There’s a deceptively simple joy in the music of soul singer-songwriter Zawadi Noel. At a recent Brooklyn show, the New York-via-Washington D.C. musician pulled off the tricky feat of uplifting the audience without wading into maudlin waters that trip up other performers. Maybe it’s the childhood years spent living all over the world, but both onstage and on his recently released debut EP Waiting Room, Noel displays an earnest empathy to connect with listeners, destroying the wall between artist and audience.
“I have realized that it is my duty to make music that speaks to people’s hearts, to their fears, to truths we struggle with,” he says. “It is the music I have always searched for.”
Waiting Room builds on Prince’s synth-dripped funk-pop-rock fusion on tracks like “Waiting,” where optimism and liveliness collide. “With You” and “Morning Call” could be lost Bill Withers B-sides, while “In Love” is a neo-soul gem.
But it’s “Panic,” a song about trying to stay optimistic when overwhelmed by stress, that stands out for its buoyant, spirited propulsiveness. “The pressure, the pressure, the pressure, the pressure to relax,” Noel sings with a soulful urgency. “I can’t do that.”
“Panic is a song about recognizing that overwhelming feeling that sometimes swallows us up; our anxieties,” Noel tells Rolling Stone. “The song calls out the illusion of these inner struggles, and more importantly what we can do to overcome them. At the end of the song, the lyrics prescribe how to quiet the noise around us and in our heads, and through patience and stillness find clarity, solutions, and peace of mind.
“One my favorite aspects of Panic is the use of water and fire to represent whatever obstacles we struggle with,” he adds. “Throughout the verses, the song paints pictures of these elements’ destructive natures, and how they both consume us so quickly and easily. By the end of the song it explores how when these elements meet they can counter each other. In its simplest form, the song is saying that whatever you are going through, whatever space you are in, there is an answer in there with you just waiting to be seen.”
As a teacher and cartoonist, Noel has published two art education books and storyboarded numerous music videos; creative skills that both drove him to record his own music and inspire others. “As an artist, I aim to create visual works that are both aesthetically striking and conceptually thought-provoking, while exploring ideas of diversity, understanding and acceptance,” he says. “As a teaching artist, I challenge young people to develop their craft, respect the art form and each other.” Noel will embark on a mini-tour with John Forté next month beginning January 9th at Washington D.C.’s City Winery.
“This is the first body of work that is exclusively my creation,” Noel says of Waiting Room. “It encompasses all of the styles of music I love and sends a message of self-discovery and self-reflection; a message I truly believe in.”