We do not have the fortune of choosing every situation that life bestows upon us. Because of that, at various points in our lives we find ourselves facing personal tribulations, seemingly unsurpassable obstacles, and overwhelming adversity. Though we may not be able to control what situations life presents us, we do have the ability to choose how we respond to these circumstances.
Struggles and challenges not only test our character but can also build our character. What we overcome, and who we grow to become as a result of what we endured, can be crafted into a narrative that serves to both differentiate us from and connect us to others. Such is the case for guitarist and singer-songwriter Raul Midón.
Midón and his twin brother were born prematurely in a rural hospital in New Mexico. As a result of their early arrival, the two newborns were placed inside an incubator. Doctors neglected to provide the twins with the necessary eye protection, which led to the brothers losing their eyesight.
Midón, whose parents are of Argentine and African American descent, grew up in a household that provided him with direct access to the arts. His father, an Argentinian folkloric dancer, placed a drum in his hands when he was four years old. He eventually replaced the drums with a guitar and started receiving lessons while enrolled at a school for the blind. Midón continued to pursue music through high school, and after graduation he enrolled at the University of Miami to study under their jazz curriculum.
In 1990 Venezuelan television actor Carlos Mata embarked on a musical project. He was searching for session vocalists and Midón was recommended by a peer whom he went to school with. This initial project led to additional gigs, and over the years Midón developed an impressive C.V. - working as a session vocalist for Shakira, Alejandro Sanz, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, and even Pavarotti.
While working as a session vocalist, Midón also performed as a solo singer-songwriter and guitarist, unbeknownst to many of the musicians whom he lent his voice to. He built a name for himself as an extremely technical guitarist, combining guitar techniques found in flamenco, jazz, and classical music. Midón, who weaves improvisation into his performances, also gained attention through his recognizable mouth trumpeting and using his guitar body to create percussive effects.
Midón released his latest album, titled "Bad Ass and Blind," in the spring of 2017. This release marks Midón's 9th full-length album since he embarked upon his solo career in 1999. Over the course of his career, Midón has received praise and attention from The New York Times, Billboard, People Magazine, and countless other sources.
The Ritz Theatre and Museum will host Midón for a performance on Thursday, October 19. Midón will take to the stage at 7:30 PM and tickets are available through Ticketmaster. This is a one-night-only performance, and you will not want to miss this diversely gifted musician as he performs here in Jacksonville.
10 Questions with Raul Midón
How has your Argentinian/African American heritage influenced your artistic pursuits and how would you describe the theme of your new album "Bad Ass and Blind"?
My roots influence everything I do, perhaps without even knowing it. From food, to music, to thinking. I can't say it's specifically influenced this album other than it is from me and my roots are a part of me. "Bad Ass and Blind" was so named because I felt I had to shout it out a bit - "Hey I'm blind. I'm an engineer. I wrote, recorded AND produced the tracks. That's badass."
At what age did you first start to play the guitar and how did you begin to craft a style that felt authentic to you?
I started with flamenco and then classical. I was accepted to University of Miami's classical program but I always wanted to study and play jazz. It's what I listened to and played. I had to work really hard while in college to transfer to the jazz program. I didn't know any standards, etc. I started playing when I was about 6 years old. I still work on guitar every day. I really honed my style to get attention and make an impact when I moved to New York City, and it worked.
Can you describe the roles of improvisation and experimentalism in the music that you write and perform?
I use improv to express myself musically or to allow my colleagues to do so. I like singing and playing improvisational solos - it's fun and puts my skills to the test. Experimental music is really important to me because it stimulates my musical imagination.
How has your career as a singer-songwriter and your involvement in the arts shaped your perception of the World and what have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
My father was a professional dancer so my entire life has always been one that involved the arts. I can't say it's altered my perception of the world because it has always been how I have lived in the world and thrived. As a professional musician, I've learned I'm more ambitious than might be healthy and it's a very tough business. I have had to sit back and watch people like Adele, who once opened for me, shoot to the top of the game. It's not easy on the soul. I use Buddhist chanting to help soften those feelings and to stay focused on my own art.
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when writing and recording a new album or touring to promote an album?
I'm very disciplined. When I'm home, I work every day in the studio - no matter if there's a new album due or one out. As for the process of promoting an album - that's why we have great public relations people like Fiona Bloom or others whom I've worked with in the business, such as Melani Rogers and J.R. Rich. I think PR people make all the difference. It's important that you have people who are passionate about your art - unless you want to keep it to yourself.
How do you define success in what you do?
I'm still pursuing that. I define it as a good night's sleep. This shows I'm not worried about what's next but as a freelance person you always have feelers out there.
You entered the music business as a session musician, lending your voice to a slew of well-known musicians. How did you know when it was time to transition to center stage? Additionally, what did you envision for your career as a musician and how does that original vision compare to where you are today?
All the time I was working as a session singer, I never even let my colleagues know about my guitar playing skillset. I was always working on original music and gigging too. Towards the end of my time in Miami I was doing a jazz singing gig once a week - a weekend of original music with my band and the sessions. I had also done a cover album of latin standards which got some attention, so occasionally people would show up and request "Gracias A La Vida!"
When I worked in Shakira's band, I took meetings while on tour in NYC and L.A. I got a publishing development deal with Warner/Chapel Music and then quit Shakira's band and moved to NYC to pursue my own thing. In NY, I kept my focus on my original music and performances. I started a bit late, but I feel I'm on track with my career. Frankly, I'd make a terrible waiter.
You have released nine albums over the course of 16 years. What are your personal expectations for development from one album to the next?
My first major label album was produced by legendary producer Arif Mardin and his son Joe. Arif encouraged me to be myself - he even said we could just record live after he saw a gig or two. Later I worked with Larry Klein, who helped me hone in on songwriting.
The thing I learned from both experiences is that you have to be your own advocate - no one knows you as well as you know yourself. As I mentioned, I've discovered I'm quite ambitious. I just want to be the best I can be and to earn my place in the world.
I've been fortunate to have some great artists encourage me to keep going on and to value myself. I think that's the biggest compliment I've received, but that doesn't help you on the business side - it's just something that makes you feel good about yourself.
As a person who has accomplished a notable level of success, what words of encouragement can you provide to others facing adversity while in the pursuit of personal goals? Additionally, how do you see the relationship between accomplishing something in spite of and accomplishing something because of?
I was blinded at birth by hyperoxygenation. I have so much empathy for people in the world that face adversity and I'm often moved by their accomplishments. For instance, I have a friend who is also blind, her name Sabriye Tenberken. She recently started a school for disabled people who want to become activists in their respective countries. Her school is in Kanthari, India. She moved there after successfully establishing a school and farm for the blind in Tibet. All this under the scrutiny of the Chinese government. She's a true inspiration and someone who gives back. I'm just a musician writing songs and hoping to spend time at home when I can.
As to the second part of your question, I think the two are inextricably linked. I have learned to play in spite of being blind. I would have been a musician whether I was blind or not.
Besides touring to promote your most-recent album, what projects are you currently working on and what does 2018 hold for you?
I have a record finished with the Metropole Orkest that I am hoping to release very soon.
I have many ideas bouncing around. One is to do a one man show. Another is a collaboration with another guitarist/singer. I want to blog, or video blog, to showcase the experiences of a blind musician and engineer, as well.
I also frequently get requests to record other artists in my studio - this is something I really love doing. I love, love, love spending time in the studio. I don't get to do that enough.