If Brian Hurst's British lilt and quick wit are delightful enough to elicit chuckles, it's only because his passion for soul music is straight-up serious.
Since premiering two years ago, his weekly show, "The Hurst Selection — London to Atlanta," has become one of the top-rated on WCLK-FM (91.9), garnering him an on-air rep for announcing new selections with such groovy quips as, "It'll knock your socks off — that is, if you're wearing any."
Despite pre-recording the three-hour show in "Studio Two," his name for the small room in his home near Manchester, U.K., where he tapes each program, Hurst's intimate knowledge of Atlanta's soul music scene has made him a local fixture of sorts — even from 4,000 miles away.
It's part of the reason why heavyweights within the local scene consider him to be a vital factor in its continued progression. Those endorsements, coupled with Hurst's international outlook and his partnership with longtime scene stalwart Jamal Ahmad, make it hard to refute his belief that "Atlanta is the most important hub in the world for soul music right now."
"You just have to look at the talent that's coming through," Hurst says, before launching into a virtual roll call of locally based artists, including Anthony David, Heston, LeNora Jaye, Alex Lattimore, Khari Simmons, Avery Sunshine, Kabanya-Chemise and more. "My point is, off the top of my head, there's just a list of people. [Not to mention] the incredible musicians that are playing. It's just completely awash with amazing talent."
Hurst's love for the sound, and his frustration at the force-fed format of most urban radio outlets, led him to form Soul and Jazz nearly two years ago. The venture includes the SoulAndJazz.com website, podcasts, artist development services, a record label, and events like the ongoing monthly held at the Sound Table.
The Soul and Jazz tagline — "Stereo, Not Stereotypical" — could practically serve as Hurst's personal credo. "My musical tastes are obviously African-American in origin. It's what I've loved since I was about 12 or 13 years old, and it's what I've collected for the best part of 33 years now. So my knowledge is not based on some fad or [me] jumping on any bandwagon," he says. "I know what I'm talking about because I've lived it, I've loved it, and I've spent an inordinate amount of money and time on it."
A regular contributor to Soul and Jazz and one of Atlanta's respected hip-hop/soul DJs, Cha-Cha Jones knows Hurst's intentions are legit. "He wants to make sure this genre doesn't die out," she says. "It's just something that he genuinely loves and wants to see handled appropriately, and wants to see artists get their fair share."
Since Hurst's Saturday evening WCLK show began airing in July 2009, the "numbers have increased exponentially," says program director Aaron Cohen. It now ranks third behind "Morris in the Morning," and Ahmad's acclaimed afternoon drive-time program, "The S.O.U.L. of Jazz."
Ahmad met Hurst through Anasa Troutman, who was part of Groovement, Atlanta's defining '90s musical collective that counted Ahmad, David, Simmons, India.Arie and others as members.
A central figure in the city's constantly developing soul scene, Ahmad believes it's on the cusp of a lightweight resurgence, and he sees Hurst playing a significant role. "We here in Atlanta, especially in the soul scene, we've always kind of had an affinity for our global brothers and sisters and their affinity for what our ancestors did musically. So it's really a tradition that Brian has stepped into, where you have individuals from, say, France or London or even Tokyo, [who] have always appreciated and embraced the culture," Ahmad says. "We just have to always remember that it doesn't matter where you're from, it's where you're at, and where you're at is always where you are mentally. And Brian is really here in Atlanta ... because at the end of the day, he understands musically where we're coming from."
The Soul and Jazz label's first release, The Hurst Selection, drops this week. It's a collection of songs and exclusive remixes featuring several Atlanta-based artists, including Kabanya-Chemise, Jaye, Simmons, Joey Sommerville and Sunshine. In May, Ahmad will curate the label's next release, tentatively titled The S.O.U.L of Jazz, a tip to Ahmad's radio show.
While Hurst intends to move to Atlanta soon, he hopes his influence across the miles will be enough to help the Atlanta soul music scene coalesce and continue forward.
"I will make mistakes along the way, but I do know how to sort the wheat from the chaff," Hurst says. "I know what's worth it and what's not. So I'd like to think that I'm taken seriously and I won't get too many a bad stare, I hope."
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