Thanks to new releases from local heavyweights like DJ Kemit, saxophonist Darryl Reeves, and singer/guitarist Anthony David, 2012 turned out to be a great year for Atlanta's soul community. And as we move forward into 2013, the scene's momentum shows no signs of slowing down thanks to the new production duo of Khari Simmons and Daz-I-Kue.
Longtime ATL soul heads are undoubtedly familiar with the pair. Simmons (aka Khari Cabral) is known by many as India.Arie's bassist, and the driving force behind the band Jiva, which plays a blend of soul and Brazilian sounds. Simmons also dropped his own acclaimed album in 2012, Clementine Sun, which CL picked as the year's Best Soul Album.
Daz-I-Kue (Darren Benjamin) has gained international fame as a member of the U.K.-based DJ/producer collective Bugz in the Attic, and is a pioneer of the "broken beat" sound. After moving to Atlanta in 2007, he produced tracks for local notables such as singer/scenester Madam CJ, rapper Stan "Steam" Smith, and more. In March, Daz and Simmons joined forces to make a new home at the famed 800 East Studios in Poncey-Highland. Their goal for teaming up was simple: Make Atlanta soul artists sound better.
"We figured because [Daz] is a producer and mixing engineer and I'm a producer as well, we could fulfill a desire to work with artists in Atlanta," says Simmons. "While there are a lot of great artists [in Atlanta], there's not always outstanding, super-quality production."
Since banding together (with assistance from producer Marty Kearns and keyboardist Julius Speed), Simmons and Daz have done mixing and production work on projects with a number of artists, ranging from such recognizable talents as Rahbi to newcomers like singer Chanda Leigh. And as news of their crew spreads, they're attracting notice from more artists. The fact that Simmons, known for earthy, organic sounds, and Daz, a master of more beat-heavy, electronic rhythms, could find common ground and chart a course for the city's musical landscape might be puzzling to some, but "We just love music," Daz says.
In addition to new songs with vocalists such as Heston, Rhonda Thomas, Julie Dexter, Donnie, and more over the coming year, Daz and Simmons have plans to make 800 East a destination for soul performances. In October, they mounted a show featuring appearances by Dexter and singer Chantae Cann in the studio's large live recording room. The result was a warm and intimate gathering of music lovers.
"We put it out there that we've got a spot where you can get great quality production," Daz says. "But once people know that me and Khari are working together, it seems to add an extra value to it. People are now willing to come in and work with us."