Picture the industry insight of "The Apprentice," a gaggle of strangers from various backgrounds like "The Real World," and the intense creative sessions of Diddy's "Making the Band," and you get a slice of world-renowned vocalist and percussionist Vinx's Soul Kitchen retreat. The good news? No one's getting kicked out, voted off or walking a grip of blocks to get some cheesecake.
There are beds, artists, instruments, recording equipment and conversations everywhere. Every room, nook and cranny with enough space for somebody to lay his head is stuffed with an air mattress, sheets and a pillow. But this is more than a slumber party. This is the story of 40 strangers picked to live in a house, to find out what happens when artists stop being divas, begin creating music and start getting real.
After nearly 30 years in the music industry as an independent artist, Vinx isn't resting on his Roth IRA. Instead, he's hoping to inspire the next generation of singers, songwriters, musicians and artists with his Eklectic Soul Collective and its offspring, the Songwriter's Soul Kitchen. In an industry where community among artists falls far down the priority list after "make this money," "sell these ringtones" and "get signed to a major," the Soul Kitchen Retreat has an ambitious aim: to bring artists together to collaborate and understand that their success depends on sharing their talents with other artists.
"The artists that come here are independent, not by choice," says Vinx, who has worked with industry elites such as Sting, Sheryl Crow, Herbie Hancock and Taj Mahal. "We say we're independent like it's a badge of honor, 'cause ain't nobody paying us. If Warner Bros. came in none of us would say, 'Nah, I can't take that check. I'm independent. I need to struggle,'" he laughs. "But we can empower ourselves. I may be the inspiration for Soul Kitchen, but it's taking on a life of its own."
Vinx bought one of the biggest cribs he could find in McRae, Ga. Owned by a judge and former Ku Klux Klan leader, Vinx's home was once the seat of many segregated conversations. Lynchings were likely planned on the very porch where singers, musicians and songwriters are collaborating today. With a wooden smokehouse, Vinx's Stankfish Studio and a garage-turned-recording space called the Boom Boom Room, he and his Eklectic Soul team have created a compound where creativity is conceived.
There's no such thing as too many cooks in the Songwriter's Soul Kitchen. Nearly every other month, music producers from Athens, Atlanta and neighboring Georgia towns set up shop to record demo versions of participating artists' work. All are divided into groups to collaborate in intense songwriting sessions, with each member adding various levels of experience and expertise.
"I am still learning to improvise, so I tried to add lyrics," said country singer Tomoyo Yokozawa of her songwriting group experience. "I started to think about the full moon in Japan and the idea that we have time differences. We were able to use that idea in a song. I learned that even though I'm a beginner, we could still make a great song."
Producer Lomax Spaulding added, "This has been a real learning experience. Music is a spiritual thing, and being around this does something to your creativity. You can look at things differently."
No matter the background or level of experience, each artist stands on equal ground, with a refreshed perspective on song, music and creating.
"The Soul Kitchen is building a community where artists can come and be and collaborate and produce," says Ysaye Barnwell, songwriter/professor and member of choral group Sweet Honey in the Rock. "What we're aiming at is not the end product, but the process. In that process you wind up sharing very differently, and you really have to start from the point where everything is acceptable."
For more information about the Songwriter's Soul Kitchen and upcoming retreats, visit www.songwritersoulkitchen.com. Vinx and his Soul Kitchen crew are scheduled to perform at Sugarhill. 8 p.m. Sun., Nov. 18. www.sugarhillatl.com.
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