Friday, 4 May 2012

#FindOutFriday with DJ Ronnie Herel!

...Ronnie Herel

So Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' just sold for $119.7M; and we're not talking Monopoly pesos either. I couldn't begin to fathom parting with all those zeros for painted works, no matter how iconic. Spending a hard-earned £450 in two days on my expanding CD collection was my naughtiest exploit; but that's only because to me Music is the most expressive form of Art that exists. I would always incur the wrath of friends for spending 'going out' money on my collection but you see, nights end, Music does not. What area of your life does Music not impact? What reaction can it not inspire? Not many, if at all; which is why for me landing this week's interview is the equivalent of dropping more zeros than my  glitterball Piggy Bank has ever seen.

I've been mulling over the direction of this week's feature for two months now, ever since I first took a shot in the dark and struck goldMore than ever, I wanted to make good use of a huge opportunity that just doesn't come around every day. Wasting the chance to grill an official 'Specialist' would be like ironing your favourite jeans fresh from the wash, only to find the remnants of the sole winning ticket to last month's $650M lottery jackpot...and then burning a hole in those jeans.

In trying to shape my questions to a true Goliath, I had to revert back to many a conversation with my own resident 'technician', for guidance. Lekhem is always asking me what message I take away from one project or another. The bottom line of every discussion is that in Music there is always an Education; for the Listeners, the Creators and the Players. So what other direction could I possibly take from a Musical Professor X, than to learn?

If Music is a Science, then Ronnie Herel has a brain that should be studied. Don your labcoats and goggles fellow students. Class is in Session...

Hi Ronnie! Welcome to #FindOutFriday! There is a LOT of ground I want to cover with you, so I’m going to dive straight in – hope you’re ready!

1. So you are a 23-year veteran in the DJ field. How would you define a ‘Specialist’ and at what point do you think you became one?

Hello thanks for having me on #FOF! A specialist DJ has a certain expertise on a specific genre of music. My main genre being R&B. I was brought up with blues and soul music in my household with my dad listening to, amongst others, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, BB King, Joe Tex & Aretha Franklin. When I started listening to radio shows as a kid, it was the likes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Patrice Rushen, Frankie Beverley & Maze, EW&F & Heatwave who pricked up my ears and made me want to investigate further into music. That’s also a specialist trait…to want to really dig deep into the music you love and inspires you. Who produced the tune? Who played on the album? How quick can I get the whole album? All typical specialist DJ questions! I have to emphasise just because you’re a specialist, in my case a specialist R&B DJ, it doesn't mean I don’t love other fields of music. When I'm spinning in a club, Hip Hop, House, Dancehall and on the odd occasion Drum & Bass all get championed on the decks.

The turning point in me becoming a specialist soul / R&B DJ was when I ran my first club residency (The KAT KLUB Every Friday Night @ Bar Rumba) in the West End in 93 / 94 just on the cusp of The Golden mid 90s era of R&B.

Happy Dayz :)

2. As a long time listener of yours, I don’t think there’s an area of R&B that you don’t love; but I would say you have a definite special place for NeoSoul. Are you surprised that what seemingly started out as a niche genre, has lasted this long? Who really defines it for you, who’s keeping it going and who are you tipping to take NeoSoul into its next Era?

No I’m not surprised at all. An absolute quality of acts like Jill Scott, D’angelo, Omar, Maxwell, Terri Walker, Erykah Badu, Eric Roberson, Ledisi, Marsha Ambrosius, Musiq Soulchild, India Arie & Anthony’s David & Hamilton, these artists have fuelled the NeoSoulfire and should be a lot bigger but because of the way mainstream radio and music television is programmed in the UK, it will always be niche. The aforementioned talent defines NeoSoul and the heaviness never stop coming through thankfully. There is a lot of exciting talent that’ll break through but my hot tip is Daley to fly the UK NeoSoul flag in 2012 and beyond…Watch this space!

3. One of my favourite things about you is how approachable you are. I remember fun twitter and on-air chats over a certain Flaxen-haired Favourite of mine, long before we met professionally. Is there an A-Lister from your interview roster who intimidated you prior to meeting them?

No one has ever intimidated me. If anything I’ve probably unwittingly intimidated them but I’ve always had fun on the radio during my interviews. Prior to meeting them, I heard a few stories about both Erykah Badu & Mary J Blige being a little bit scary but they were both lovely and a real joy to speak with and interview. Big up the Mariah Carey family, by the way!

4. Without getting yourself into hot water, can you tell me about an occasion where a live interview absolutely did not go to plan?

Ronnie at R1Xtra (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Thankfully to this day I’ve never had anything go wrong in my interviews. I guess that makes me the ultimate professional or just damn lucky!

5. I talked to Female DJ Takeover Pioneer, Melody Kane recently about taking DJ skills out of clubs and making them work in a radio setting. How easy did you find the transition when you first started out and was there anything in particular you had to overcome?

I didn't find the club to radio transition difficult at all. I just tried to apply what I did in clubs, which was entertaining the dance-floor into entertaining the listener. My tunes are the tools, It’s in my hands to decipher what a great club record is, what a great radio record is, or both, and to use those tools accordingly.

6. How did you become the ‘Ambassador of Urban Music’ and what exactly does it entail, for those unfamiliar?

Uptown Records (1997)
Photo courtesy of
Over the years I've been involved in making music, breaking music by playing it 1st. Whether it be via presenting on the radio, DJ-ing in clubs. Trying to help artists break through wherever possible. I spent 15 years of my life selling records of new up-coming artists behind the counter of an independent record store (Co-Director of Uptown Records) in London’s West End. So through various write-ups in magazines about me, I've been tagged as an “Ambassador for Urban music”. I guess the label kinda stuck but I find it rewarding to contribute to the music that I love whenever and however I can so if the shoe fits…

7. I got quite a surprise reading your bio; ‘Ronnie Herel – Actor’ is not a side of you that I’m familiar with! Can you tell me a bit more about your non-musical screen exploits? Will we be seeing you in anything new?

I was a DJ extra on the BBC drama Baby Father a long time ago (non speaking). In Holby City, I appeared in an episode playing the love interest of 'Donna Jackson' played by the lovely Jaye Jacobs. I had a speaking and a rather enjoyable snogging part in that episode. Nothing planned on-screen at the moment but who knows what the future holds.

8. Your life seems to be music, it’s in every public thing you do; what would you be doing had the bug not bitten you?

My life is music period. I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing otherwise. It’s like saying what would you listen to if music wasn’t invented. Impossible for me to answer. Sorry.

9. Your talents have taken you the World-over. You have received countless nominations and awards in recognition of your contribution to music and spent (arguably) more time with celebrities than Jenny Craig and Betty Ford Clinic staff combined...What would you say has been your career-defining moment so far?

Interviewing my hero Stevie Wonder twice have been my career-defining moments so far. I interviewed him firstly in Philadelphia for Live8 after his finale performance, then I interviewed him again a few weeks later backstage at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London. I asked him to do a snippet of 'As' on his keyboard and he broke into full song. I thought I was in some sort of AMAZING dream. Incredible moment!

10. I always take a lot away from your weekly BBC R1Xtra slot. If there was a Ronnie Herel University of Music, what fundamentals would be on your core syllabus?

Well I’m actually taking piano lessons at the moment (Grade 5 theory and practical) so I would actually put music lessons Grade 1 to 8 high up on the syllabus.

Photo courtesy of
I think it’s imperative you learn your craft properly. Enjoying the process whatever avenue you choose is paramount. Singing, songwriting, playing an instrument, producing, MC-ing, DJing, Dancing & Sequencer Programming would all be on the syllabus. And very importantly the key whilst you’re still learning is experience so I’d make sure that was also made available.

The 'RH Uni of Music' sounds good, by the week...

If EVER there were a class not to chuck a 'sicky' in - This. Was. It.   

How many of you are trying to remember Baby Father scenes right now? Ronnie Herel, I Thank You Sir! I love every feature I do for different reasons, but this was truly one of my personal favourites - it was an Honour!

Make sure you catch Ronnie's Specialist Surgery every Monday night on BBC's Radio 1Xtra, from 10PM-1AM; breaking the BEST in new R&B, talking to the biggest names in the game!

Keep in touch via his Social Media Catalogue:

Visit his Website for the latest Music News - you never know who you might run into over at The Soulquarium Blog...

Don't forget to raise your cyber hand and share your thoughts on this week's class. Based on what Ronnie says, if like Yours Truly, you prefer physical purchases over downloads, so that you can  sit and read the inlay and lyrics, track-by-track; then you can have a 'Specialist' area - even as a listener. What's yours? What form of expression would make YOU drop serious coin?

See you for the next one (if not sooner)!
ES ;)