Interview with StimulateYourSoul.com – “Passing On Music With Zo!”

By: Margaret Tra • Source: StimulateYourSoul.com

As soulful multi-Instrumentalist and producer from Detroit, Zo! has had the pleasure of working with rapper Phonte from Little Brother, The Foreign Exchange, and more recently with singer Sy, who is also a back-up singer for Sheila-E. You’ll know him from the breathtaking beautiful track ‘If she breaks your heart’ which features in The Foreign Exchange album ‘Leave it all behind.’ I caught with Zo! last year to see what we can expect from his latest project ‘Man Made’ due to release in spring, the most unusual instrument he has used whilst producing, and why he doesn’t want to go to his grave without passing on music. Margaret Tra writes.

Are you just currently on tour, or are you on a break?

We just came off. We just did like a weekend. Three cities, three days, came back yesterday.

How was it?

It was…those joints are tiring! You’re driving, you’re performing, same day, but it’s all, it’s all worth it man.

Sounds like one thing after the next. A lot of shows backed up?

Like 3, 4 hours of sleep each night.

CLICK HERE TO READ FULL INTERVIEW

Teachers / Educators = EXTREMELY Underappreciated …Thus underpaid.

I posted this last year while I was still teaching in the classroom:

As a HS Music Teacher, I am (in this particular order):

A bouncer, a positive Black male influence, a master in the art of PATIENCE, a bodyguard, a comfortable constant, a debate expert, a bullshit detector, a listening ear and possible advice giver, an attention caterer, a therapist, a musician, a counselor, a professional wrestler, a temporary daddy replacement, a police officer, and a teacher…

Teachers.. We need you and salute you.

Zo!’s Top Five Moments of 2011 – #3 Rock Creek Academy in D.C. Closes Down = Full-Time Musicianship…

Friday, August 5th began early for me as I was picked up from my hotel room in Houston at about 4:45am to catch an early flight back home after wrapping up another successful listening party for my then new release, …just visiting three. For those of you who know me personally, along with others who happen to follow me on Twitter or Facebook know that I taught Music at a Special Education Charter school in Washington D.C. (Rock Creek Academy) to high school kids for five years. Well, August 5th is significant because it marked the last day of summer school at RCA, which also meant that our staff had the entire following week off before it was back to the start of yet another fall semester. I would ALWAYS take the summers off, just so I could regain my sanity and have some time to myself in regards to being productive in the studio without having to worry about my day job. Despite not working in the summer, I was still able to remain connected to the happenings in the school because I still received work emails on my phone. That morning, we all received an email from the CEO of the school that read like this:

After reading the email, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Normally when we would get this same type of email at the end of each semester or summer session, it would serve almost as our “enjoy your time NOW… because in a week, it’s back to the plantation!” warning. Even with seeing and reading this email, I was so determined to keep the school out of my mind until it was actually that time to go back in there to work – I think any teacher can relate to that. At the time I was focused on my upcoming trip to Atlanta that I had scheduled for another …just visiting three album listening party at Moods Music that Sunday, the 7th. Soon after returning home from Atlanta on Monday, August 8th, received a text from a friend of mine who was formally employed at Rock Creek Academy with me…

“You hear about RCA?”

I responded… “No, what happened?” …but I already pretty much knew what she was about to respond with. When folks text you out of the blue asking if you’ve “heard about” someone or something, it is rare that a positive update will follow. She then proceeded to tell me that the school had shut down and that there should be a letter in the mail formally confirming this. I got up and walked outside to check the mailbox. Sure enough there was a large white envelope from Rock Creek Academy, Inc. that contained one letter of recommendation, a letter instructing us on how to keep our health benefits, and a two-page letter informing us that our signed, upcoming 10-month teaching contracts were “terminated” effective immediately due to the permanent closure of the school. Although the news came as no surprise to many of us (even though we were “assured” throughout the spring semester of 2011 that we had nothing to worry about as the school would remain open in the future), it was kind of a shock when it actually happened. What wasn’t a shock though was the fact that the two-page letter was dated Friday, August 5th… The same day the CEO sent out the “not-so-out-of-the-ordinary” email above thus confirming in print what we all already suspected… He knew. How far in advance did he know the school was shutting down? There’s no telling, but I think he was aware of it way in advance. Personally, I have always thought that was shady as shit… Regardless of what it was, what I SAW was the door to “Full-Time Musicianship” fly wide open, which was excellent… There was also a HUGE change taking place, which set the stage for a rather intense mental battle to take place… The battle started off as a back and forth debate…

“But you’re making a huge impact in some of these kids’ lives” vs. “You’re also making an impact in people’s lives who listen to your music”

“You are salaried at the school” vs. “Music isn’t salaried, but you can definitely work to make it very consistent”

The debate slowly started becoming a bit one-sided…

“Your being an artist was not at all respected by the school at all… Until it was time to show you and your students off” vs. “Your art is respected by your listeners and supporters”

“While you ARE salaried, the school has it set up to where they are not paying you for two consecutive missed days whether you have leave hours or not” vs. “You can go out on the road whenever you need to – No permission needed, no leave slips”

These were all factors that I was weighing when deciding whether or not to go back into the classroom as a music teacher. The thing is, I am very passionate about passing music down to the younger generation of kids – whether it comes in the form of music theory and education or just simply letting them hear my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire record to expose them to what I think is “good music.” I think that it is our duty as music lovers to expose these children early to some good undeniable music. It’s always silly to me when I hear people complaining about what our kids listen to, yet they have never once schooled a kid on anything music-related. Let these kids hear some stuff and pass some history along with the song and they just may surprise you by taking to it. I eventually decided to continue passing along my knowledge of music in the form of private piano lessons, which actually started at the top of this month… Despite not working in a formal classroom setting, music education never stops.

The one thing that I’ve learned since becoming a musician full-time is if you want to know how people truly feel about you, go into business for yourself and start doing what you love as a profession. Maaaaaan, that shit is TELLING!! The few things that I have learned about myself have been interesting as well. For example, I realized that once I get focused on productivity and being consistent whether in the studio, the gym, or on-stage, I have an extremely low tolerance for folks with constant negative energy. I wasn’t fully aware of that until recently and I have certainly had to adjust accordingly. On the other hand, my family and close friends have been nothing BUT supportive in my recently enhanced musical journey and to them I would like to say, “Thank you” and “I love you” for it because honestly, it is part of what drives me during some of those “low” days. Overall, the school’s immediate closure has certainly opened up brand new opportunities as well as a brand new purpose and motivation behind my music career that has resulted in a greater amount of shows and studio time and subsequently a lesser amount of sleep. I am extremely anxious to let you all hear what I have been working on since the closing of Rock Creek Academy and thank YOU for continuing to support what I love to do and that’s create and release quality music.

Student Quotables… Volume IV | School’s Out Edition

The school year that has lasted seemingly forever has finally come to a close… But not without a few more quotables to last us through these summer months. Some of y’all who follow me know by now that in addition to being a musician, I also teach music to high schoolers and duh-raaaaah…. They have been known to say some pretty unbelievable things… (see: Student Quotables… Vol. 1Student Quotables… Vol. II, and Student Quotables… Vol. III). To celebrate the ending of this school year, I will supply you with a few more quotables from the final semester… Enjoy!

• “What Time Is It?!?!” © Mo’iss Day

Student: “We’ve got time, there’s 20 minutes left in class”

Me: *Looks at the analog clock, which says 12:30* “Nah man, we have 10 minutes left… You know by now that class gets out at 12:40.”

S: “Ohhhh, yeah.. .I thought there were 10 minutes between each number on the clock.”

• Student answers her cell phone in the middle of class and gets off quickly after being asked repeatedly to hang up…

Me: “Why would you even consider answering the phone in class as an option?!”

Student: “My friend said it’s an emergency!”

M: “How would you know it’s an emergency BEFORE you picked up the phone?”

S: “She texted me first…. I HAD to pick it up because she doesn’t spell too well.”

• The day was Friday, and my student was attempting to argue me down by saying that Wednesday was THREE days ago rather than two…

“Mr. Ferguson… It’s THREE days ago!  

*counts on fingers* 

Friday is ONE, Thursday is TWO, and Wednesday is THREE. Wednesday was THREE DAYS AGO!”

I literally had to walk him to the calendar and count the days back to Wednesday to illustrate why he was incorrect.


• One morning, a ‘Temptations’ movie vs. ‘The Five Heartbeats’ discussion started with my class in regards to which one they enjoyed more…

Student: “I don’t like the ‘Temptations’ movie… It’s dumb. ‘The Five Heartbeats’ is better…”

Me: “You don’t like it at ALL? Well, tell me why you think ‘The Five Heartbeats’ is a better movie?”

S: “Because it has a better story… AND it has better graphics”

M: “Better………..graphics? It’s…. not…… a…… video…… game….. though…”

S: “But the ‘Temptations’ movie is in black and white and that’s stupid…”

M: “…….The first TWO minutes of the movie is in black and white! The rest is in color…”

• I had on an “Activision” t-shirt one day with their logo from the 80’s on the front of it…

Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you’re not gay…”

Me: “What are you even TALKING about?!”

S: *Points at the small rainbow part of the logo*

M: “That’s Activision, do you know what it is?”

S: “Yeah…. It’s a television”

M: “No, it’s a company that used to put out video games for Atari… an old game system.”

S: “Oh, well…. I was close then”

• One of my students had a grand epiphany in the classroom when he looked up and saw Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book album hanging up on my wall…

Student: “Stevie Wonder is BLIND?!?!”

*crickets*

Me: “Class?…. Uhhhhhhruuhhhh…. Is Stevie Wonder blind?”

Class, in unison: “YEAH!!!”

• I got into a conversation with a student about how I got interested in music and why I teach the music that I do to my classes…

Me: “I teach y’all music that you’re familiar with, as opposed to say uhh….. Mozart.”

Student: “Ohhhh……. That’s a website?”


• For my Tech Heads…

Student: “My teacher told me that there wasn’t any technology before 1996… She said that there weren’t any color TVs before 1996 either…”

Me: “PLEASE sit down to read and research BEFORE talking crazy…”

(9th grade student): 

“Get offa there and stop tryna fix that computer, you ain’t no technique!!”


• In showing my class the movie “The Last Dragon,’ I received these questions…

Student: “Is that Nick Cannon?!”

Me: “Is WHO Nick Cannon?!”

S: *Points to Taimak who plays ‘Bruce Leroy’* “Him!”

M: “You do realize that this movie was released in 1985 and Nick Cannon was BORN in the 80’s, don’t you?”

S: “Oh.”

Another Student: *Points at Leo O’Brien who plays ‘Richie Green’, Bruce Leroy’s little brother* “Ain’t that the midget?!…. The midget who died?!”

Me: *Running through my mental Wikipedia files… and mouthing the words, “Midget? Who died?”*  ….”Wait a minute, are you talking about Gary Coleman?!??!!”

AS: “Yeah…”

M: *puzzled* “NO. That. Is. Not. Gary. Coleman.”

The movie got to the part where DeBarge’s “Rhythm Of the Night” video came on… El DeBarge is on the screen singing the first verse…

Student: “Oooh, there go Michael Jackson!!”

• Rules?…. What rules??

Me: “So…. Why did you get suspended for so long?”

Student: “Because I brought a knife to school”

M: “Maaaaan, COME on!! What did you do THAT for?!”

S: “I didn’t know it was against the rules…”

M: *blank stare*

• Geography For $500, Alex…

Student: “Have you ever been out of the country on vacation?”

Me: “Yeah, I’ve been to Aruba, which is an island just north of Venezuela…”

S: *Puzzled look*

M: “Venezuela……… It’s a country in South America”

S: “Wait, South America and Africa are the same, right?”

M: *Exaggerated screwface* “NO!! They’re two different CONTINENTS located in two totally separate parts of the world!!”

S: “So you’re telling me that South America and Africa are TWO different places?!!?”

• In reaction to PBS’s website being hacked back in May…

Student: “Don’t you watch the NEWS Mr. Ferguson?! It was breaking news that 2Pac is still alive!!”

• Astrology

Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you hear about the changes they made to the horo… hor….. horophoric?” (she was attempting to say “horoscope”)

• Random

Teacher: “What is a thesaurus?” 

Student (10th grade): “A telescope.”

• An Old Favorite

During a school assembly, one of the students stood in front of the the high school students and staff to give a presentation. After asking a question to the audience and not really receiving a response, it turned into him ‘taunting’ his peers, which then in the same breath turned hilarious…

Student: “Man, I thought y’all were smart. Wait, y’all supposed to be smart right?!…. I mean…. Where the smarts come out at?!!?”

Educators, enjoy your summer breaks… Lord knows we deserve it. ‘Til next time, school a child… THEY. NEED. IT….

Student Quotables… Volume II

This is a continuation from the FIRST installment of student quotables… Just keep in mind, I can NOT make any of this up. Enjoy!

• One of the so-called tough persona students decided to get himself caught up in a situation where he was looking at catching an assault charge. While being questioned by the police in regards to naming who did it, he responds with the classic line…

“Now I ain’t no SNITCH… But uhhh…… All I’m sayin is……. Tony did it.”  I love it…

• After getting a “Soldier” tattoo on his forearm that was spelled “S-O-I-L-D-E-R,” one of the students defended himself with…

“That’s how we spell it in the STREETS!”

• Cultural Awareness…
“Maaan, you can’t be out here stealing, you’ve gotta get a job! Don’t you know it’s a reception out here?!”

• Music Appreciation… (directed to me)
“Man, you always playing the classics! Why don’t you play something new like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club?” …Word? This same kid told me that John Legend was old school… *shrug*

• On Tupac
“2Pac is still alive! I just saw him in a picture with Rihanna!”

• Geography Lesson
A student of mine walked into class with a pendant of Africa around his neck. He was not expecting me to quiz him about the continent. First, he told me that Africa was a “state”, to which I responded, “So who’s the governor of Africa then?”

After explaining to the boy that Africa was a continent and not a state, I asked him to name just ONE country in Africa… He responded with, “Peru”

Teacher: “If one side of the Earth is light, what is the other side?”
Student: “Heavy”

Teacher: “How many minutes are in a half hour?”
Student: “15”
Teacher: “So how many minutes are in an hour then?”
Student: “5?”

Student Quotables…

I think that by now, a lotta y’all know that I’m a Music educator at a charter school in Washington D.C. Honestly, if you are lacking in the sense of humor department, you won’t last as a teacher at this school… or ANY school for that matter. So with that being said, allow me to introduce you to some of my students and their special ‘quotable’ moments… They are always saying something crazy… or memorable, I should say. These joints are coming off of the top of my head, so I’ll be sure to keep this going with a part two sometime soon. Step into my life for a minute…lol

• On November 5th, 2008, the day after President Obama’s victory on Election Day…
Student: Mr Ferguson, you hear that Obama is gonna be President?”
Me: “Yeah, I believe I heard something to that effect”
Student: “That means we ain’t gotta deal with no more white muhfuckas no more!”

• Student sees paper pinned on the wall under “Honorable Mention” (where I normally put papers that receive a “B” grade)…
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you terrible”
Me: “Huh? Why do you say that?”
Student: “You put my paper under ‘Horrible Mention'”

• The Grand Epiphany
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, I just realized last week that ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ was about Tina Turner and her husband Ike”

• I showed one of my classes the movie ‘Ray’ and the part came up where they showed Ray (Jamie Foxx) and his wife holding their first born child…
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, is that (the real) Ray Charles’ baby or Jamie Foxx’s?”

• Noticing the way that one of the students was rubbing off negatively on the other students, on staff member said, “That boy is a CANCER.” The student overheard what she said and responded, “I ain’t no cancer… I’m a Capricorn!”

• During bus dismissal…
Teacher: “Excuse me, do you ride bus two fifty-eight?”
Student turns around with a neck and eyeroll… “NO.. I ride bus two-FIVE-eight!”

• Payment plan?
Student: “I’ma sell enough weed to pay for my college intuition”

• One of the little 9th grade kids came up requesting his internship check in ‘all ones’
Teacher: “Now, why do you want it in all ones?”
Student: *In his high-pitched voice, while throwing both hands in the air over his head* “So I can make it raaaaaaain on them bitchesssss”

• A student was looking for a staff member and finally found them and said:
Student: “Where you was at to be fount?”
Teachers: “HUH?! What did you say??!”
Student: “Ohhhhh… My bad. Where you was at to be foouuunnddd-DAH”

Music (Class) Appreciation…

I had a chat with a good friend of mine just last week about how silly it is for people to say things
like

“Aww man, you don’t know nuthin’ about that!You’re too young to know about that music!”

Exposure and education are two amazing components when applied, aren’t they?I guess if we were too young to know and learn about ‘old’ things, then history would be completely irrelevant, huh?Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being exposed to some excellent music growing up courtesy of my music-loving parents.But even with all of the music that was receiving rotation in my house, I am still getting put on to new older music by groups I’ve never even heard of and even some by very well-known artists.The learning process is one that is never-ending and one that I love and appreciate a great deal.So naturally as a music instructor, one of my main goals is to expose my teenage students to music they may have never heard if not for my class.There are days where I will sit with a class and just listen to music, but in the midst of listening I’ll sneak in an original song that has been sampled and see if the kids catch on to it.I had one of my classes last year so amped up after one of our “sample day” sessions that a couple of them said that they were, “Mad with hip-hop,” to which I had to clear the air by then explaining the art of sampling, why it’s done, and that it has been a part of hip-hop since day one.But these kids are getting exposed to different types of music and becoming much more knowledgeable in regards to the roots of current artists.



One group in particular that I have an extremely easy time exposing to my students is The Temptations.They have a movie about them that the kids have seen at least two or three different times on VH1 or TVOne, their catalog of music is not only classic but in many circles it’s damn near considered to be a standby.Their lyrics are simple, yet catchy, while the music is undeniable – It’s like, if one of their joints comes on and you aren’t singing along, bobbing your head, or at least tapping your foot, I would be forced to place a mirror under your nose to check and see if you are still breathing.I mean, who doesn’t have a favorite Temptations song?It’s no different with my students.I show The Temptations (1998) movie in my class every year whether they have seen it or not simply because they ask me so many questions during the course of the film.It definitely helps my classes feel more connected with not only The Temps’ music, but with their accomplishments and fully established legacy.So the fact that my 4th period came to me last month with the idea of wanting to play and record the 1971 hit “Just My Imagination” wasn’t very surprising to me – Actually, I was more proud of them than anything…

 

My fourth period class ended up understanding and playing that music so well that the video shown above was presented to the entire school as their “Ode To Motown” assembly for Black History Month.

The craziest thing about Motown music is that it is very deceiving. You listen to a song like The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and you may find yourself saying, “It’s a pop song… very simple.” Wellllll, not the case. Have you ever tried to play that bassline? Matter of fact have you ever analyzed the bassline for The Four Tops’ “Bernadette?!!” Wheeeeew!!! (James Jamerson)… All that to say, my first period class requested to learn how to play “My Girl”… sounds easy enough right? While “My Girl” may sound simple and straight forward, for a couple of kids who just started playing instruments weeks ago, I warned them that it may present a challenge. The piece that leads into the key change where The Temps are singing, “Hey heey heeeeeey!!” and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra brings the strings in is tough on a beginner because of the movements that must be executed on the instrument. But after two weeks of running the song into the ground, I was able to get them in front of the camera for one helluva take…

I think this exposure thing is working out for the better for these kids… Just my humble opinion. We will continue to build in class… and I’ll continue to update.

Questlove Shows My 6th Period Class Some Love…

This past Friday, I promised my students in the 6th period class that I would take my video camera in if they proved to me on Thursday that they were ready to present some music. On Thursday, we practiced and practiced some more… and they sounded GOOD. So, in keeping my word, I took the camera in the next day (mind you, when I saw them throughout the day they bugged the HELL outta me from the time I arrived until class time – “Did you bring the camera today? Did you bring it?!!?”… YES dammit! LOL). 6th period finally came, I got a good take of them introducing and performing The Roots’ joint “Break You Off” per THEIR request (how ’bout that?). I took the footage home, edited it, and put it up on YouTube Sunday night and tweeted about it. A few folks checked it out, a few others replied and gave the kids their props…

 

 

 

Sunday night, I also decided to DM a link to brother Questlove via Twitter. I figured, if he saw it and said nothing at all… At least he would appreciate what these kids wanted to play, while sounding pretty good actually playing it. Low and behold, Monday night I’m on Twitter and I read via ?uestlove tweet…

now THIS RIGHT HERE?!! is why i don’t mind 18 hour days http://bit.ly/2nOcGF thank you @zo3hree5ive

Yep, it was a link to my students’ video.

I took a screenshot of the tweet and emailed it to myself so I could show the class on Tuesday (I needed a picture because, they wouldn’t have believed me otherwise). When I saw the kids throughout the day, I kept telling them, “Make sure you’re in class today, I’ve got a surprise for y’all.”

Once the class came in, I had them gather around the computer and I asked them if they knew who ?uestlove is – half of um did…pretty good for a group of 16 and 17 year olds in my book. Once I explained that he was the drummer for The Roots (and damn near everybody else), I told them, “Well, he showed y’all some love on Twitter last night.”

Of course then the question became, “How YOU know?!”

So I double clicked the .jpg screenshot of the tweet that he put up…

 

The entire class in unison…. “OHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!……..”

In Class With Zo! (Vol. 1 – 4th Period)

I’m now going into my 4th year as a music teacher and as soon as we got a drum set in the classroom it was like tossing two rocks in the middle of a circle of heads. These kids literally swarm to the drums… the funny thing is, they ALL play the SAME BEAT when ever they sit down on the set – a ‘bounce’ beat which is a cousin of DC’s Go-Go music. I guess it’s what the younger kats listen to… different songs, same beat…

Anyway, being that all of my students think they’re damn Dennis Chambers, I decided to have a competition between three of my students in my 4th period class… The rest is history.