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Pop Music | Checking In With . . . Stevie Wonder

Out to Share What He's Learned

September 03, 2000|SOREN BAKER | Soren Baker is a regular contributor to Calendar

Stevie Wonder's music has often been built around social statements, not just catchy beats, and he continues that tradition with two songs on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's upcoming film "Bamboozled."

In both the synthesizer-heavy "Misrepresented People" and the operatic "Some Years Ago," Wonder deals with struggles that people of African descent have endured over the centuries. The album, which also features tracks by Erykah Badu and others, is due from Motown on Sept. 26.

Wonder, 50, is also at work on his first formal studio collection since 1995's "Conversation Peace." In a recent interview, the acclaimed musician talked about his new work and the state of pop music today.

Question: What's your motivation for using music as a vehicle for social commentary?

Answer: I think that sharing information that I have is important--not just dealing with music, but social issues or political issues, all of it. Whatever it is I've been blessed to experience and learn about, it would be ridiculous for me to not share it and pass it on.

Q: Of today's popular artists, which do you feel are making creative strides?

A: I like Lucy Pearl's album because I think it's different and it has some nice grooves. There are a lot of different rap groups that I like, and I'm not going to say that I can name all of the ones, because I listen and as you know, radio stations, including mine, don't always mention who the artist is. But I have Eminem's CD. . . . I think my favorite [cut] is the one about the fan, "Stan." To me, that's a great story. It is a reflection of where we are in the society that we live in today.

The only thing that I wish there was more of [in music today] is reaching out to younger brothers and sisters, and to a child. There needs to be an exchange of ideas between generations. If a tree doesn't have roots, it cannot grow. We're dealing with issues that have been going on and on and on, long before I was born.

We're still talking about having better educational opportunities. We're still talking about the 'hood or the ghetto. We're still dealing with racism and fighting against the various groups that come along. We have to connect [with one another] because a person who teaches hate to young people is as bad or as evil as a child molester.

Q: Music has been important in uniting people of different backgrounds. What other things do you think could help bring people together?

A: We all have people we are accountable to, whether it be record companies, newspapers, radio stations that tie into our livelihoods. As we're able to grow and find or be given our place in that profession that we choose, we have to use our talents, our gift of communicating, to spread information. We have the Internet, which I think is incredible.

But I think that there are issues that we need to look at. Obviously, we want to have freedom of speech, but do we want to have freedom of hate? Do we want things that are negative to monopolize and overpower the good that we are all trying to do? I just hope that we will continue to use the different forms of technology that are discovered through time for the good of humankind. The love thing works every time, no matter what.

Q: Besides the Spike Lee movie, what else are you working on?

A: I'm really excited about the stuff that we're doing [for the new album]. I'm actually doing some rap stuff, but differently from how it's predominantly done today. It's kind of a new form of it.

Q: How would you describe it?

A: I'm a music person, so it's not like I'm saying that I'm a rapper now. I'm just taking it to another place. You'll just have to wait and see.

Q: With computers playing such a prominent role in a lot of the music that's being made today, is that affecting the way that you're making your new music, or are you taking the same type of approaches?

A: I've been doing stuff with technology since [1972's] "Music of My Mind," and "Talking Book." But what's exciting now about technology is that a combination is happening. People are using loops, but they'll play their own loops so it will sound more natural, more original. They're using musicians as well. I think Lucy Pearl is a combination of that.

Q: You performed at the recent 100.3 the Beat Summer Jam 2000, whose proceeds went to charity. Do you feel that today's musicians could do more in terms of giving back to the community?

A: You can say that, but then take Wyclef Jean, who went to South Carolina and would not play [because of the state's flying of the Confederate flag]. He took a position and . . . all kinds of people from different colors and cultures said, "Hey, this is not happening and we have to take a stand." We cannot go back in time. We really are all one family when you think about it.

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