Soulfege Churns Grooves, Defies Status Quo

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Some might argue that Soulfege's theory of making music strays from what seems to be the ideology of mainstream record labels: make music aimed at topping the charts and bringing in the big bucks, regardless of the lyrics. Nevermind that mentality for a group that prides itself on ignoring the limits that many hip-hop listeners have come to expect.

Soulfege is currently zigzagging regions on their Sweet Mother promotional tour. Being on the road is nothing new to the group of Harvard graduates. They've performed to sold-out crowds from New York City to Osh Kosh, Wisc.

The band recalls the praise of a fan following a performance: "You guys' music makes me want to just go to Africa," said the concert patron.

With a slight grin, band member Derrick Ashong credits such reactions to their "Afropolitan" sound, which has become a signature by Ashong and the others who make up Soulfege — Jonathan Mark Gramling, Kelley Nicole Johnson, Maleka Donaldson, James Lamont Shelton, Jorge Cantu Montoy and Jeff Lockhart. Ashong is also known to fans as "DNA."

For the Sweet Mother tour, Soulfege is using popular culture to empower young people through music and the arts. The artists grew up listening to hip-hop music. And they want to send a message to young people by what they call "taking back the mic." DNA explains Soulfege as a way to teach music using basic principles of rhythm.

The group believes that hip-hop should be produced to uplift its audience. In Africa, the genre was more about "taking kids out of gangs and giving them productive things to do," Ashong said. Now, hip-hop consumers, says the group, have quite the opposite reaction.

Soulfege recently visited NPR's Studio 4B for a performance, and to talk more about the purpose behind their grooves.

Web material written and produced by Lee Hill.

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