Singer/songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón, dubbed “an eclectic adventurist” by People magazine, has just released his 11th studio album, The Mirror. A GRAMMY® Award nominee for his two previous releases, Bad Ass & Blind, and If You Really Want, each for Best Jazz Vocal Album, Raul has collaborated with such figures as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers. He has also been featured on records by Queen Latifah, Snoop Dogg, even on Spike Lee’s soundtrack for the film, She Hate Me (2004). A New Mexico native, he currently resides in Maryland. Raul has earned critical acclaim within the industry with a fanbase that stretches world wide, from San Francisco, to India, Amsterdam and even Tokyo. The Mirror, showcases breaking new ground for Raul, including two entrancing spoken-word pieces (“If I Could See” and “One Day Without War”). The album also features such veterans as jazz vibraphonist Joe Locke (“A Certain Café”), and a songwriting collab with jazz pianist, Gerald Clayton, “Deep Dry Ocean”.
When asked about The Mirror, Raul responds: “I produced and pored over this album like I do all my records, they really are me in that sense. So it’s important that I surprise myself and my listeners. Take the spoken-word pieces, for instance. I grew up listening to poets who were rappers before rap, like Gil Scott-Heron, so I’ve always wanted to take that sort of approach to something. I think hearing me speak the words over the music makes it especially personal – which is particularly true with 'If I Could See', where I’m talking about something very intimate for me.”
Bleu Bop got the chance to ask Raul about his career, the new album, and inspirations.
BLEU BOP: Can you tell us a little about your background and what made you get into music?
RAUL MIDÓN: I was born in New Mexico and raised by an Argentine folkloric dancer and an African American artist from rural New Mexico. We lived on the confluence of the Rio Grande and Rio Embudo. I was surrounded by music and nature from a very young age. My Mom passed when I was 4 years old. My Father insisted on a standard for my playing - he would attend my lessons with me and insist I practiced guitar between the lessons.
BB: You started as a session singer and worked with some pretty impressive names, Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias, Jose Feliciano, and DJ Little Louie Vega. What made you decide to build a home studio? Is it easy to get collaborating artists over the house?
RM: Stevie played on my debut record, which Arif Mardin produced. I worked with the latin names you mention as a background vocalist in Miami. I worked in Shakira’s band where I met Albert Menendez who worked a lot with DJ Louie Vega. I recorded some tracks for them and, when I moved to NYC, Louie embraced me and put me to work. It was a wonderful opportunity since it’s very hard for musicians to move from one working community to another.
Caketalk pursued me and wanted me to use the technology they created for the blind. I met Bill from Dancing Dots who, at the time, was helping blind people do this kind of work. When we decided to move to Maryland and buy a house - my wife and I planned to create a home studio. Everyone is doing it. I’ve had some names at my house to record but a lot of it is shared over the internet.
BB: Being a two time grammy nominated artist, what kind of pressures do you feel when starting work on a new album? Do you feel pressure to conform to modern trends?
RM: Since I have the home studio - I’m always creating new material. I have enough (some of it good) to make many albums. Making music is the best part of this business, I don’t feel any pressure. The business side of things is the where the pressure can lie.
BB: Your new album, The Mirror, feels very intimate and personal, particularly with the track "If I Could See”. What, if any, obstacles do you feel you have had to overcome due to your blindness?
RM: Thanks. The list is probably endless. Right now it’s the corona virus - although in this case I’m not alone. Socializing, getting to places can be difficult. College was hard but rewarding. I recently got Alumni of the Year from the University of Miami so I’m pretty pleased.
BB: The album includes two solo spoken-word pieces, “If I Could See”, and “One Day Without War”. You mentioned being inspired by Gil Scott-Heron, what other poets did you grow up reading/listening to? How would you say poetry has influenced your musical talents? - or vice Versa?
RM: Langston Hughes, Rainer Maria Rilke, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Malloy.
BB: Can you elaborate on your creative process? You have played with Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Jose Feliciano, to name a few, with such varying styles in your repertoire, what genre of music would you say is closest to your heart?
RM: Stevie was asked by Arif Mardin to play on my debut album. He chose the song out of two he wanted to play on. As for Shakira and Jose - I was a hired gun, engaged to work as a background vocalist in the studio. I don't think it of like shifting genres - it’s what back ground vocalists do. I really like all music.
BB: The first single off the album, “I Love the Afternoon”, features your world renown guitar playing. Who are your guitar influences? Are there any practice routines you would say have helped you the most on the instrument?
RM: My influences are Paco De Lucia, John Scofield, Tuck Andress, John McLoughlin, among many.
BB: What do you hope people take away from the album?
RM: Music is the reason why people laugh people cry. I hope they get what they need.
BB: How do you prepare for live performances?
RM: I like to spend 30 mins before mentally preparing.
BB: What advice do you have for new and upcoming artists? What do you feel furthered your career the most?
RM: First, get a day job. I think my preparation in college on all fronts prepared me for that. Then, do what I did. I made sure to be myself and write, then take it to NYC, and put it all on the line.
BB: Are there any new artists you feel are adding something new and intriguing to the industry?
RM: Yes. Madison Cunningham.
BB: Lastly, we always end by asking what your favorite Jazz album of all time is?
RM: Oliver Nelson, Stolen Moments.
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