Aaron Nigel Smith eagerly awaits Grammy Awards
Aaron Nigel Smith and his wife — high school sweethearts — wrote down life goals in their younger days, and stuffed them into little pillows.
Every five years or so, they'll pull out the pillows and look at the goals.
Smith, a renowned family and children's musician from the Portland area, said he can happily check off goals as being accomplished — except for one, winning a Grammy Award.
It could be a reality sooner rather than later.
"I'd always imagined winning and wondering what I'd say," said Smith, who lives in Tigard, after previously living in Lake Oswego. "It would be the manifestation of my dreams."
Smith and fellow musicians — the 1 Tribe Collective — have been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Children's Music Album for their collaborative family music album "All One Tribe," which they made through Smith's Aya World Productions label.
The 25-track compilation project was released on Juneteenth 2021 and distributed by iconic label Tuff Gong International, formed by the late Bob Marley, and it celebrates the rich culture and diversity Black voices bring to family music.
It features 24 family music artists from across the country.
"The 1 Tribe Collective and this album are historic. This project represents the dreams and hopes of our people. It's an incredible honor to work with so many voices representing the rich diversity of Black and brown artists," Smith said.
Smith and his fellow artists in the 1 Tribe Collective had planned to attend the Grammy celebrations in Los Angeles on Jan. 31. But, it had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grammy Awards have been rescheduled for April 3 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Smith plans to be there, and he hopes many of the artists will be able to attend as well, including the other Portland artist featured on "All One Tribe," Robbi Hall Kumalo ("Robbi K").
"We are doing our best to get every Tribe member who'd like to go into the Grammys," he said. "We're hoping all of them are there to witness this historical moment. It'll be more than fun. It'll be a party, a jamboree if you will.
"It feels wonderful to be acknowledged by the academy and peers."
It's Smith's first Grammy nomination. He has put out seven children's albums and has been a member of The Recording Academy since 2005. Some members of the 1 Tribe Collective — Alphabet Rockers, Pierce Freelon, Melanie DeMore — have received Grammy nominations in the past. "If I'm honest," Smith said, "I feel a couple (of my albums) have been worthy."
Smith contributed the song "March Together," featuring Shine & the Moonbeams, to the project, which Smith and co-producers Amelia Robinson and Shawana "Shine" Kemp put together in four months during the pandemic.
Songs take on many topics, everything from skin color and "kinky" hair to historical figures, STEM and vaccinations. "We believe we do it palatable, relatable and educational," Smith said. "I've stopped calling myself a children's artist, because it's more for families. We're creating music for families." A video has been made, and can be seen on YouTube, for the title track "One Tribe," sung by various artists; Smith and Kumalo took part.
"This is a historic album … I've never seen a recording that featured 24 to 26 Black and brown artists doing music for children," Smith said. The Recording Academy made a concerted effort to diversify Grammy Awards nominees, including in the children's/family category; Smith said Black and minority artists have been underrepresented in the past.
All the entries in the category this year are led by Black or Latino musicians.
"We've made a lot of progress in a short amount of time," Smith said.
In a meeting, it was discovered that a second Portland resident was also a contributor to the project. Kumalo moved to Portland in recent years.
Smith was delighted to meet Kumalo, who has sung behind the likes of Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross in the past. She has been a children's/family musician for many years, often singing in different languages. (Her husband has played bass behind Paul Simon).
Kumalo moved west from New York City after touring abroad, then settled in with a friend in The Dalles and eventually came to Northeast Portland. She has been dealing with some health issues — multiple sclerosis — and her eyesight has been failing. When she heard about the "All One Tribe" project, she gladly agreed to take part.
She provided the song "Set It Free" from the 1990s, which includes children's voices, including her daughter's. Kumalo sings chorus lines on the song.
"I was attempting to collaborate and record with other people, but I had lost my vision, which has made it tough," she said. "I'm used to being an independent artist."
Of the album, she added: "I've listened to it completely, we all put it together, we listened to each other's songs … poured into the project as best as we could. We all met each other where we're at. To reach back to where I was (in the '90s), was challenging. I had to make sure I saw a therapist; a lot of emotions came up."
Like Smith, Kumalo knows most, if not all, the artists on "All One Tribe," including Uncle Devin and Culture Queen.
For her, "this is such a rebirth, a God's blessing to say I have another 40 years to sing," she said.
Smith revels in the making of "All One Tribe" and the notoriety that comes with a nomination in the Grammy Awards.
"Each one of us has our own entity and brand, and we coordinated with managers, producers …," he said. "When I got to listen to the master, I was full of emotion. It was mind-blowing to see what we've accomplished with a lot of moving parts."
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