Ten years ago, musician Winston Damon would have said he was influenced by jazz, rock, and funk. Today he names Brazilian, African, Balinese, East Indian, and Afro-Cuban music as his favorites. He says he felt straitjacketed playing Western pop. It started to seem too stiff and confining. "The cerebralness, the disconnection, the ego put me off," says the 29-year-old Damon. "People seemed to relate to music like football rather than making love. It was more like competition than community. The primal element was missing."
After performing in bands like the Drovers, the Buffalo Grove native became well-known in local clubs as a one-man band, playing percussion, trombone, electric cello or piano, and singing simultaneously. Through his collaborations with dance companies, poets, and theater groups, he was exposed to music from different parts of the world and got hooked on melodies that were "more sensual than linear."
Last year Damon formed the band Ulele, which he says means happy in Hawaiian, run happily in Zulu, and jump high in Tongan. The group includes five percussionists, three vocalists, and Damon on kalimba, electric cello, and trombone. Their sound has been called "Afro-Caribbean punk," but Damon thinks it can be summed up more simply as dance music. "Some people might call what we do world pop, but I think it's very American," he says. "Not in a patriotic way, but in the way of including all the Americas. Everything is influencing each other in a melting pot."
Damon now wants Ulele to reach as many people as possible. "My intent is to be an innovator, but not in a way where somebody would say, "Wow, that sounds like a smart person wrote that.' I want people to feel my music, not necessarily think about it. I want to get through to everybody and open them up somehow."
Winston Damon and Ulele will perform this Sunday as part of "Muse, Music, and Moves," a benefit for the Guild Complex. The program also includes poet Gwendolyn Brooks and the Alyo Children's Dance Theatre. It takes place from 5 to 8 PM at the Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark; tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door (children get in for $5). For reservations or information, call 278-2210.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.