Justin Hines’ Days has come


Story:Lenny Stoute

Justin Hines has such heavy cred as an activist and role model it’s easy to forget he’s also a working musician. Which is why he’s on the line from Massachusetts and pretty pumped. Current album, Days To Recall, marks his debut release in the US market, courtesy of the iconic Decca label (yes retro heads, they’re back) and dude’s on a promo tour working the album to radio. In the US media positive comparisons with Jason Mraz are popping up and that’s a good thing.

“I feel very honoured because Decca are very choosy about their artists and have a very solid reputation. They went to the trouble of coming up here (Toronto) to see me perform and I guess they liked what they saw. It’s just so amazing.

“ The radio tour is going really well. Many people are hearing me for the first time so it’s fresh. The songs are all very relatable and if there's a theme, it’s one of music as healer and that too is very relatable”.

Relatable is something Justin Hines knows loads about. This is the dude who turned a song, Say What You Will, into the launching pad for a campaign to help build schools and to further youth education in South Africa.

At the core of it all, the song’s very relatable lyrics, which inspired South African producer Bronwyn Nel, who felt Say What You Will would resonate profoundly with her community, to remix the song with the Seta/Siyaya Learner Choir and the Keynote Acapella Group.

This prompted Justin’s film crew to head to South Africa to shoot the music video. Not only did they capture the struggles and challenges of the people at schools like Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Foundation’s 7 Fountains, Despatch Primary and St. Elizabeth Primary Schools, the crew’s interaction with the South African children became the stimulus for Justin’s “Say What You Will” campaign.

The new video, broadcast on South African TV during the World Cup, perpetuates the “whiteboard” concept that made the original domestic version so popular. People candidly expressed their innermost feelings for the camera by writing on a whiteboard, pairing a simple and powerful song with a simple and powerful video that was extraordinarily optimistic and honest. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu created his own whiteboard message of hope for the video.

“ That took on a life of its own and I’m glad to say it’s still going strong. I visited some of the original schools involved in the program and it was very encouraging to see the progress. The idea is spreading to other communities and while for now it's still centered in South Africa, we’re hoping it will spread to other countries”.
The South Africa remix appears as a bonus track on Days To Recall.

Throughout the talk, Hines responds with a mix of thoughtfulness, humility and the contagious enthusiasm he seems to put out non-stop. Whether it be the new album, his recent PBS special or the Justin Hines Foundation, he brings a positive focus to all of it.

The Foundation’s mandate, to focus on abilities rather than disabilities, carries heavy cred coming from Hines. Born with Larsen’s syndrome and confined to a wheelchair, he’s has nonetheless risen and soared far above that confinement, soaring on the wings of song.

So with Hines, there’s no question it’s all about the song. While he deploys a distinctive soulful tenor in the service of the tunes, Days To Recall finds him reaching out to other voices with specific songs, including Jill Hennessey, The Canadian Tenors, Ron Sexsmith and fast-rising Winnipeg vocalist Sierra Noble. It’s a step outside and indicative of a growing confidence level in the song writing skills.

“ The songs come first; once I had them down I began to look at what other artists might bring to some. Ron (Sexsmith) and I have been admirers of each other’s work for a long time so working together was an easy fit. Sierra opened for us in Winnipeg and I thought she was great. She has the kind of style I thought would fit on Now There’s You and it worked out.”
One of the album highlights is Tell Me I’m Wrong, done as a duet with actress/singer Jill Hennessey and open-ended enough to cross over onto Country radio, no small thing in the US.

Justin brings the Days To Recall concert to Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre Oct.21 and it promises to be a performance milestone for both Hines and the Toronto audience. The songs are tailored to showcase the array of stylistic approaches the man brings to his vocals, in particular the powerhouse parts which demonstrate the range and control that could put him on Broadway one day. Plus, he’s already honed the show razor sharp for the PBS special so the T.Dot house will be catching the A-game.

It’s been a time of rapid change and travel for Justin Hines as his recognition factor and its collateral influence spread. Ask him what is the most satisfying and he blows by all that and goes deep.

“ That I have the opportunity to keep on doing what I’m doing, making music that is affecting, that people can relate to and take something from. I am always humbled by the fact that I am making a living making music. It still feels surreal that it’s my job”.

Then it’s time for Justin to bid goodbye and get back to the serious business of being Justin Hines.