This week we interview Willie Stewart, formerly of Third World. After playing successfully with Third World, Stewart’s desire to work with children and give back to the community, coupled with his expertise in the world of percussion instruments stirred a desire in his head and heart to help heal the world with music. Here is our conversation with Willie Stewart.
Q: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN MUSIC ?
It stared in England, at about the age of six I started to beat on everything in -sight , tables, pots, pans etc . My brother Gene played the guitar, another brother Neville was a record collector of jazz and blues. This had a profound Influence on my early life. I went to Jamaica at the age of 11 and my eldest brother Byron Lee influenced me in a big way to want to play in a band, especially after seeing his performance outside RJR studios. I still remember that performance. While at Wolmers Boy’s School we started a band called the Dynamic Visions, this is when I got fully involved in music . At that point, I knew music would be my life.
Q: HOW WAS YOUR DECISION TO EXIT THIRD WORLD RECEIVED BY YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND BAND ?
At first I think some people were surprised and others were disappointed. It certainly was not an easy decision to make. My family respected my decision and supported me .
Q: CAN YOU COMPARE THE FEELING YOU GET NOW FROM WHAT YOU DO TO WHEN YOU PERFORMED IN FRONT OF A LARGE AUDIENCE AT CONCERTS ?
It is really two different situations and feelings . With Third World I was a drummer, musician and entertainer playing to the audience and entertaining them. When I do workshops, I am a music facilitator . It is not about me, it is about the participants. I am there to get the best out of the participants showing them how they can achieve the goals and at the same time inspiring, uplifting, uniting, motivating and energizing them. For me there is a sense of satisfaction when I see the joy and the smiles on the faces of the participant who were just transformed from being tired, stressed individuals to energized joyful beings. That is powerful.
Q: WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOU HAD THIS CALLING TO WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND THE COMMUNITY THROUGH MUSIC ?
While on tour with Third World, I visited many different schools. It was then that I realized how easy it was for me to communicate and relate with these children . But it was not until I did The Music Facilitators course in the United Kingdom that it became crystal clear to me that I wanted work with children, but not only children but also with the community that produced these children.
Q: TELL US ABOUT SOLUTIONS IN MUSIC ?
Solutions in Music was conceived in 2003 with a vision to introduce workshops to corporate America, Schools , Colleges, Universities, Hospitals and the general public.
After playing successfully with Third World, I had a desire to work with children and to give back to the community. I joined this desire with my love for percussion and used it as a vehicle to liberate and awaken natural rhythm that individuals never knew they had inside of them.
The workshops allow for people to connect with music, to connect with themselves and to connect with others .
Q: WHAT IS THE MAIN GOAL AND WHY DID YOU START IT ?
Solutions in Music aims to use music as an art form to promote a healthier lifestyle and provide workshops that improve the body, mind and soul .
In this time of economic recession people are under a lot of pressure and stress. Solution’s teambuilding/ stress reduction workshops creates a space/pause in people’s lives, a breath of fresh air to simply enjoy playing drums in a universal way communicating with each other in harmony.
In order to play the drums one has to stay present, you cannot be in the past because that is gone nor can you be in the future which has not yet come, you must stay in the present and focus in order not to lose that beat. That ability to stay present allows you to truly live and that in itself is a powerful thing.
Solutions provides variety of workshops and programs:-
- Teambuilding/stress reduction
- Introduction to percussion/Rhythms Around the world
- Rhythms of Africa Music Around the World
- History of Reggae Music
- On the Beat drum School
- Reggae Ambassadors
After 23 years travelling the world with Third World Band I realized that audiences wanted to participate in music. Solutions percussion workshops gives everyone a chance to fully participate.
Solutions is about keeping the arts in our schools, in our hearts and in our everyday lives . Art is a very important part/ element in developing the whole child.
The ultimate goal is to allow individuals to develop a space within themselves where they can feel and be part of a larger solution.
Q: DID YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THIRD WORLD AND TOURING THE GLOBE HELP YOU WITH SOLUTIONS IN MUSIC ?
Yes it did , it expanded my horizon I had the opportunity to meet people and share with people of different cultures. This was like the University of Life for me. These lessons were very powerful along with honing and developing my musical skills were building blocks which allowed me to build a sound foundation for the future .
Q: YOUR CV SAY YOU’RE A DRUM THERAPIST. WHAT IS A DRUM THERAPIST ?
It was Cheryl Wynter from The Jamaica Information Service who first called me a drum Therapist and the name stuck. I would say that the drum itself has great healing powers and by playing certain beats can actually heal you emotionally, physically and mentally. A lot of Studies have been done and the conclusion is that drumming reduces tension, stress, produces a deeper self awareness, creates a sense of connectedness with self and others, releases negative feeling connected with emotional trauma, places one in the present moment and provides a medium for self – realization.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR SINCE YOU STARTED SOLUTIONS IN MUSIC ?
(a) When I realized the power of the music to transform lives.
(b) When Solutions In Music presented Rhythms of Africa Music Around the World at the Miramar Cultural Center in February 27, 2010.
It was one of the most inspiring and motivating events. The interaction between the children who were performing and the audience was magic topped by the connection between the musicians and kids.
I was still feeling the thrill and excitement three weeks later.
( c ) On the Beat Drum School when my drum student Danny Vendrell who I taught for seven years won the 2010 prestigious International Larrie Londin Memorial Scholarship. I was humbled to know that he did it.
( d) When I did a Solutions teambuilding/stress reduction workshop for PBS WLRN film shoot with business people of Miramar .
Q: YOU HAVE PLAYED WITH SOME OF THE GREATEST MUSICIANS WHICH ONE HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE DURING FACE TO FACE CONVERSATION?
I would Say Eddy Grant , He is a one of a kind person, musician, friend and brother , He sticks by his believes and conviction and yet he is a profound speaker. He always finds the time to talk to you with truth and sincerity.
The knowledge that he departs and gives is always unique and motivating.
Q: WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON FOR 2011?
My Main Project and focus will be Rhythms Of Africa Music Around the World which will be presented October 14th & 15th 2011 at the Broward Performance Center Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
This Program was awarded a grant from the John S. and James L.Knight Foundation Knight Arts Challenge winners for 2010. The Program Is to “Celebrate African rhythms and history through percussion Classes for children and community performances. This new music program will acquaint Broward children with world music while enhancing their cognitive and creative possibilities. Rhythms of Africa, Music Around the World is a multi-dimensional workshop and live performance for teenagers with no previous musical training that places them on stage with professional musicians. By taking the audience on a musical journey from Nigeria to Ghana , through the Ivory Coast into Brazil, Cuba , New Orleans , Jamaica , Trinidad and culminates in Florida .
Rhythms of Africa is a musical odyssey framed in a seven-week workshop Ending with the highlight of the concert
I will also be working on a new album with some of my MUSICIANS OF THE HEART for release for 2011 and may be doing some of the jazz & blues concerts festival.
I will be expanding Solutions In Music teambuilding/stress reduction workshops National and International. My “ON THE BEAT DRUM SCHOOL “ WILL BE ON THE BEAT IN FULLSWING FOR 2011.
I will be working on the album project of my Daughter Leea Stewart who is an upcoming singer her stage name AKA “The Pop Princess “ and my son, Monea Stewart , who is a fantastic music Producer
Q: THANKS FOR SPENDING THE TIME WITH US. DO YOU HAVE ANY CLOSING THOUGHTS?
Drums is a gift to the world from our ancestors in Africa, the drums in Africa plays a very important role in community and everyday lives of our people, it represents spirituality , it is used for healing, communication, celebration, dance, etc. There is no reason why any human being should not experience the joy of playing drums at least once in their lives.
I just want to say thank you to Jamaicans.com for this interview and to encourage them to keep up the good work of keeping the people informed .
Please check out my website : http://www.solutionsinmusic.com and my You tube channel :- youtube.com/williamjlstewart .
“ LET’S KEEP THE ARTS GROWING AND LIVING IN OUR LIVES “