A former session musician with superstars such as Shakira and Julio Iglesias, Raul Midón has an uncanny ability to defy categorisation, grabbing, magpie-like, from differing musical genres and cooking them together in an almighty smooth, groove-pop stew.
Dubai Jazz Festival 2017: Opening act Raul Midon will stir festival-goers
The title of Raúl Midón’s upcoming album reads like a mission statement, and Bad Ass and Blind is a refrain the soul-funk singer-songwriter repeatedly asserts on the opening title track.
It is hard to argue with him. Midón’s phenomenal chops, baritone croon and unique one-man-band stage show would indeed colloquially be described as “bad”. And the 50-year-old veteran has lived without sight since his time in an incubator shortly after his birth.
“I don’t necessarily think not having sight helped me,” says Midón. “Maybe in show business, maybe being blind is some kind of hook – but most of the really great musicians I know, they can see.”
For all his swagger on record and on stage, Midón is a remarkably humble and subdued conversationalist.
“It just sort of came to me, in the same way it always does,” he says, of his new LP, which is due for release on March 24. It is his most jazzy to date, he says.
Midón is drastically underselling his wares – this seventh studio album is also bursting with funk grooves, Latin rhythms, quick-fire raps, blistering guitar solos and hummable pop melodies.
A former session musician for superstars such as Shakira and Julio Iglesias, Midón has an uncanny ability to defy categorisation, grabbing, magpie-like, from a variety of musical genres and cooking them together in an almighty smooth, groove-pop stew.
The real treat, however is watching him perform this material live – as he will at the Dubai Jazz Festival on Thursday.
Playing solo, Midón has developed a singular style of emulating an entire band without a loop pedal in sight. He plucks acoustic guitar lines with just his left hand, taps a rhythm on the instrument’s body with his right, and uses his voice to emulate the sound of a trumpet so convincingly, you will want to check the stage twice.
This approach evolved by necessity after he moved to the Big Apple in the early 2000s.
“In New York, you’ve got to do something to stand out,” he says.
“I could already sing and play – but then a lot of people sing and play.”
Adapting in this way paid off and he signed to the historic Manhattan Records. His big breakthrough came in 2005 with State of Mind, an album featuring guest turns from Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz.
A year later he was invited to sing a slowed-down, ballad version of Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You on Herbie Hancock’s celebrity duets album Possibilities.
“They were like, ‘Sing it as if you called on the girl, and she’s not there’,” he says.
Remarkably, this solo success came midway into his 30s, after years spent in the shadows as a sideman. Born and raised in New Mexico, Midón discovered the guitar at the age of six. After moving south to study jazz at the University of Miami, he gravitated towards the city’s booming Latin-record industry, where he spent much of 1990s as a studio pro, working on records for the likes of Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias and José Feliciano.
It was spending two years touring as a member of Colombian superstar Shakira’s band that hardened Midón’s resolve to move to New York and pursue his own voice.
“It was fun – it was a good job, we went all over the world, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my own life,” he says. “I wanted to do my own thing.”