By Peter Galvin
It’s rare that an artist arrives onto the pop music scene so fully loaded with the kind of hit-making potential that singer-composer-guitarist Raul Midon possesses. The New Mexico-born, New York-based Midon makes his recording debut with State of Mind, produced by Arif Mardin and Joe Mardin for Manhattan Records. The 13-track collection of Midon originals is a remarkable melange of soul, R&B, pop, folk, jazz and Latin. The CD, which boasts a guest roster featuring Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz, places on display Midon’s earnest, lyrical songwriting; full-bodied vocals steeped in soul; a singular syncopated, flamenco- and jazz-infused acoustic guitar style; a unique vocal trumpet improvisation; and hopeful disposition.
Midon traces his own beginnings back to the tiny town of Embudo, N.M., north of Santa Fe on Route 68. His Argentinean-born father was a professional dancer who left home at 17 and danced his way through the U.S. before settling down in New Mexico with his New York-born wife (who died when Raul and his identical twin brother were very young).
While you can hear traces of Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano and, Richie Havens in his music, Midon is an extraordinary original whose passion is expressed in his indelible songs. “I like to celebrate the possible, the highest, the best of possibilities for human beings,” says Midon, who has been blind since birth. “It’s easy to be pessimistic given the state of the world. But I’m inspired by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi who had the ability to transform. Collectively we create an enormously powerful force that can change the world and overcome any obstacle.”
Here, Midon talks about how the inclusiveness of his music has brought him all kinds of fans, including a sizable gay contingent that has been with him since the beginning.
Q: Your music combines many different elements and genres. Why do you think your music is so inclusive?
Raul Midon: It started with my family. My father was Argentinean and white, and my mother was African-American. My father getting together with my mother was not as normal then as it is now. I was pretty aware of the idea of bringing together cultures. Also, my father exposed me to all kinds of music when I was young. That had a big impact on my musical tastes.
Q: What was the first type of music that you really remembering responding to as a child?
RM: I responded right away to Argentinean folklore. I was not particularly into rock and roll as a kid, and I came to pop music later. After folklore, I got into tango, which is the urban music of Argentina. I was also exposed to opera as a kid, and I was into Mexican music. I was just very much into the music itself. I wasn’t even into the people who were making the music. Maybe that has to do with being blind. I just wanted to hear music. Today, people are really into all of the things that music brings — the lifestyle, the attitude, the cribs. That has never been the case for me.
Q: Your lyrics are all very positive. That’s almost a rarity in today’s music scene.
RM: You know, I’ve gotten a little bit of criticism for being too positive. Especially in New York — it can be such a jaded place. But I am a living example of the results of positive thinking. Think about it – a blind guy moving to Manhattan to make a career in music – it’s insane! At first, the only gig I could get didn’t pay me enough money to pay the rent. But I knew I could do it. It wasn’t a pipe dream. I had abilities, and I knew that the opportunities were here. I have lived the idea that you create your reality. I am a guy that makes affirmations every day. What seems a complete impossibility can be built. For me, this is not some abstract philosophy. I do believe that I have a gift. That gift is allowing me to be on David Letterman. In my little three minutes on television, I get to talk to millions of people. I never would have had that chance if I didn’t have this gift. My gift gives me a certain power to do good.
Q: Reading the lyrics to the song “Everybody,” it sounds like you feel as if everyone has a gift and that we should be able to contribute their gifts to society. The song actually made me think of the struggle of gay people to be included in society.
RM: To me, being gay is a non-issue. And gay marriage is a human rights issue. Gay marriage doesn’t affect me. I’m heterosexual. Whey should I care? I just can’t see why it matters so much to people. And these people saying that marriage is a scared institution — it’s ridiculous. People are getting divorced all the time. And I think that calling it a civil union is stupid — it should be called marriage. What people do in their sex lives should not have a bearing on their human rights. Nobody can convince me otherwise.
Q: Do you have a gay fan base?
RM: Well, I have a story about that. When I first came to NYC, some of the first most ardent fans would come to every gig. One of those fans was Mario Cantone. Then, I had my first gig at Joe’s Pub, but I didn’t think the turnout was going to be that great because I was still pretty unknown. But then Mario Cantone, whom I had met a couple of months before, decided that he was going to have his birthday party at Joe’s Pub the night of my show, which ended up being huge for me. He invited Kim Cantrell to my gig, and a lot other Broadway and theater people came to see me — they were my first fans. Mario got people to my show because he was so into what I was doing.
Q: Last question: what was it like to have Stevie Wonder play on your record?
RM: It was incredible honor, a dream come true. I had my producer Arif Mardin call him, and then I sent him a letter in Braille. Then we sent him the material. Almost as the record was about to get mastered, he said he wanted to play on one of my songs. Later on, I got a chance to play with him on stage. It was one of those life-altering moments – someone with this iconic status that you grew up hearing. I’ll never forget it.
For more information and to listen to clips, visit http://www.raulmidon.com.