The art (general)
“Good things come to those who wait; better things come to those who don’t….” – Derek Johnson
Born in London, England to Jamaican parents, Derek Johnson (aka Musicalist) has been pro-active in the arts most of his life. His primary instruments are: guitar, advanced drum-programming, global flutes and electric bass. He is also a seasoned composer, record producer and a leading specialist in the teaching of live ensemble work and the business of music.
Derek started his recording career in 1981 at sixteen with the celebrated UK group Loose Ends. Over the years, as well as composing for film and theatre, he has worked with over 360 international artists.
Sessions have taken him to over forty countries working with creatives as varied as:
Mali: Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, Kassé Mady Diabaté, Alpha Ousman Sankaré, Amadou Barré….
Jamaica: Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Gyptian, Marcia Griffiths, Ijahman Levi, Luciano, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Lee “Scratch” Perry, George Nooks, Queen Ifrica, Mighty Diamonds, John Holt, Turbulence, Cornell Campbell, Earl 16, The Ethiopians, Max Romeo, Linval Thompson, Ninjaman, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, Jah Mason, Michael Prophet, Scientist, Sugar Minott, Dennis Walks, Justin Hinds, the Twinkle Brothers, Johnny Clarke, African Head Charge, Frankie Paul, Mikey Spice, Ken Boothe, Leroy Sibbles….
UK: Caron Wheeler, Asheber & the Afrikan Revolution, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Eternal, Steel Pulse, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Dub Asante, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Mica Paris, the Brodsky String Quartet, Amy Newton, Amaziah, Ray Carless, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Cleveland Watkiss, Loose Ends, Soul II Soul, Lioness Chant, Empress Ayeola, Tunde Jegede, HKB FiNN, Tippa Irie, Sona Jobarteh, Akala, Orphy Robinson, Bitty McLean, Nu Flowah, Maka B, The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, Natty, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Kevin Haynes, the Soothsayers, Temba Theatre Company with Benjamin Zephaniah….
Gambia: Sambou Suso, Jally Kebba Susso, Tata Din Din, Juldeh Camara, Wali Cham, Kumba Kuyateh….
Guinea: Mosé Condé….
Guyana: Mad Professor….
USA: Ultranaté, Salt ’n’ Pepa, Meshel Ndegeocello, Dana Dawson, Leon Ware, Shorty Rogers, Slim Gaillard, Olivia Flowers….
Cape Verde/Portugal: Carmen Souza….
Nigeria: Tony Allen, Q, Wumni, Adesose Wallace & Ibile….
Poland: Trebunie Tutkie….
Ghana: Pauline Oduro….
South Africa: Sonti Mndebele, Bheki Mseleku, Eugene Skeef….
France: Lord Kossity, Suprême NTM, Sai-Sai, Ton-Ton David….
Belgium: Panache Culture
Drawing from his extensive experiences, he has developed the production sound Blu-Dub – consisting largely of the inspired foundation of his Jamaican heritage; the Acoustic Blues sentiments of the American South; and the ancestral spirit of the nomadic musicians from West African – all this is encapsulated in the relentless, driving pulse of the modern-day London experience he was raised in. (See collaborations with artist HKB FiNN on the album Spoken Herbs for examples.)
The educational work
“It has never been more important than now to nurture innovation and excellence in both individual expression and group projects by using holistic techniques that encourage effective, professional practices – for life.” – Derek Johnson
Derek has been a leading educator in music, the business of music and management since 1989, teaching more than 7000 individuals in several leading universities and institutions in the UK and abroad. He has designed and run courses from “Level 2” (B-TEC and NVQ), to Post Graduate. Institutions that have employed his skills include: Westminster University (six years), the MIDI Music Company, Kingston University, Bristol University, City University (nine years), City Business School (now the Sloan Business School – six years) and the Academy of Contemporary Music (five years). Derek has also designed and managed many inner city projects for urban development organisations such as Prevista and the Cultural Industries Development Agency (CIDA), as well as for six London borough councils, leading courses for young and ex-offenders and youths with special needs. International engagements have included lectures and workshops in Slovakia, in France; the University of The Gambia; the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland and the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo, Malaysia.
One of his specialist areas in education is a particular, holistic approach to instructing live, ensemble performance, which has shown astonishing results circa 1996. Linked to this approach, he was in The Gambia in January/February 2011 where he started his “Grassroots Academy of Music for Africa” (GAMA). This is a unique outreach model that works with contemporary, performance artists in their own villages and neighbourhoods at very low cost, giving the participants both creative and music business advice on the spot. He began the same initiative in Dakar, Senegal in June 2011.
As a self-professed “Cultural Galvaniser”, Derek is deeply passionate about the celebration of cultural expression and education from the root up. Partly to help this, he has developed a system he calls Root-Level Thinking (RLT); a process that helps any learner (in any subject) to problem-solve, negotiate and plan for future options, and do so with ease. All of this is based on unequivocal, building blocks and value systems intrinsic to human behavioural patterns that have proved universal for centuries; from here, more unique systems can be developed for particular environments, group dynamics and finally, useful individualism.
Since 2014, Derek has been concentrating more on teaching these holistic approaches worldwide; his aim is to help bring about more fruitful indigenous music and music education industries, feeding global culture as a result.
In addition to his educational work, Derek has begun what he calls Strategy Consultancy, which prepares any industry professional to conduct their business more efficiently based on their personal value system and stand alone codes that are proven to work in the music business. One, key role of the SC is to help clients decipher and construct contracts of all kinds and encourage them to develop sharp negotiation skills in general.
The Roots of Our Game: Decoding the Culture and Philosophies that Built and Drive the Music Industry (completion: 2016).
This is an 800-page study of human behaviour, culture and the history of the music industry, rooted in the deep-seated philosophies that have influenced its evolution from its inception. It covers all the major areas of art and business through chapters that include: the nature of creativity itself; the nature of artist management; the cultural importance of the popular song; the historical (and current) life of the artist; business contracts (how to read them and why we use them); the culture of ownership; the development of the industrial mind-state (that enabled our music world to become a business); observations on the culture of marketing; the foundations of modern music publishing (starting c.1745 to the present); a study of the psyche and operations of record companies; and the holistic future of the music industry (beyond the limited discussions of the Internet, piracy and “falling” audio sales).
Within the chapters, the author negotiates the dynamics of disparate, underlying themes intrinsic to shaping our music business such as: migration, rapid urbanisation and general demographics; the ongoing “war” between the objective planning of business folk “versus” the subjective processing of artistic ones; timely, technological breakthroughs; wars and natural occurrences that all impacted populations en masse; individual versus communal value systems within cultural expression; as well as many other key issues – particularly pertaining to the creativity and business of African America….
Throughout The Roots of Our Game, Derek is not just concerned with revealing what people do in our business, he also emphasises why the various industry professionals (as groups) do what they do, and makes suggestions on how the information from the book can be made useful to individual careers and large companies alike, thus helping to nudge our music world of business into an arena housing a more healthy outlook.
Personal, artistic work
Apart from being an integral part of the London-based, holistic ensemble, Afrikan Revolution – a collective of teachers and musicians – as well as the international session band Dub Asante, Derek features in a new documentary by film-maker Sunara Begum called Truth & Art. The work gives an insight into the makings of his creative life and general philosophies. (DVD release: Winter, 2015.)
As the artist, Musicalist, Derek has returned to the studio to record an album of solo, acoustic guitar pieces themed around folk roots influences of the world, celebrating the triumph of the human spirit. This work is partly centred on the experiences of Africans in the Diaspora and also embraces issues closely related to universal human conditions more generally. Some of the material here is inspired by “hidden histories” detailed in his book, The Roots of Our Game. The project was recorded in the U.K., Greece, the U.S.A. and Cape Verde and will be available early 2016.