Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Musical Journey with Russell Campbell

The torrential rain storm could not keep Russell Campbell’s fans from attending his set at 18th Street Lounge (ESL) this past Sunday evening. Also known as DJ Mate Masie, his entire two hour mix compelled us to feel as if we were all dancing on the edge of our own record. A record that Russell had brilliantly created with music he chose to play - or music that chose him.

One thing you should know about Russell is when you first see him on the dance floor, he exerts a radiant energy that puts you in a trance. Allowing for the music to move him, his motion is fluid. Once he stops to take a break and you have the chance to talk to him, you realize that not only is there deep sincerity, but patience and understanding as well. This appropriately explains Russells’ choice for the name Mate Masie, which originates from the West African Adinkra symbol and is interpreted as, “You understand what you hear.”

Much like a composer creates a story with her score Russell has created his own, bridging two of his many passions: music and dance. Humbly, he realizes that he was not alone in this creation; who he is today stems from his true roots.

Born in 1983 and raised in Silver Spring, MD, Russell was exposed to music from all genres at an early age. Coming from an extensive, talented musical family, Russell’s grandfather, Bill Campbell, played tenor with the legends (– The Intruders, James Brown and Etta James, to name a few), his grandmother, Pauline Campbell, sang at the Good Hope Methodist Church and also played the Hammond B-3 organ, and his father, Vincent Campbell Sr., is a vocalist who plays bass guitar.

Though Bill Campbell would not all allow for Russell to take part in his band (Russell recalls a conversation where Bill told him, “You aren’t old enough”), when it came to music, he was Russell’s greatest inspiration. A WWII veteran, he spoke very little and the two were able to communicate through music. Both playing the saxophone, his grandfather would play notes or patterns which Russell would then mimic. This was one of many lessons that Russell learned from his grandfather, and mimicking sounds would help him much sooner than he thought.

After learning from his grandfather that he was not allowed to play with his band, Russell was determined to make music a personal goal. He spent many hours in the family room, which was set up like a small studio, where he would play the piano, drum set and saxophone. In middle school he auditioned for the school band and for two years mimicked the sounds from those around him. He finally confided in his conductor that during all of this time he could not read sheet music. Instead of being upset, his conductor only challenged him more, asking him to play the bassoon. During his high school years, Russell was not only an incredible athlete on the field but simultaneously played percussion in the drum core.

Once Russell turned 16, he hit the ground dancing. “Music and dance, that’s what I did.” With his collection of records expanding along with an interest in becoming a DJ, Russell was soon introduced to house music. House music is a style of electronic dance strongly influenced by disco with elements of soul and funk. It originates from a Chicago nightclub, otherwise known as The Warehouse which was popular from 1977 to the mid-80's.

Russell received his first house record from DJ Black Caesar and being a B-Boy from Silver Spring who usually danced to funk, he assumed he would not care for it. However, when the needle hit the vinyl and the sounds of ‘We Lift Our Hands in the Sanctuary’ played by Una and DJ Oji and ‘Love and Happiness’ by India MAW rattled his eardrums, he was hooked.

In his early twenties, Russell started spending more time at Club Red, where the party ‘Underground Soul Solution’ was held. Each night, Club Red was a new experience for Russell. He was overwhelmed that there was a room full of people who were moving together and no one was stealing the spotlight, as b-boys have a reputation of doing. He suddenly felt the need to experience this feeling more and more – to see how other people lived their lives and why they danced the way they did. He soon came to accept that breaking was not the only dancing style. Those moments triggered a new energy in him, and soon he too was dancing with the wave of others. He was able to release his emotions through dance and accept his feelings, as well as accept what others were feeling. After all, the mentality of dancing with an open mind and spirit are vital to growth in the musical and dance world.

It was here at the Underground Soul Solution where Russell first met the infamous DJ Sam “The Man” Burns. Through the years, Russell had been influenced by Sam by watching and listening to him mix. Russell quickly learned that Burns had the musical ability to emotionally release those who were open, thereby allowing the music to take them for a ride.

The more time he spent listening to DJs and dancing, the more he learned how a crowd reacts to music. He now knows how to take control of the room and how to tell a story differently each time, even if the same track is played. Russell explains that house music is a way to express yourself and allows you to keep yourself in a place of understanding, hence DJ Mate Masie. As he explained, “the people are counting on you to keep the energy up and to keep them engaged.”

Advice Russell gives for those in the musical industry is that it is essential for musicians to do their research. “It’s your goal to actually be the researcher so you can play the songs or the tunes that people can feel parallel to.” This research will provide the knowledge that eventually helps musicians relate to the crowd as well as the ability to keep themselves in a place of understanding - that way, they are not solely playing but also teaching.

Russell embraces change. He sees this not only in the beat of music, but also in plants, animals, people and life. How fitting his response, when I asked him what his favorite season is and he replied with, "fall".

Russell has evolved since the beginning of his musical and dancing career and continues onward. And I for one am excited to watch this evolution – a man who not only lives a legacy but shares it.

A sample of DJ Mate Masie's music from last Sunday at ESL....

Russell Campbell is an acting artistic director, teacher, performer and producer of films with Urban Artistry.


No comments: