As the truck and equipment trailer of The GroovaLottos tooled through Dedham after another successful show at the Dedham Square Coffeehouse, the strains of Nina Simone's "Sinner Man" could be heard on the truck stereo. Mwalim turned it up slightly and began to sing along and even started scatting as Simone's rapid-fire, Pentacostal church styled piano solo danced around her vocal invocations of "power".
Mwalim explained that the legendary jazz singer and pianist had a major effect on his development as a pianist and singer. "When I was trying to figure out how to play and sing at the same time, it was listening to my mother's and grandparent's Nina Simone albums that helped me figure it out." Nina Simone, who was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was a church raised, classically trained concert pianist who began playing jazz, blues and soul at cocktail lounges in Atlantic City and the Greenwich Village section of New York. Her signature contralto to low tenor vocals neatly woven into her percussive piano playing style became an iconic elements in the jazz world.
"We have the same vocal range, so it was easier for me to find my voice in her style than it was in singers like Ray Charles or Joe Tex." Mwalim, who began his career as a studio session player and accompanist, had not sang in public until he was in his mid twenties, prior to that serving as a vocal coach for singers in the various bands that eh played with. One night the singer for a band didn't show up for the gig, leaving Mwalim to front as the singer for the night. "I made it through the night doing a Nina Simone impersonation... of course, she never sang 'Groove Me' by Guy, but singing it the way she would was a lot easier for me than trying to sound like Aaron Hall."
Building off of Simone's platform, Mwalim went on to win awards for his vocal work in jazz, including three Urban Music Awards, four Silver Arrow Awards, three Native American Music Award nominations, and of course The GroovaLottos four Grammy nominations. In addition, Simone's work as a Civil Right activist also had an impact on The GroovaLottos commitment to social and economic justice.
The GroovaLottos will be at Gilda's Stone Rooster on March 17. 27 Wareham Rd, Marion, MA. Showtime 9pm.
They will be at the Dedham Square Coffeehouse on April 14. 565 High St, Dedham, MA. Showtime 8pm
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