Rapper Rick Ross's recent hit "Magnificent" features a duet with John Legend and a music sample recorded on Maui by Grammy-winning, Bay Area drummer-producer Narada Michael Walden.
"They sampled my track 'Baby Come Back to Me,' " Walden explains over lunch at Mama's Fish House. "It's a pretty rap song with some beautiful music which I wrote and recorded way back in Lahaina with Regina Bell. Coming up, another rapper, DMX, is using my hit 'Let Me Be Your Angel.' They're putting all these raps on early jams."
Recently vacationing on Maui, Walden has just completed working on a new album with help from some stellar friends including Carlos Santana, Sting, Stevie Wonder, trumpeter Chris Bottie, saxophonist Clarence Clemmons, African star Ismail Lo, and the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown.
JON WOODHOUSE photo
Narada Michael Walden is pictured here during a recent interview with The Maui News music columnist Jon Woodhouse.
"James Brown's on the old Simon and Garfunkel track 'Feelin' Groovy,' " Walden explains.
And then there's his new project with Santana and Santana band keyboardist Chester Thompson - a triple CD set titled "The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost."
"It's just instrumental so far," he says. "It goes into what we call the vortex. Just how the Mahavishnu Orchestra gets so intense, Carlos is enjoying doing that. At one point he gets so hot there's a meltdown. I play faster and harder and he plays faster and harder, it becomes a time warp. There's just the three of us now, but I think Carlos wants to bring Steve Winwood in on something. It's not like Santana or anything, it's truly its own. One song is phenomenal where he puts all these bits of famous songs together that he interprets in a powerful way like Bob Dylan's 'Hard Rain' and Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway.' "
Plus he's got a Bach album in the works - "I have a track with Herbie Hancock, Sting and Jon Anderson so far," he reports.
It was Sting who inspired this multitalented artist to interpret Bach's music. "He said, it cleanses the vibrations of his homes and wherever he's staying."
A much admired singer, drummer, composer and producer, Narada Michael Walden has been heard on numerous top-selling records across a spectrum of musical genres including pop, jazz fusion, hip-hop, soul, country and world music. This energetic artist's remarkable legacy ranges from his early days drumming in the groundbreaking fusion band the Mahavishnu Orchestra and playing on Jeff Beck's "Wired," to composing for and producing some of the greatest female stars of our day including Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross.
In 1985, he won a Grammy for the R&B Song of the Year for composing Aretha Franklin's smash hit "Freeway of Love," followed in 1987 with a Grammy for Producer of the Year, and Album of the Year in 1993 for the movie soundtrack "The Bodyguard." Billboard magazine has honored him as one of the top 10 producers with the most No. 1 hits.
Among his many top hits he counts "All The Man I Need" (Whitney Houston), "I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (George Michael and Aretha Franklin), "How Will I Know" (Whitney Houston), "Who's Zoomin Who" (Aretha Franklin), "I'm Every Woman" (Whitney Houston) and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (Starship).
Named Narada by Indian guru Sri Chinmoy in the 1970s, Walden's own music may be described as divinely inspired soul. On brilliant early solo albums such as "Garden of Love Light," "Awakening" and "I Cry, I Smile" - where he was backed by an amazing array of musicians including Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Hiram Bullock, Wayne Shorter, Ray Gomez, the Brecker Brothers, and the Pointer Sisters - he artfully crafted elements of funk, jazz fusion and pop with spiritually inclined lyrics. Thus songs that might seem to refer to a romantic relationship were more expressions of seeking union with God.
Walden had been introduced to his spiritual teacher by guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin, after attending a Mahavishnu Orchestra concert.
"I was taken aback by what I saw, and I told him whatever he was doing in his life that enabled him to play the way I saw, I also wanted to do," Walden recalls. "He said, it was largely due to meditation, and he mentioned this guru. A week later, I called and I met the guru. It was very pivotal in my life. And nine months later I joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra."
Walden's entry into the greatest jazz fusion band of all time led him to England and recording with Beatles' producer George Martin and the London Symphony Orchestra on the extraordinary album "Apocalypse."
"It was an incredible album to make," he notes. "Working with George Martin was wonderful; he made everything seem so easy."
From Mahavishnu he next hooked up with Jeff Beck for "Wired" (drumming and contributing four songs), and then Weather Report for "Black Market." "After that project I wanted to do more rock 'n' roll and experience girls," he says. "Much of my life had been very celibate, so I toured with Tommy Bolan and finally I got a record contract to make a collaboration of rock and soul."
As the '80s dawned, Walden shifted his musical focus to an earthier funk sound. "I had to shift gears," he recalls. "Most of my life had been for a white, rock audience, but then I had records like 'I Want to Dance With You' and 'Delightful' and we began opening for Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle, strictly black audiences. I had to learn not just to stare at the light and play God music, but to say, everybody say yeah, and break it out. The black audiences didn't care about all that rock guitar b.s., you had to get them dancing."
His emergence as a celebrated producer came after Dionne Warwick had turned him down. Record mogul Clive Davis had suggested he write new songs for Warwick and produce an album. After she declined his material Davis suggested he work with Aretha Franklin.
"Dionne didn't like any of my songs," he says. "And Clive said, 'Don't worry, how about Aretha Franklin?' "
Walden wrote her hit "Who's Zoomin' Who," after an initial phone conversation with the Queen of Soul. "I was talking with her on the phone before I met her, and she talks in slang," he recalls. "I asked her, do you go out at night? She says, 'Maybe I'll go to a club and I'll see a guy and he's looking at me and I look at him and it's like who's zoomin' who? He thinks he's got me, but then the fish jumps off the hook.' Luckily, I recorded the conversation."
After winning his first Grammy as a producer doors opened wide. "People who you admire like Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson are backstage," he notes. "It's like your passport is stamped."
Over the years Walden has fruitfully employed his talent and star status to aid a number of charitable events. As the musical director for the Rainforest Foundation concerts held at New York's Carnegie Hall, he's overseen some amazing artistic assemblies, six shows in a row. Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, asked him to participate.
"She has a concept and I suggest what songs fit," he says. "She's truly a genius. Even Sting will tell you, 'Don't ask me, ask Trudie.' Every year it's Sting, James Taylor, Billy Joel or Elton John, and then they bring Smokey Robertson or Jeff Beck or whomever they want for a show. It raises more money than any other environmental fundraising event in the world."
He's also working on another benefit project, for UNICEF, making music for kids around the world, called "The Power of Music." "It will be Spanish and Latin stars mixed in with American stars," he says.
And Walden has turned his attention to helping young, aspiring musicians, setting up the Narada Michael Walden Foundation to present concerts with the youngsters teamed on stage with star performers. And he hopes that one day Maui will be included in this plan.
"We can take all these kids and let them play with Sting, the baddest people on the planet, teach them what it's like at the real level, to inspire them," he concludes. "And I'm looking to expand the foundation, have a chapter over here. In the future I'd like to bring some great talent over and put on a show mixing the kids here with the great professionals. That would be totally lovely."