Dunamis: a Greek word which essentially means ‘POWER’. According to Neil Hall, aka Dunamis, “I did not choose the name, the name chose me’. Approximately 7 years ago, Neil was inspired by the name ‘Dunamis’ when he was ministering at a concert in New York with the Grace Thrillers. At the end of ministering, a man by the name of Wayne Studdard turned to him and said “the way you ministered, you should be introduced as Dunamis, instead of Neil”. He was branded Dunamis from that moment. Dunamis is scheduled to have an album launch concert (called the Dunamis Experience) on April 5, 2008 at the Macedonia Center in Mount Vernon, New York. Even though his album (DUNAMIS) has been accessible to the public since June 2006, Dunamis did not have an official celebration of his album. He has shared stage with gospel heavy weights, to name a few, Papa San, Carlene Davis and Grace Thrillers.
~Up Close and Personal with Dunamis~ 1/12/07
1. How long have you been involved in the music ministry?
I have been involved in the music ministry for about 8 years.
2. Can you share a little bit about your family and background?
I grew up around 8 mile, the Bull Bay area, outside of Harbor View. I left Jamaica at the age of ten to migrate to the US, but several years later when my mother sent me back to Jamaica, I attended Kingston Technical High School. I have an older sister. She does not express herself that much, but she is very supportive and proud of what I am doing with my music. She tells her friends that I am her brother (laugh)
3. Tell us about your mother. How much of an inspiration was she in your life?
My mother is my inspiration. I was introduced to gospel music due to my mother. She used to listen to a lot of Grace Thrillers and I was practically raised on their music. I moved to New York at the age of ten to live with my mother. She worked tirelessly on a daily basis to take care of us. She was a hard worker. Her work ethic was superb. She used her income to provide for all our needs, and I have never once heard her complain about it. I recall when we initially lived with a family member in New York, the family member eventually told her she had to leave the home, and I saw how she got up and left the home and worked hard to provide a roof over our heads. Anything I wanted to do she was very supportive of my endeavors. She had always given me words of advice and she was an example for me. She is what I would call a strong woman. My relationship with her allows me to a better husband to my wife.
4. Was your mother very instrumental in your journey towards the Christian faith?
Yes, she was very instrumental in that process. When I resided in New York, I saw her from time to time because she worked a lot. I did not get to see her often; therefore, I did not receive the day to day guidance from a parental figure. She would call us and check up on us, and so she was caught up with what was going on at home. Of course, like any good mother, she warned us of the dangers of being disobedient to her requests. However, she did not explain why I could not do them. She did not want us to go outside and linger outside without supervision. But she did not explain what drugs and other harmful activities would do to the body and mind. Of course, I was naturally curious. I went outside and my back yard became my play area. I got swept up into the life of the streets and everything it offers became my past time pursuits. My mother was afraid of losing me to the streets and she decided to send me back to Jamaica to complete my education. In retrospect, it was the best move in my life at that time. When she sent me to Jamaica, she saved my life. My mother still resides in Bronx New York.
5. Tell us how you were introduced to dancehall culture and music.
My very first cassette was a Maxi Priest album. I got hooked on the dancehall culture and music from this cassette. Shortly thereafter, I purchased a Buju Banton album in the early 90’s and I got hooked on the deejay style. From then, my cassette and music collections grew and I had a number of dancehall music, clash sounds etc, in my possession. You can say dancehall grew on me. I had friends who had sound systems and even though I was 13/14 years old, no one bothered me in the streets of New York and wondered out loud why I am so young and why I am hanging out at the clubs and various venues. When you have ‘street respect’ or ‘thug like’ personality, no one bothered you, no matter how young you are.
6. Did you ever think you would be a gospel reggae artiste?
When I switched ‘music’ sides, I never considered reggae music as a pursuit. It was never an opportunity or a goal of mine to be a reggae artist. I recall my wife and I were driving and we were tuned in to a radio station, which began playing dancehall gospel music. It was then my wife mentioned to me “Why don’t’ you write something and try out some of your dancehall lyrics to gospel music?” I have to say though, my first set of lyrics was so corny….(laugh)
7. Speaking of your wife, tell us a little about the wife/husband team effort? Any marital words of wisdom you would like to share?
I have been a married for 8 years to Joyette Hall. She is my manager and publicist.
The one thing I would say about marriage is that ‘trust’ is the foundation and the key. One has to learn how to be together, yet separate in marriage. You need to be familiar with each other’s weaknesses and strengths. My wife can articulate better than I can and is more business-oriented than I am. However, we stand side by side and complement each other in our endeavors. I realize that my main job is to lift her up; I will make sure I am there to give her aid and support her when she needs it. I will step out of the way and allow her to be who she needs to be, that is, give her the room to be her own person and intensify her strengths. I will also respect what she does. It is about respecting each other’s abilities and talents. I find that it works for us .My ministry could not stand if she could not stand behind me. No one knows me better than my wife. We are also the proud parents of a beautiful 14 month old girl, Gabrielle.
8. What do you value the most in life?
It is very important to honor your parents; parents have a lot of wisdom. I have seen parents trying to have a ‘peer-like’ friendship with their children, and fail to provide the proper guidance that the children need. A parent being a ‘friend’ to their child is fine, but there is a fine line between ‘friend’ and ‘parent’. I would let my children know that listening to your parents and being obedient to them will carry you far in life. You see, that was the key for me. If I had listened to my mother, I would not have taken such a destructive path. I was restored, but I did not have to walk that path.
9. Are you the sole writer of your songs? How do you get inspired to write your lyrics?
I am the writer of all the songs on my current album. I am inspired by my past experiences. Many of my songs I drew from my past experiences. The album is an introduction of my life story and it tells of the grace of God, tells of my own self evaluation and my ‘broughtupsie’….
10. Who is your targeted audience?
I am writing for young people, from 99 years and below. If you fall anywhere on that continuum, then I consider you a young person. Also, I do write for anyone who understands the culture of what I do.
11. Tell me a little more about your passion for this generation
I believe I understand how these young minds work. You will find that innocent child-like behaviors are not so prevalent among young people anymore; things such as playing, skipping rope, are partially non-existent with this generation. Also young people are more hesitant in asking parents for advice. There is a huge generational gap, especially in the Church. I receive so many e-mails from young people asking me for advice. The suicide rate among young people has dramatically increased. I understand and empathize with them, because their needs and wants in this generation have changed, and many of their needs are not being met by the church. My modus operandi of relating is with dancehall music, but I also study a lot about why things are the way they are. I relay the passion of my message in this medium to them because this generation can relate more to this type of music and receive the positive messages from them, much quicker than they would another musical genre.
12. Is there a specific song on your current album that adequately translates the message and passion?
Yes, the song Thank you Lord. In this song, I tell of my years heading down the wrong path, and I should have been in a casket because that’s where I was heading. I should have caught HIV, been shot down, and strung out on drugs somewhere. This song illustratively and lyrically sums up who I am, in worship unto God.
13. Where have you been ministering?
I have ministered in Bronx New York with the Grace Thrillers. Other Jamaican artistes I had ministered with include, Carlene Davis and Papa San. Papa San is a great person. He opened up a lot of doors for brothers like me, especially on the International scene. In fact, he is my mentor. Yankee B also played an influential part, musically that is, in my ministry; also Ritchie Righteous.
I have also ministered in Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Maryland, Washington D.C., Maryland and the island of Dominica. I was scheduled to be in Nairobi Kenya, but the event was cancelled. So, unfortunately I was not able to venture to that side of the world. If the event was not cancelled, I would have shared stage with American greats such as Donald Lawrence, Byron Cage etc. Believe it or not, it is a daunting task to get a ministry connection in Jamaica.
14. What do you think of the contention with dancehall gospel, in which people are claiming that the entertainment value of your music is magnified more than the ‘worship’ value? People are saying that dancehall gospel, is more ‘hype’ than it is of a spiritual uplift…
Now, I am on my soapbox (smile). The Church (especially Caribbean churches) are the ones who are the most resistant to this type of music. Just a brief history: The Europeans brought ‘gospel’ to Jamaica. They brought their way of worship. The Church was established under the European way of worship. But we had our own culture. Jamaicans have creatively established a genre of music we call our own. We have been trained to think that European way to worship the Lord is the correct way to worship. Why is this fallacy being perpetrated in our Christian world? Country and western music were not developed in Jamaica. It was brought to Jamaica. See, this is all a mental condition. Europeans will use what is familiar to their culture, for example, rock and roll, country and western etc. Why are we being chastised because we are using what was culturally developed in our country and what we can call our own? I think we are still in spiritual bondage because we are not open to our cultural roots. What I do is not for people with that mindset. If dancehall is not for you, then step out of the way and allow those who need it and can relate to it, to have that pleasure and spiritual uplift. Music has evolved over the past two decades. The way people sang 20 or 30 years ago has changed. The package is different, even though the message remains the same. This generation will hesitate to buy or listen to CD’s over twenty years ago because this is the sound they are familiar with. This is what the young people are used to. Church life is not boring, it is fun. I am having a great time being a believer……
15. So, how does Dunamis Ministry demonstrates the entertainment/worship balance?
There are two aspects to the Dunamis ministry. People attend concerts to get a Word from God, and they also attend to enjoy themselves. As an artiste, you have to know how to deliver both. It is evident that everyone wants to ‘jump up’ and go home. However, when Dunamis ministers, I will preach and let people know where I am coming from and what God did for me, while simultaneously enjoying the music. Both aspects are intertwined-entertainment and worship. Music is the bait that God will use to bring young people who probably would never ‘step foot’ into church, but will attend a concert to listen to these songs. I want to point out that the ministry is a small percentage of my faith. The one word that adequately summarizes the messages of my songs is ‘Uncompromise’.
16. Do you find this to be a popular sentiment amongst dancehall gospel music artistes?
A lot of us feel that way. We are broken a lot. And the sad part is that the people who are criticizing us are not doing anything to help the young people, because they may not even know how to approach the young people’s dilemma. If I am going to be criticized, I would prefer that my critics are involved in working effectively towards restoring our youths. It is unfortunate because we will not receive invites to participate on their church programs. Most say we are of the devil, and this is so sad. When I was ministering in Dominica, I realize there is so much work to be done. American Hip Hop contributes a lot of negative connotation to that culture of the young people. However, the music they relate to are the hip hop and the secular dancehall. In Dominica they want to be like Jamaicans, so they buy into this music culture, and in fact they know little about it. I think secular dancehall is such drivel. They say one thing, but they don’t do what they tell their listeners to do. It is a conflicting message. And this is what young Dominicans are overly exposed to. My heart is for Dominica. They crave this type of music because that is what they are used to. My mission is to uplift the youths in Dominica through my music. My medium is dancehall but the message is different. This is what I introduce to them.
17. Is it difficult to live the message you are proclaiming?
Not hard to do. I am close to my wife and family. I am also very discreet and wise in my doings. For me, it is easy to live an upright life. It is highly important to live a life that you are singing about. I remember once I was ministering and the young people at the edge of the stage began to hold on to my feet and grab at my ankles. I stopped everything and told them not to grab at my feet because this is not a secular concert. My focus is Jesus Christ and they should be grabbing unto his feet.
18. Do you have others in this industry who wants to speak the truth on these issues?
A lot of people want to tell the truth and say the right things, but they want their music to be played. I recall while I was in Dominica and I was being interviewed on a secular radio station, the radio host commented on the spiritual aspect of my music. It did not matter to me that I was on a secular station. I out rightly stated that my music is supposed to change the mental and spiritual mindsets of the young people. I went on to tell the astounded radio host that there a lot of righteous people out there, but you can sing about righteousness and peace all day long, but if you don’t know Jesus you will never make it to heaven. Then there are those who are living riotous lives and singing about peace. My decision to speak the truth wherever I need to is based on the fact that I have already lost everything, therefore I have nothing else to lose. If what I am doing for God ends here and now, I know I did what I did for Jesus. In more ways than one, I feel I was born to advocate for those who do not want to open their mouths.
19. What are some of the negatives of being a Christian dancehall artiste?
Not having the full support from Jamaican believers, especially the older people. If we had their support then we would know we are not being overly criticized. It’s amazing to know that the International Christian music crowd finds what we do weird, our own Jamaican Christian public find us offensive, so what are we to do? Our own gospel promoters want nothing to do with us. If our own people will not buy or promote our music why do you think others will buy our music? I recall being at a music conference and I asked the international music folks why do they promote international artistes who will have dancehall/reggae gospel music on their album projects, and they refuse to promote Jamaican artistes gospel albums which features dancehall/reggae. The response was that if our own people are not supporting their own gospel dancehall/reggae artistes, then why would the people support the album if they promote it? The promoter does not make a difference. The people’s support is the key, regardless of who is the promoter. Various groups of people support their own artists, for example, Reggae ton is fully supported by their own Hispanic people. An elder of my church told me he did not want me to do this type of music in his church. I attended the church, but I did not minister in the church’s programs because my musical abilities were not encouraged in that particular church setting.
20. What kind of person is Neil aka Dunamis?
I am a quiet person, a ‘homebody’. I like to be with my wife and daughter. When my family is happy, then I am happy.
21. What do you think of the trend of gospel music in Jamaica?
I don’t think everyone can be or should be a gospel artist. Some have entered this arena because ‘maybe they feel they can’t make it in the secular field, so they move on to gospel’. People should be called and be led into the gospel music ministry. If gospel music becomes a trend, then the hypocrites will be found in the mix. This is a sad reality, because it reflects on the dancehall gospel music industry as a whole.
22. What is your message for the Jamaican.com readers?
Know that Jesus is the Way because he took me off the streets of the Bronx. He can do the same for you and I stand behind every word that I articulate today; Jesus can do all things; He has delivered me and he can deliver you from anything you are involved in and you wish to be disentangled from it…..
THANK YOU Dunamis for this Interview! All the Best to You and Your Future Endeavors!