by Tom Durkin
Kwame “One 2” Green, a founding member and manager of the Milwaukee-based band Growing Nation, points out that “the Nation believes that the energy you give off, you get back.” At a live performance by Growing Nation, it is evident that many music fans are feeding off this energy. Growing Nation gigs attract crowds that are as diverse as their music. At a recent performance at the BBC, Growing Nation packed the upstairs room as they brought their musical vision to the stage. The diversity of Growing Nation’s music can be attributed largely to the fact that the group, since its inception in 1994, has grown to 11 regular members. Musical influences among Growing Nation members include, among others, Earth, Wind and Fire, Bob Marley, the Beatles, KRS-One, the Roots, Ella Fitzgerald, and Thelonius Monk. In their own joints, the band draws upon these influences to create a fusion of soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and rock. And while Aaron “ADI” Armour, founding member, producer, and lead singer, is the primary songwriter, everybody in the band contributes to the creative process. Green notes that “whether it be writing, producing, arranging songs, or putting together performances…we understand that everyone has different talents and ideas.” ADI clearly orchestrates the flow and movement of the band on stage. His outgoing personality is on display at every Growing Nation performance. ADI is engaging, and he induces participation from the audience, many of whom are familiar enough with the band’s material to jump right in. Like all the band members, ADI recognizes that the strength of Growing Nation is their collective talent. Lead female vocalist, Yetunde Bronson, who is backed by Kalli Holmes and Anitra Stampley, has a commanding stage presence and a soulful voice that can quiet a room. When Bronson sings, audience members strain to see where the voice is coming from. Chris “Pop Life” Lamont and Muhibb Dyer, an emcee and spoken word performer, respectively, bring a whole different flavor to the stage. Lamont, who occasionally is underused, has great chemistry with ADI on stage. Dyer, who was unable to make the recent BBC show, was recently profiled in the Currents and is a talented wordsmith with a knack for performing. At the end of the first set of the BBC performance, the vocalists exited while the musicians remained on stage. This brief jam session, which spotlighted Bryan Mir on bass, Joey Carini on guitar, Wesley McVicker on drums, and Andrei Chahine on keyboards, highlighted the musicians’ importance to Growing Nation. Their talent is often overshadowed by the Growing Nation singers, but the instrumentation in Growing Nation, in particular Mir’s clear, resonant bass lines, and McVicker’s subtle, jazzy drum play, compares favorably to the way The Roots incorporate rock guitar licks and various drumbeats into their music. Growing Nation wants their fans to not only hear their music, but to feel their positive vibe. Green explains Growing Nation’s philosophy: “We want people to feel something when they see or hear us. We believe that’s one of the things music is supposed to do… and that the Nation is supposed to do.” With their positive lyrics, talented musicians, and infectious personalities, Growing Nation achieves this goal. Whether you’re a long time fan or someone who is searching for positive, soulful, heartfelt music, Growing Nation is a band worth checking out. Growing Nation’s 2003 CD release, In Real Life, is loaded with original compositions, including “Take Me As I Am,” “Battle of the Mentals,” and “My Block,” which has received airplay in Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Growing Nation performs throughout Milwaukee, so keep your eyes open for upcoming performances.