I’ll never forget the very first time I met Kenny Bobien. That was back in 1997 at a party where he happened to sing during the Winter Music Conference in Miami. I remember as if it was yesterday. I could feel tears flowing while hearing him performing the oustanding ‘Why We Sing’, prior to be introduced to him by the likes of Soundmen On Wax label head Shuji Hirose. This being the very first of countless meetings we would have along with time in New York, Miami or Paris. Selected fragments…
Let’s start by the beginning, will you?
“I started singing at the age of 3 at church, then professionally 15 years later.”
I can’t help myself being quite surprised by the differences your voice may have from speaking to singing. Have you had to sort of work for that, or did it come naturally?
“I have to say it’s kinda natural. Singing in church all my life, you had to be able to be versatile as opposed to stay in one vocal category and not to be able to do many things with your voice. You have to be pretty much reactive when it comes to singing and working with choirs, because not everybody is always there meaning someone has to stand and fill in. This putting you in the obligation to make sure you have the capacity to do replacements whenever needed, in other words to be as flexible as possible. I never felt like I had to work hard at it though…”
“The Jersey Sound was not only a creative thing that resulted in music and performers. It was a spiritual thing. I mean we could have danced all night long on Saturday at the Zanzibar with Tony Humphries, ending up with Gospel at 9 O’clock in the morning, and all of us not getting back home until noon. That’s how we got to hear from artists like Ce Ce Rogers, Adeva, Ceybil, Gerideau… All from New Jersey!”
Who’s been influencing you in that way of singing which is yours?
“The first names coming to my mind in terms of falsetto singing are Blue Magic’s lead singer Ted Mills and Sylvester. But I also listen to a lot of female vocals with my 2 favorite artists being Patti LaBelle who signs very high, and Jennifer Holiday, in addition to Aretha Franklin.”
I happened to see your name, along with the one of Eddie Stockley as a backing vocalist on Ten City’s ‘Foundation’ album released back in 1989…
“That’s right. One of my first professional experiences…”
And how was it to collaborate with Byron Stingily who also happens to sing falsetto?
“It was beautiful. Byron’s a very good friend of mine. It was great working with him. He’s a very innovative person. He made it very comfortable for me working with him…”
Did you ever see each other as possible competitors?
“No, because even though we both sing falsetto, we have different styles. Byron is more Soul than I am. He’s more laidback, he’s a lot more smoother, reminding somehow of Eddie Kendricks. Meanwhile I’m more Gospel…”
One word about ‘Why We Sing’…
“We took it from Kirk Franklin who released it in the mid-90’s, and I wrote the rearrangements…”
This happened to be the first of two releases you had on transient label Equip Records, along with ‘Goin’ Up Yonder’ which you used to sing when you where a kid, right?
“One of the first Gospel songs which I heard as a child. That’s a Walter Hawkins’s original which we updated a bit as well…”
You’ve been working with a lot of different producers, from B.O.P to Big Moses, Masters At Work and Kerri Chandler to name but a few. Have you had like a lot of things to tell them so that you could be running on the same key, or did you leave them doin’ their job?
“Well, I have a 50% input in responsability as to how the music sounds. Basically, being a singer, an arranger and also a producer myself, I have a vision of how I want to be heard, meaning that I’m very much into the projects I’m working on…”
You said on stage how if people had to remember something of you, you’d like it to be not first as a singer but…
“Oh yes, I’d like people to remember first how I love God with all my heart, mind and soul, and I’m a child of God. That God is the most important thing in my life and without him I just wouldn’t exist…”
Would you mean you’re a sort of God’s messenger?
“Yes, exactly… And because of him that I’m who i am and doing what I do, I take no credit for myself, but give all to him. So that’s how I wanna be remembered, just as an instrument used by him to deliver his message in songs…”
I suppose you’ve felt quite related to what’s remembered as the Jersey Sound
“Oh, definitely.The Jersey Sound got created by pioneers who’ve been responsible for most of the Dance Music one could hear in the nineties, leaving countless influences on today’s music. The Jersey Sound was not only a creative thing that resulted in music and performers. It was a spiritual thing. I mean we could have danced all night long on Saturday at the Zanzibar with Tony Humphries, ending up with Gospel at 9 O’clock in the morning, and all of us not getting back home until noon. That’s how we got to hear from artists like Ce Ce Rogers, Adeva, Ceybil, Gerideau… All from New Jersey!
Many people worldwide have jumped on the wagon from then, eventually claiming it was theirs, even though they know deep inside their minds where the whole’s comin’ from, and that brings us back to Jersey…”