

ARI JOSHUA: I prefer a live audience. As a musician, there’s nothing quite like the energy of a live audience, but over time I’ve grown to appreciate the studio more and more. It’s a different kind of creativity and challenge. I’m really excited about all the amazing projects I’m working on right now. I’ve been collaborating with some incredible musicians like Joe Doria, Delvon Lamarr, Skerik, John Medeski, Billy Martin, John Kimock, and members of Soule Mode and Trey Anastasio Band. While I wish I had someone to handle the business side of things and book shows so we can do more live playing, for now, I’m content to focus on the studio work. I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide music lessons for the next generations and to handle the behind-the-scenes internal and external work. Hopefully, as my audience grows, we’ll be able to bring our music to more people in a live setting. That will be an incredible experience. I love to work on a high level, but also if there are any artists looking for someone to take on a run of shows, I would love to see if I can join them.

13. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?

ARI JOSHUA: Let the consumer decide. If they want to understand the story, they can ask, or look for the story. If they have their own interpretation that’s great too. The main thing is if they like it for whatever reason that is beautiful. An artist should create music that speaks to them and that they believe in, whether or not the audience fully grasps the intended message. At the end of the day, it’s all about personal connection and enjoyment. Whether a listener chooses to understand the story behind a song or create their own interpretation, the music should take the listeners somewhere. I mean sometimes, even the musician themselves may not understand or remember the inspiration behind a song, and that’s okay. As long as the music is genuine and connects with the audience, it can be a powerful force. Ultimately, what matters most is that the music resonates with the listener on some level and provides an emotional or intellectual connection. Anyways thanks so much for talking and hanging out with me. If there are any readers out there that want to learn more I trust they can google me. I really love to talk about what I am so passionate about. I liked your questions. Rock n Roll. Have a good one. Blessings to all the readers too.

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