“Ialmost quit doing music altogether to focus on just holding a job” says Denver Colorado’s Mawule, just weeks after rocking a capacity crowd at the release show for his debut LP at the Lost Lake in the rapidly changing Congress Park area of Denver. “A few years ago. Things ended with my old management, and I felt like I might not want to do it anymore.”
Holding both a Bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies and also a masters in Student Affairs and Higher Education from CSU-Ft Collins, Mawule (born Ebenezer Yebuah) could very easily have done so. But luckily, fate intervened.
“Right before I started in on trying to put it away, I got a call from from Glenn Sawyer and the Spot Studios, saying they liked my songs and wanted to re-work some of them for an new recording. So I met with him and brought him my songbook. He took a look at it and said “We gotta record these new songs, right now! So here we are.”
Where they are is at Chosen, Mawule’s first LP and second release with Sawyer’s The Spot imprint. Released June 10th, Chosen was given the unusual classification “Future RnB”, which it very well may be; Nine tracks of well crafted, genre-defying and progressive music, falling somewhere in between the vast expanse of modern RnB, Pop and Electronica, with the end product being far more than the sum of its parts. Chosen could easily find a home at the club or in the coffeeshop, with patrons of either feeling good after hearing it. Full of big production, the music of Mawule (which is Ghaanian Ewe dialect for “Only God Knows”) pushes boundaries not only sonically, but lyrically and perhaps most importantly, socially. With catchy hooks and beats bringing forth songs that belie a positive and spiritual message of acceptance and anti-materialism that flies in the face of genres that by and large use material status and wealth as their entire gimmick.
So what does “Future R&B” mean?
That’s actually a term my manager came up with, to try and describe the music we do. On everything I write, I try to really focus on making all of it as unique as I can, and we labor over it together. I guess we fall under current pop or R&B music styles, though. So he came up with that so we’d have a way to try and explain it to people.
So how would you explain your sound to someone?
I guess it falls under current stuff, really. I always try to keep up with what people are listening to, what hits people hard and pay attention to what I like and what I would want to hear as a listener. But I always pay a lot of attention to what parts of those songs make me feel a certain way. find the parts that really connect with me.
Your lyrics have an anti-materialism kind of vibe, which isn’t what modern hip-hop and R&B are all about at all. Was that a conscious effort?
Definitely. It definitely is. When I was a kid, my family came to Denver from Ghana. I was 10 years old when we came here, but I remember seeing all of the poverty and struggle that was around me. In Ghana, people don’t have a lot. Family and love are always at the center of what they do because of that. And from an early age, my parents taught me that money doesn’t matter. It’s not what you have, it’s the people around you and your experiences that really matter.
Do you ever go back to Ghana?
I had been going every three or four years. It’s actually really cool now that I’m putting out music, because I’ve got to meet and talk with people who are doing things and making music out there.
Does your Ghanaian heritage come into play musically for you?
Absolutely. More so than ever now. That’s always been a part of what I’ve wanted to do. I study it more now than when I was younger. There are songs on this album that I wanted to make sure to have that kind of African rhythm to them. Because it’s not something you ever really get to hear very often, and it’s important to try and set yourself apart.
Some of the songs on this album highlight the problems of sexual assault and objectification of women; That’s not something you usually hear in R&B music. Why talk about these sensitive subjects?
Well, I work in higher education. And as you know, there’s a really bad problem in colleges and universities all over with sexual assault and harassment of women. Personally, I know women who have gone through it, and talking to them about it really got to me, you know? We wrote “It’s Not You” to talk about the culture of victim blaming that is too prevalent, and to remind anyone out there facing these issues that it’s not your fault. I also wrote the lyrics as a way to say that there are people out there that do want to help be an ally, even if it doesn’t seem like it. There’s always someone you can talk to.
The recurring theme I keep hearing is you putting these positive messages into music that usually isn’t interested in doing so. Kind of like giving people candy that has healthy stuff hidden inside of it.
(Laughs) Maybe, I guess. What I’m trying to do is at the end of the day, be remembered as an artist who cared. And who did what he wanted to do. Because of these lyrics, it might be harder to make that big hit that crosses you over. But I want to be remembered as someone who was real.
Speaking of crossing over; Do you feel that the Denver scene accepting of your music?
I think so. There’s a lot of great artists and musicians here, and I love working with them. I hand-picked all the people for the release show, which I liked because of different they all are. That’s a great part about Denver. We’re all so different. But we had a great crowd the other night at Lost Lake, and we sold a ton of the physical copies of the album. Everyone had a lot of nice things to say. “I’ve been going to open mics for years now. Probably since like 2009. Just trying to grind it out and build up as much of an audience as I can.”
Did you do any of the producing on the album?
Not directly, no. But it was and is always a very collaborative effort in the studio. I am always coming to the producers with some kind of tone or idea of how I want it to sound. I’m always writing ideas down. I self produced my first EP, so I know my way around a studio, but I actually don’t know how to read or write music. I have a good ear for it, and I used to sing in the church Gospel choir, but I just never learned. It’s always been done by feel.
What do you want people to come away with after hearing Chosen?
When they hear it, I just want people out there, which ever song they happen to hear, to have it relate to them, on some level. That’s why I wrote them. So no matter what your situation is, or what kind of day you may be having, we can relate to each other.
Any big plans for the next few months?
Now it’s all about trying to get people to hear it. Whatever I have to do. I’m gonna go out to the 16th Street Mall with some business cards and copies of my music. Try and win people over one-on-one. Once they hear it, they like it. I know that. But it’s just getting it to them, you know?