VATERLAND 6.5. 2011
EDGE- Los Angeles California
LA Report :: Gleam Joel -- empowering hip-hop with new musical
by Ed Rampell
Wednesday Sep 1, 2010
Gleam Joel (Source:Kimball Hal)
One of the biggest adventures of my life began Sept. 1, 2009. I was on assignment to cover Badrutt’s Palace, the posh hotel in St. Moritz, the Swiss Alps’ swankiest resort village. In its swimming pool I met Gleam Joel, a rapper originally from Kenya who is now a Swiss citizen. Gleam asked what I did, and when I replied I was a writer, he became excited. He became even more animated when I told him I lived in Los Angeles. "I’m going there!" he told me with much enthusiasm. He asked for my business card, but I said, "I don’t usually carry them into pools," and we laughed. I left my card for him at the concierge desk; by the time I returned to my lake-view hotel suite, the butler had delivered his CD and DVD to my room.
Little did I know what I was in for. Once I returned home Gleam started phoning me from Switzerland, telling me he was coming to L.A. and that he wanted me to write the story of his life, which he insisted was unique. Sure enough, Gleam arrived in late December. After checking out La-La-Land’s sights, I tape recorded Gleam’s life story on the rooftop of his Sunset Strip hotel.
And what a tale it is! Born into a middle class household in Nairobi, Kenya, the musically-gifted Gleam grew up in a less than supportive household ruled over by his abusive father who would tell him he and his "jungle music" will never amount to anything. After his dad deserts the family, Gleam, his mother and older sister fall upon hard times. Meanwhile, Gleam attends private school and falls in with a ghetto gang led by "King Charles," a schemer who turns Gleam into a gangbanger and drug dealer.
While Gleam pursues a rapping career, his life spirals out of control as drugs, gang violence, guns, even involvement with Al Qaeda overwhelm his life. Lost, he contemplates suicide; but is saved when his mother informs him that a Swiss musical academy has heard his hip-hop tapes and is offering a scholarship to study music there. Gleam turns his back on the thug life to pursue his music and tell his redemptive tale through hip-hop.
Which led to my collaborating on a musical version of Gleam’s life. In short order I wrote the book with the songs composed by Sergio Fertitta and lyrics by Gleam. Next we prepared a showcase production for potential sponsors, backers, theatrical bookers and general audiences. Not, though in L.A. or New York, but in Gleam’s adopted homeland. A multi-culti cast of about 20 L.A. actors plus a crew were recruited, including choreographer Tor Campbell and director Iona Morris (daughter of Greg Morris, costar of the 1960s TV series Mission Impossible). With less than two months to get ready they proceeded to make our mission possible, rehearsing our cast that included Harry Zinn (who appeared in Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges). During this intense process, there was more drama offstage than onstage - but that’s another story.
We left for Switzerland May 17, 2010. I had no idea how our show was selling and what kind of reception we’d get. Shortly after I arrived at the Lorzensaal Theater in Zug ticket buyers mobbed the 600-seater. The response? The usually reserved Swiss gave the musical a standing ovation at every performance. (Personally it was a tremendously gratifying experience.)
Still Standing the Musical (as we named our collaboration) can be described as Raisin in the Sun meets Billy Elliot, the Musical. Its theme (as Gleam learns) is no matter how tough life gets, we can’t give up, we must persevere. Given the hard times we live in now, with people facing foreclosures, unemployment, bankruptcies, wars, etc., this is a relevant and important message.
On September 7, 2010 LA will get a chance to hear what only those Swiss audience experienced last may when Gleam Joel and Band perform songs from Still Standing, the Musical at 9:00 p.m., Tuesday Sept. 7, 2010 at the Whiskey A Go-Go, at 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, California. Recently I spoke with Gleam about his life, the show and his human rights work and his empowering vision of hip-hop.
Had a vision
Ed Rampell: How did you get the idea for Still Standing the Musical?
Gleam Joel: Still Standing came about after I did a lot of things, and it was also a difficult time in my life... I was in a transitional point and I wanted to find out what is the next thing I could for the youth... I got a vision and Still Standing came about. Also, I met Ed Rampell in the swimming pool in Switzerland.
Ed Rampell: I’m sorry; I never heard of him. [Laughter.] How much of Still Standing factually tells your real life story?
Gleam Joel: It tells a lot of my life story in different times... I see Still Standing as being part of a strong trilogy, because it tells not only the story of struggling, but of victory. I want to tell stories of how, regardless of your circumstances and position, you can make success and still stand... The trilogy will continue to follow my life story and the people around me.
Ed Rampell: What roles did you play in creating Still Standing?
Gleam Joel: I wrote all the lyrics to the songs; music producer Sergio Fertitta composed the music. As a producer, I tried finding venues, sponsors and investors, such as McDonald’s, the government of the Swiss canton of Zug and individual business partners.
Ed Rampell: What are the main points of Still Standing?
Gleam Joel: I want to get across the vision that you can go through a lot of things as a young person. But you can overcome and still stand. That’s one point that encourages people... If there are no role models for young people it’s really difficult for them to take the right path, due to peer pressure. I wanted to activate and motivate the society to invest in working with young people. Mentoring is very important, because in my life I never had a lot of mentors. It was just living day to day, making lots of mistakes, which could be avoided by positive mentors... The importance of fathers is that they give us guidance; but if they’re bad fathers then you don’t get the love. Good fathers invest in their children and their futures.
When society, or a group of individuals invest in mentoring others, then we avoid lots of crime, negligence and waste and we raise up future leaders of countries and make them really stable. That’s why I’m investing my life and time and leaving a legacy by creating Still Standing the musical and the movement.
Watch this promo for Still Standing the Musical: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc7pAZBRCX4
Watch this video intro to the cast of Still Standing the Musical:
Human rights involvement
Ed Rampell: Tell us about your first musical?
Gleam Joel: Underground was a project I started [with] 150 young people who trained for about six months and went on tour in Switzerland and Germany. More than 10,000 people attended 12 shows. We had newspaper and media coverage, and European politicians came to share about the youth problem. Underground is a social story that is partly true... We dealt with and it was based on true-life stories. We started by interviewing different young people, who told their stories, how their lives were impacted by the dramas they had, situations like using drugs or violence; young people growing up without parents, because their parents were working so hard. Out of that I was able to write a story that speaks to these different situations, and that became the story of Underground...
I was involved strongly with human rights, especially for young people who were Swiss citizens, but were coming from different countries, and based on their names could not get jobs or weren’t well-integrated into the society. In Underground we discussed the topics how important it is for people in a community to have a possibility to develop.
My role was producing and creating it. I had to start from scratch to build the team, invent the concept... It was a challenging but beautiful time, to see the success that it received in Europe, and we’re currently talking with people to launch such a project in Germany, Switzerland and America.
Ed Rampell: What was the "Gleam Center"?
Gleam Joel: Gleam Center was at Baden and Zurich, Switzerland. It was a place where youth came and recorded their music and trained their talent, and just had a positive atmosphere where they could relax... and become professional [performers]... We took them under our wings and brought them to different concerts, and involved them so they could continue with their careers. Now, some of them are doing that, making money out of that... It was also a place where we had a hip-hop church, a non-denominational church, where people could just come and hear about the love of God, and not feel threatened or like they’ve gotta be gangstas or they’ve got to be real holy to be there. So, we had all the people coming in.
We worked with schools and the government, promoting creativity among the young people... I met with the [then] president of Switzerland, Joseph Deiss, and with a lot of ministers, members of parliament, to discuss issues involving integration of citizens from other countries. This was a great thing in Switzerland, because there are a lot of things that are not right, and it’s important that we invest in the youth.
Ed Rampell: Where and what did you study in Switzerland?
Gleam Joel: I studied at the Art Ministry School at Appenzell, Switzerland and at IGW, a university in Zurich, to learn more about music and how to work with young people in difficult situations and to be able to preach the love of God in a contemporary way.
Ed Rampell: Are you an ordained minister?
Gleam Joel: I was ordained in Zurich by the Methodist Church.
Ed Rampell: What is your concept of Christianity?
Gleam Joel: Christianity means to me having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but also having that relationship as an example of how we live on the Earth, translated into our times, our generation. Living... by sharing our lives, our love with other people... Christianity has different doctrines that are followed, but I believe that you can’t force the Gospel on people. You love them into the Gospel. Jesus never - true Christianity never persecutes people or oppresses or manipulates people to believe in God. They share the Word and share the love, and people make choices... Still Standing the Musical is based on my life and has a Christian background to it. But it’s non-denominational, non-sectarian. It’s for everybody; it’s entertainment.
Ed Rampell: Is it fair to say that you are trying to use the language of today’s youth, hip-hop and rap, to spread the Gospel?
Gleam Joel: Yes. I think that’s very important. Because any message that’s not properly communicated is wasted. A message that is not delivered [appropriately] to the opposite person who’s listening to it is also wasted. It can be spoken and nobody’s hearing it - or just a few. And that’s not the goal of the Gospel. The Gospel is to be shared all over the world, and that’s why I use hip-hop, rap, R&B and any means and ways I can translate the message into a way and means people understand. And just show them that it’s more than a message to me; it’s the love that changed my life and brought me out of the streets to the stage.
Watch Gleam Joel featuring Sergio Luvualu sing "Feel the Pain":
Watch Gleam Joel sing "Life is Short": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9-uPcLt5lQ
Ed Rampell: Why do you wear bling bling?
Gleam Joel: When you look at African society, back in the days, bling was part of the culture from the beginning. Some of the blings that I wear have a significance. The ring on my pointing finger was given to me by one of the dads of people who attended one of my concerts in Switzerland. His child almost committed suicide, and she came to my program in Switzerland and her life changed so much. Her dad made a ring for me and told me, "My daughter is alive and I have a smile. That’s why I made a smiling [image on this ring] for you.
Ed Rampell: Where have you toured as a rapper and whom have you opened for?
Gleam Joel: I’ve done lots of concerts; hundreds. In Brazil, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Spain, different places. I’ve opened for Black Eyed Peas, Wu-Tang Clan, D-12 and performed at events in Switzerland where Fifty Cents, Jay-Z, Kanye West and a lot of people [performed].
Ed Rampell: What are you working on now?
Gleam Joel: Currently, I’m working on my new album called Still Standing. It’s not the same as hardcore hip-hop; it has lots of melodies... We’ll have some of the music from the play. It’s such a special album to me, because after producing three albums in the past and selling thousands of CDs, I went to a place where I started understanding music in a different way. Music is so sweet, and motivates people. I took time to write; it took me about three years until I release this album. It has great songs in it that are really contemporary; it has something for everybody.
One thing about my music -non-explicit lyrics and uplifting music. I think hip-hop sometimes just talks about women like "bitches" and all that, you know?... I believe that you can have hip-hop and rap without the gangsta and thug aspects, because most of our consumers are in the youth age group. We should invest more empowering their minds, encouraging them to do something positive. They listen to us 24/7; in the subconscious of a person, if they continue to listen to a message it leads them to do that thing. The more they sing about how cool gangsta life is, I think it’s a subliminal message. I want a different type of hip-hop, motivating and encouraging. Think that they’re special; that they can make it in these difficult economical times. Lift up the minds of people to love; things that are no longer part of our society and generation.
I’m working on a band that is really powerful and good, high quality entertainment and also working on getting bookings and spots. And I’m working on "Still Standing the Movement."
Ed Rampell: What is "Still Standing the Movement"?
Gleam Joel: It’s a youth empowerment project that gets the young people from the streets to the stage. Bringing from different stages of their lives... Through positive mentoring and workshops we empower the youth and give them the possibility to go onstage. Still Standing the Movement focuses on creating and promoting positive entertainment and a positive lifestyle. It’s anti-violence, anti-drug - it gives recreation for the young people so they don’t have to do drugs to be cool. We create venues where they can come and express themselves in a loving atmosphere...We’re looking for different people who can join the Movement - professionals, like promoters.
Ed Rampell: What do you think of L.A.?
Gleam Joel: The City of Los Angeles is multi-cultural, a beautiful place, with beautiful sunshine and lots of beautiful people. There’s so much creativity here that I want to tap into. This is a city that can change the world, not only with entertainment, but also it has a destiny to empower the youth. My goal and dream is to see a movement rising up from L.A. to empower the youth, and impart to nations - the same way it does with movies.
Ed Rampell: In the future, do you envision yourself living at L.A., Switzerland or Kenya?
Gleam Joel: I see myself as a world citizen. I believe my role in the world is to impact different young people, but I see myself living maybe here in L.A, the U.S., because there’s such a great need for programs and activities like the Gleam Center. We can have a training base in America that we can import to other countries. I see myself traveling back and forth, Europe and America. Also, I want to start a foundation to help the street people of Nairobi, Kenya.
Gleam Joel and Band are performing songs from Still Standing, the Musical at 9:00 p.m., Tuesday Sept. 7, 2010 at the Whiskey A Go-Go, at 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. For ticket information email: Gleam@StillStandingtheMovement.com. The performance will be videotaped and on Sept. 8 can be seen online at: www.gleamjoel.webs.com For more info about Still Standing see:the Still Standing the Movement webite. To hear music go to: Gleam Joel’s Myspace page. And Gleam can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Gleam Joel sing "I’m Running": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PSHTnCqjwM