BIG STAR IN TOWN: It is not often that Kampala sees a concert staged by a musician who ranks among the most acclaimed in the global music industry. Not when that artiste is not part of the Caribbean legion that is reputed to come quite cheap, but one of the American lights that are known to cost an arm and a leg to get on stage. Yet tonight at the Lugogo Cricket Oval, Ne-Yo brings all that in one package. Joseph Ssemutooke writes about the musician Ugandans will be watching tonight.
“I’m a songwriter first,” Ne-Yo described himself when he was being inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame back in 2012. “I’m a songwriter that can sing a little bit. So this (award for songwriting) is my Grammy. This is bigger than a Grammy for me.”
Songwriting prowess is what earned Ne-Yo his first recognition as a special music talent way back in 2004, when as a complete unknown man, he wrote the award-winning Let Me Love You for Mario Vasquez.
And according to Rolling Stone magazine, this is an attribute that makes Ne-Yo not just popular for listening, but also a much-sought-after performer, because the spectacle of him bewitching them live with his powerful lyrics is what fans always love to experience.
For his songwriting prowess, Ne-Yo was in 2012 awarded the Hal David Starlight Award and inducted into the the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, getting recognised for writing both his own songs as well as those he has penned for other artistes such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J Blige and Tim McGraw.
This earned him a place in the club of elite past honorees, including Alicia Keys, Jason Marz, John Mayer, and John Legend.
Ne-Yo’s lyrics have particularly been labelled as works that carry, feed off or address negative feelings, especially in relationships, and against that it should probably be no surprise that the musician attributes his songwriting abilities to his moody personality as a child – before he adds his mother urging him to always write down his feelings whenever he got into his mood swings.
“I was a pretty riled up little child, and if not for my mom giving me the pad and the pen and telling me to take my emotions and put them there, there is no telling. I might I have been sticking you up or something,” Ne-Yo said on the night he joined the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
According to Billboard.com (one of the most respected music websites), Ne-Yo’s voice falls in the category of lyric tenor, and it is described as straightforward, clear, provoking endearing sentiment.
The write-up on the website further states: “His voice is the epitome of pleasant. He is a well-supported chest belter who displays expert vocal control in his studio recordings as well as live showings. Never decorates songs with over indulgent ad-libbing.”
No one has placed the Rn’B singer on the top-most ring of vocalists such as R Kelly and John Legend, but sundry critics, fellow music industry professionals and fans laud Ne-Yo for expertly employing his smooth, silky voice to convey feeling.
Houston-based voice coach Michael Gallant praised the singer in his blog, saying Ne-yo skillfully employs his voice to deliver whatever emotion the song might be carrying. “When it is lamenting the loss of a lover, or getting excited about what a new catch offers, or confusion over what to do next in a relationship, Ne-Yo never fails to capture the mood with his voice,” Gallant writes.
It should be further testament to Ne-Yo’s singing abilities that he landed his first contract in the music industry exclusively as a singer, before he went on to write Let Me Love You back in 2004. According to the musician himself, he had gone to the offices of Def Jam on a casual visit to see one of the vice presidents whom he already knew, but when the vice president heard his demo records, she asked him if he could perform.
In a few minutes, he was singing for the entire top management of the record company. By the end of the session, he had been signed on as a singer, and the record label would recognise his songwriting and production prowess only later.
Electric live performer
A roll through the innumerable reviews of Ne-Yo’s performances on the Internet reveals that the singer has over the years actually built a reputation of a powerful performer who gives his audiences value for money.
“His shows offer an abundance of energy and soul,” writes Alaina Brandenburger in the Los Angeles Times. “For people who appreciate R&B and dance music performed by a person with attention to detail, Ne-Yo hits all the marks. From high energy performance pieces like Let’s Go and Closer, to slower, more soulful songs like Addicted and his breakout hit So Sick, Ne-Yo expertly wraps his voice around every note and projects his voice to the back of the house.”
On howcast.com, Matt Stefanina writes about Ne-Yo’s dance moves: “Ne-Yo really doesn’t dance a whole lot, but what he does, he does really well. And his energy never lags. Smooth glides, walks, points, he’s a very subtle dancer but he comes across really strong in his movement. There’s tons of energy in his jauntily-cocked hat alone. He sings and dances and skips around, rocking out in his three-piece suit.”
Another reviewer on the respected showbiz bookings website, ticketmaster.com, writes: “When you go to a concert, there is nothing worse than the artistes only playing songs that people don’t know from their newer albums, but with Ne-Yo he is such a crowd pleaser and does the exact opposite. The amount of hits he played was incredible and had the audience dancing on their feet and singing along for the whole evening.
A bumper-yielding artiste
Ne-Yo comes down to Uganda with three Grammy awards, two Billboard Awards, two MOBO awards, two MTV Video Awards, two Soul Train Awards, a BET Award, a spot in the American Songwriting Hall of Fame – altogether a reputation that has got him reckoned as a legend in the making.
The first three of his so far six albums were all certified platinum (were certified to have sold more than one million copies), while he has so far had seven tracks peaking within the Top 10 of the Billboard Charts – the two singles So Sick and Give Me Everything (featuring Pitbull) reaching number one and one reaching number two.
Besides singing and songwriting, Ne-Yo has since 2007 also been a producer with the same company that used to be known as Island Def Jam Music Group and which today has been broken into three standalone entities.
In 2012, Ne-Yo was named the senior vice president in charge of artistes and repertoire at Motown Records, one of the three independent production houses that came out of the disbanded Island Def Jam. In August, Forbes magazine reported the musician to be worth $16m (about Shs50b).