Friday, November 27, 2020
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
Originally Posted: 12-20-2013 5:09 PM
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I first met Kareemah El-Amin about a year after I came back to Benton Harbor. With a stand-out name one can't forget in a small town, I heard about her work as a playwright who had made a DVD called "Lockdown Legacy" about the prison system, after fine tuning the work through several theater performances.

When we finally crossed paths at a charity event, she was strikingly tall, flamboyantly dressed, with big hair and an even bigger persona. Warm while cool, she told me she needed to contact me about a project she wanted to work on with me.

And then she did.

That last sentence gets its own paragraph because the number of times people rush up to me to say they'll contact me but never follow through, is significant. Almost everyone in Southwest Michigan is all talk, no walk. That's just the way it's always been, but it's also part of what makes "doers" actually stand out like shining stars.

Thankfully, Kareemah El-Amin is ALL walk, and we became quick friends as I recorded several episodes of a radio docudrama called "Southern Girl In The City", featuring her ensemble cast from "Lockdown Legacy". It was sort of a Christopher Guest type troupe in the making, and we all had a lot of fun doing reads and tracking with full cast. As soon as we were finished, they went straight to her weekly radio show. Her writing was always good, creative, and filled with subtle humor.

One of the other things I always think about when I think of Kareemah is her eyes. They truly are the windows to her soul, and when she's happy and open, they become pools of depth and joy like few people I've ever met. As a result, she's always been equally fun to tease too. Watching wheels turn while loading up her next witty retort is definitely the best part.

Once she completed her radio season for pitching, we usually ran into one another here and there around the Arts District. And as chance had it, we could also see each other from our respective third floor windows. From about 60 yards away, we were sight-line neighbors.

I often called her late at night when I saw her light on and noticed her activity on Facebook. Single, night owl, creative types are always good for a nocturnal phone call, as long as you know you aren't waking them up, right?

One winter, as a way of bringing a little holiday cheer to the Arts District, I set up a 10-foot, illuminated, Rankin-Bass authentic Frosty The Snowman looking out of the studio's tracking room window. It also happened to directly face Kareemah's 3rd floor apartment. So I called her up about 1am, and she answered the caller ID in a mock-aggravated voice:

"Look out your window", I said, in a serial killer-type voice.
"I am NOT looking out my window, who knows what you'll do!" she laughed.
"Look out your window Kareemah..." I repeated.
"No way!"
"The window..." I repeated. "It's calling your name... Kareemah... You. Know. You. Want. To. Look..."
"I don't know what you're doing but you better be dressed!", she huffed.

A few seconds passed and when she looked over the snowy expanse, she saw 10-foot illuminated Frosty dancing and waving at her across the Arts District snowglobe and burst out laughing: "YOU ARE NOT RIGHT!"



After she moved to Lansing a few years ago, I only caught a few glimpses of what she was up to on Facebook, until she called me in October, excited to involve me in a new project. She was planning to release a Gospel EP, having converted from her Muslim faith around the time she left Benton Harbor, and she wanted to have me cut her vocals and mix the project.

True to being the Kareemah El-Amin I'd always known, she asked for my availability and wanted to get started in about a month. She was ready to make some music together. We locked in a date, she made flight arrangements to bring her gospel singer friend Carmen Calhoun in from the Washington D.C. area to sing a duet, and we were set. That's what it's like when artists have it together. It's just that easy.

Kareemah told me she was working with Stellar award winner Matthew Brownie from Indianapolis on the music production and that he would be sending me the tracks when finished. "And by the way", she said, "he thinks he knows you".

Come to find out, Matthew was the little 6-year old always playing the drums at Immanuel Recording Studios, the first studio I ever trained at as a teen engineer. His father, Mike Brownie helped me cut my teeth and enabled me to produce my first songs that were subsequently taken to New York and launched my career with Columbia Records. So it seemed once again that the world always gets smaller when things get serious. Kareemah was doing things the smart way, dealing with pros all around and bringing them all together from Lansing to D.C. to Indianapolis to me here in Benton Harbor. I loved the way this was shaping up.

Next the songs arrived. Matthew's tracks were great, punchy, economically-arranged little gospel/pop gems. Kareemah's songwriting was solid, and as she started cutting her vocals in the studio, her voice really sounded great. She had been holding out on me the whole time she knew me! I couldn't believe it!

As I ribbed her to no end about keeping her abilities a secret, I discovered she had pursued a singing career most of her life but when she moved to Benton Harbor, she abandoned it. Turned it off. And as anyone who's ever pursued a music career knows, once you're given a musical talent, it's like being bitten by a vampire. You just can't "decide" to be normal again. As I've seen over and over from others who've tried, putting music away only breaks your heart, or, it resurfaces, as it had with Kareemah--this time as a Gospel artist, expressing her passion and commitment to her faith.

Similar to what I noticed about her eyes, this project is making the whole Kareemah bloom. Conceived and recorded in under two months, the tracks were a beautiful surprise from a fellow artist who creates as effortlessly as most people breathe. That makes her the real deal. Thanks Kareemah, let's go all the way with this one!

Dave Carlock
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