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Oakland's soulful natives

Musician Chris Turner returns to his hometown of Oakland after establishing himself as a musician in New York
Musician Chris Turner returns to his hometown of Oakland after establishing himself as a musician in New York

Musician Chris Turneris an Oakland native, but he’s spent much of the last decade touring the country with a soulful, sophisticated R&B sound. He just recently had his first showin a long time in his hometown. Youth Radio’s Brandon McFarland, host and editor of online radio station All Day Play, joined KALW's Ben Trefny in the studio to discuss Turner and his work.

BEN TREFNY: So, tell men about this artist Chris Turner.

BRANDON MCFARLAND: Chris Turner is a solo artist from Oakland, California. He has performed on stages around the country with soul singer Bilal and pop artist Sean Kingston. But he has never performed in Oakland, California until recently.

TREFNY: Yes, and just at the end of the 2011 you had a chance to see him.

MCFARLAND: I did! It was at Vitus in the Jack London Square area of Oakland. It was a packed house and he really has a great stage presence and really just brought the house down.

TREFNY: So Brandon, what do you hear in Chris's music?

MCFARLAND: I definitely hear traces of Marvin Gaye and his falsetto, a lot of Beaulieu as an influence. You can't go on tour with a person as influential as Bilal and not take certain pieces for yourself. I definitely hear Michael Jackson and a lot of that ‘70s soul, a lot of that real orchestrated live band, you know, late ‘70s soul.

TREFNY: ...kind of that big sound that comes out of ‘70s soul. What is it that made Chris Turner not actually perform gigs in Oakland before going out on his own, making it outside of the city before coming back?

MCFARLAND: Well, he went off to school, he went to the new school in New York. And that's really where he found himself musically and started recording his own songs but he's always been in music programs out here in the Bay Area. His parents made sure that he is very involved musically, because that's what he loved to do. But once he moved, you know, New York is a very fast place and he started to tour with Sean Kingston very early in his teenage years. And from then he just kind of stayed out and began to gig around until he decided that it was time to make his own music.

TREFNY: So, Turner has found the way to make it in the national music scene, and now that he has come back to the Bay Area a little bit, he says that he is trying to be a part of the Bay Area music movement. Tell me a little bit about that, Brandon.

MCFARLAND: I think lots of artists feel it’s necessary to leave the Bay Area and jump in the “big pond” so to speak. But at this point in Oakland, in the East Bay, there are a lot of artists who are coming out and making exciting movements and music. And one of those is Jennah Bell who is a guitarist and vocalist out of Oakland, California who has also spent some time in the East Coast but is in the Bay Area now performing. Her music is more acoustic, soul. You can actually hear twinges of AlanisMorissette. She is definitely something special to look for. Marah Ruby is another artist coming from the soul, the soul room, but more acoustic and laid back. She actually made a project last year called From Her Eyes where she made remakes of her favorite songs. She remade Mos Def and D’Angelo, Bob Marley, Van Hunt – some of her favorite artists. And she got tons of critical acclaims and she really brings a kind of ‘40s vibe to her shows. She does the whole thing from her dress down to her band.

TREFNY: So here, at the start of 2012 Brandon, we are talking about soul music. And it seems that 2011 had a lot of dance going on. Just remembered an NPR story talking about four-on-the-floor that kind of infectious dance groove that has kind of pushed a lot of the famous songs by Rihanna and so on. But as the year went on we had Adele kind of taking over the pop charts, and she had a more soulful sound. Do you see that soul continuing to trend in 2012? Or what do you see happening?

MCFARLAND: I definitely see it growing again. Adele definitely set a different tone for pop music. That album went diamonds and the way pop goes, everybody wants to follow the biggest thing. This is just exciting to see that this is the biggest thing again. Here in Oakland we are known for good funk and soul music. I mean the Bay Area in general from Sly and the Family Stone, to Raphael Saadiq to En Vogue... That's definitely the place where funk still lives, where the soul music still lives. So it will be exciting time in 2012.

Brandon McFarland is editor of Youth Radio’s streaming radio station All Day Play.

[Audio for this story will be available after 5pm]

Ben joined KALW in 2004. As Executive News Editor and then News Director, he helped the news department win numerous regional and national awards for long- and short-form journalism. He also helped teach hundreds of audio producers, many of whom work with him at KALW, today.