Pop Deity

A profile of musician Dwele

Pop DeityAndwele Gardner’s given forename is a Swahili word meaning “God has brought me.” From the silvery sounds Dwele (as he’s known professionally) has been producing, it seems as though a divine hand has delivered the latest pop prodigy in Detroit’s illustrious musical lineage.

Following two commendable R&B solo LPs on the Virgin label and collaborations with Kanye West, Common, and Slum Village, the 29-year-old west-side native is immersed in a hometown recording studio, laying tracks for his yet-untitled third CD, due Feb. 4. Though he’ll be heard before then on an upcoming rap disc by Foxy Brown, Dwele’s current project represents his first full-bore soul crooner album since Some Kinda… in 2005.

“I’m excited about being able to perform new songs, finally,” the Cody High alum says. “I’ve been doing a lot of touring, and whenever I get some time off, I try to stay working. Right now, I’m just cutting songs, and I think the concept will come once I sit down and listen to them. I look at it like a puzzle. I’ve just got to put the pieces together.”

This is dream fulfillment for a fellow who took his first piano and trumpet lessons at age 6 and, after a brief stint in college, recorded his first song, “Rize,” in his mother’s home, and sold copies on the street. “I only got 100 copies [made] because that’s all the money I had, but I ended up selling them in a week,” he says. “It went ‘bootleg platinum,’ made it overseas and back. That’s how I landed my deal with Virgin.”

Inspired by Motown monarchs Stevie, Marvin, and Smokey, he also credits Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Roy Ayers as heavy influences. Earlier this year, Ayers embraced him backstage at a downtown concert and complimented his work, and he was invited to reinterpret the R&B classic “That’s the Way of the World” on an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute album.

To help stay grounded, Dwele remains in Detroit where, he says, there are “so many different vibes.”

“You’ve got the soul scene, techno, house, gospel. There’s just so much to pull from. Plus, Detroit is home.”

One thing is certain: Dwele doesn’t need to import many musicians for studio sessions. “I still play trumpet on my albums, and I picked up guitar and bass ,” he says. “You give me an instrument, and I’ll learn it enough to make a song out of it. I’ll make a soul song with a ukulele and an accordion if I got to.”