Looking for Soular Power activity is like being on a treasure hunt. Once you get a feel for it, there’s light glittering all over the place. So naturally, a t-shirt worn by the girl working the pizza counter at Whole Foods bearing the words “Soul Ablaze” is going to catch my eye. She tells me that Soul Ablaze is the name of her co-worker’s band, so I look them up on Facebook and the description reads like a Soular Power invitation: “Music changes. Music evolves. We change. We evolve. Soul Ablaze is something true and timeless. The wind will blow us toward different directions but from dust to dust we are where we begin. Beginning and end come together to form one full circle, one complete Soul Ablaze.”
Several days later I’m on my way to see Soul Ablaze first-hand, at Ghallagher’s Tavern in Ocean Beach. Front man Verdell Smith is accompanied by a saucy, bare-footed sax player, a bassist, and a drummer. If I had to settle on a genre, I’d say I am listening to funky rock reggae, with Latin undertones and jazz overtures. But every song has a different ring to it. As Verdell nimbly navigates his guitar, I have visions of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley and Sade. How one person can embody those three is beyond me, but I have a strong inkling of sacred geometry at work here too. There is just something to smooth about the way his voice melts across my mitochondrial membranes—alternately lighting me on fire and melting me into puddles. Every fiber of my body is deeply contented. Even my vision seems to have softened, draping the whole room in a steady glow. This is no ordinary love. Verdell is a prime example of the human instrument, tuned to the key of life. Clearly, here is another high-capacity vehicle for Soular Power.
This is corroborated by the crowd, which displays one of the tell-tale symptoms of Soular Powered engagement: uncontrollable dancing. This is not the self-conscious, look-at-my-ass kind of dancing designed to lure members of the desired sex. This is the dancing that comes from the feet themselves, organic movement that the ego can’t take credit for. Flailing arms and legs, jiggling hips; it makes you feel happy even if it is also strange-looking. The cathartic value of this movement is immense. It clears the pipes, strengthens the core, and increases personal productivity.
Over a steaming cup of Chai, I confirm my suspicions: Verdell is a musical prodigy. Like Jimi, he taught himself the guitar at an early age and displayed a strong independent spirit—breaking any rule that seemed too small for him. He went on to learn the sax, cello, piano, and drums in high school, while volunteering to write the music for a school play. (Lack of previous experience never poses an obstacle to Verdell. Rather, it is an invitation. This “I can do anything” attitude is his modus operandi.) He was fortunate to have several teachers early on that recognized his talent and knew how to cultivate it—namely, by giving him opportunities. The first time he took to the stage, with just his voice and his music under the quiet spotlight, it felt like a different world; one he was destined to inhabit.
Then Verdell joined the army. This shift in tempo appalled his supporters at home, but Verdell wanted to see more of the world, and the military was easy agency. He was assigned to Germany. With his guitar over his shoulder and an eye to the horizon, he set off exploring Europe, eventually spending time in Bosnia. Witnessing extreme poverty and suffering alongside profound grace and generousity made a lasting impact on his world view—and his music. “It made me want to love and understand everything I can possibly love and understand.” Returning Stateside he managed to get himself accepted to an army-wide solider show (the application asked for three songs; Verdell submitted one). He spent the next year on tour, singing and dancing for large crowds.
Back to civilian status, Verdell continued to study his craft. He was disenchanted by the often egotistical and commercial nature of the industry, and the limited scope of traditional music education; classical music was taught as if it were the definitive index of music literacy. From opera to heavy metal, Verdell explored it all—and then, one day, he happened into the World Beat Center, where he encountered a musician that would inspire him to take his own music to the next level: Midnite. This artist wasn’t show-boating, rather he was making a genuine and immediate connection with listeners. His lyrics struck the deepest chords in spirit, culture, science, history, and social consciousness—and affirmed for Verdell what he felt in his heart. The critical mission is to focus on music that makes people feel alive/organic/natural/beautiful, and plug in to a greater creative force—not a personal agenda. “It makes you revolutionary while keeping your Buddhist composure… this is the power that can move the world.”
Of course, this is music to my inner ear. And then it gets even better. Verdell and I start talking about the power of collaboration…and decide it might be fun if I came to band practice sometime, maybe bring some of my stuff…
I show up at practice and the rest made history.