By Neil Armstrong
|Singer-songwriter, Robert Ball. Photo contributed|
Singer-songwriter, Robert Ball, knew he always wanted to be an artist – from as far back as coming out of his mother’s womb all he remembered wanting to do was to become a visual artist. It was his passion.
He attended Claude Watson School for the Arts and the arts program at Earl Haig Secondary School, both in Toronto, where he was a visual arts major.
Around age 11 or 12, two significant moments piqued his interest further.
“One, I remember watching Rachelle Ferrell perform on the Grammys a tribute to Patti LaBelle. I said that’s what I want to do. And then also I was singing along and recorded myself to Boyz II Men and Des’ree, and a friend of mine came over and heard my tapes and was just completely in awe. And that’s when something clicked,” says Ball.
At about age 18 during his last year of high school he realized that this is the profession that he should pursue. This was also the time that he got his first paid gig as well.
Ball, who is 36 and the son of a Jamaican mother and an African Canadian father with deep roots in Canada’s black history, has been performing for 18 years.
He recently released his six-track EP “Need” in Toronto and has been promoting it in various media.
His smooth vocals caress the genres of soul, neo-soul, jazz, easy listening but he’s not limited to only those.
“I think organically that’s where I fit, if we have to put a label on it. I love all genres of music. I, as a working singer, sing all genres of music but as an artist that’s where it kind of seems to fit. My voice naturally has a soulful element to it, but I do have jazz sensibilities. And I think in the merging of those is where kind of the new soul or neo-soul has come out of anyway, and so I’ve found myself there.”
Ball says he writes and sings from his heart and his life journey.
“The new single and EP stem from the thrill of meeting someone special for the first time – the love, passion, even heartbreak and eventually flourishing from experience. This project is true to the heart for anyone who has been in love. I’ve taken my time to get it right – it’s been my labour of love,” he says on his website.
Expounding on it being a “labour of love,” – it took three years -- the singer-songwriter says it has been hard, has been a process, and he is passionate about the music.
Now that the EP is out, his love for it has grown and even at times when he was frustrated and wondering about the process, “that love for it and that need to get it out there just kept sitting on me.”
In 2011, he released his debut EP “Robert L.A. Ball” to celebrate his 30th birthday because he had been working for a long time as a singer but didn’t have his own project.
The majority of the songs on his new EP “Need” were written in London, England for a month.
“It was the first time in a long time I just had time, time with myself, and so a lot of emotions were able to come up. I was able to process certain things. And I’m the kind of writer, typically, I get melody, lyric, everything, so I hear it all. Sometimes, I just get the first verse and chords and I have to sit down and kind of work it. Sometimes, I hear from beginning to end. I hear all of the harmonies, all of the background vocals, melody, lyric, bridge course -- the whole thing. And then I sit down with a musician and we kind of hash out the instrumentation behind it.”
He would write in the evenings, which is when he’s best at processing things and being most creative.
Ball works on a cruise ship that provides him a stable, consistent gig for a certain number of months. He is part of the production cast on the main stage with a full orchestra.
“But at the same time, as a freelance singer, you’re always hustling, you’re always trying to find the next opportunity, so you’re always working, you’re always thinking,” he says, noting that he’s always thinking about the next opportunity after the contract aboard the ship ends.
Describing himself as a workaholic, Ball says while in London he was out networking and finding other opportunities.
The production of “Need” was a collaborative project.
He performed on a cruise ship in Scandinavia -- the bulk of the tracks were recorded on the ship, the band is from Jamaica, the single, “Breathe,” was recorded in Toronto; it was mixed and mastered by a producer in Toronto with additional guitar by a musician in Connecticut. The engineer on the ship was from England.
There is also a music video for the single “Breathe” which was recorded in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, The Bahamas, and Mexico.
On his father’s side, Ball is six generations Black Canadian. His great-great-great grandfather came to Canada through the Underground Railroad and settled in the Windsor-Chatham area of Ontario.
“One of his sons married a British woman, one of his sons [Richard A. Ball] became a prominent minister and was the first minister of the BME [British Methodist Episcopal] in Windsor, who is also I think the first or the most significant pastor of the BME in Toronto, which was recently excavated,” says Ball who along with his father over the last 5-10 years have used available technology to research the family’s history.
His sister’s and brother’s families currently attend the church that their great-great grandfather founded in Windsor.
Years ago, Ball performed at the new building of the BME in Toronto and didn’t put together the links to his family until he mentioned to someone that his surname was Ball and they realized it.
His mother is from Black River, St. Elizabeth and went to high school in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She immigrated to Canada in 1973.
After his “Need” EP project got underway, Ball started recording some jazz songs and was planning to release them. Now, he’s thinking of making it an entire project and getting back into the studio to finish recording it.
“I’ve so much other music that I’ve written and I’m already thinking about which songs I will start recording next, and getting funding towards doing that project.”
He says it won’t be another three to six years wait for another project, he wants to keep the momentum going.
[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Star, July 6-12, 2017 issue.]