Photo Credit: Raquelle Harris for Steed Media
Damien Escobar is a versatile violinist who deftly fuses multiple genres of music into a mellifluous eargasm. The two-time Emmy Award winner from Jamaica, Queens, New York has sold millions of albums and has performed for two U.S. presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Phase one of his success came when he was part of a duo with his brother called Nuttin’ but Stringz. After appearing on “America’s Got Talent,” they quickly ascended to the top, touring and appearing on small and big screens. Eventually, the duo disbanded, leaving Damien in a period of transition.
Fortunately, Escobar has awakened his evolution as an artist. On Thursday, Dec. 8, Dame Esco brought his Boundless tour to Detroit at the Royal Oak Music Theater. The millennial musician put on a sold-out show, engaging with the audience as if they were his family and close friends. He humbly thanked them for spending time with him and commanded that they, “Let the music take over … your problems are gone.” Although this was a perfect date night for the lovers, the diverse crowd held various ages and races. It was proof that this millennial musician is a transcendent anomaly.
Beyond engaging the audience with candid storytelling, Esco invited a young aspiring violinist from the crowd to join him onstage. He offered his violin and encouraged little Marcellus to play an impromptu song. Inspired by the future, Esco delivered his own impromptu song, aptly titled, “Marcellus.” Giving mad respect to new and old school artists, the musical chameleon performed seminal hits from hip-hop, pop and R&B along with his own material. His passion for his craft is infectious and palpable, which is no surprise for someone who graduated from the prestigious Julliard at the age of 13. Detroit’s own the incomparable Collective Peace opened the show, setting the tone for an enchanting evening.
Prior to the show, rolling out grabbed an exclusive one-on-one with Escobar about his boundless comeback, his philanthropic efforts, how people will describe his legacy and more.
Damien, you’re something dope and different. You’ve come a long way from the subways. Tell us about your musical journey. It seems like you’re on the comeback from the setback.
Pretty much. Everybody has a story. I was in the group successfully for about 10 years, up until 2012. He and I made history together. But, I feel like my life didn’t start until the group disbanded. Because when the group disbanded, in that moment, I didn’t appreciate my gift. I made permanent decisions based off of temporary emotions. It cost me my career and my livelihood; it took about seven months before I was homeless. I lost everything. I remember sleeping on the [subway] train for about three/four months ’cause I didn’t wanna tell anyone that I fell off. I finally got the courage to go back home to my mother’s in South Jamaica and that’s kinda when my life restarted. I remember being really depressed … I was done with playing the violin. I went back to school to sell real estate and got my real estate license. I got my first job ever in my life because I’ve always been a musician … real estate was short lived. I was happy until I realized that I had to cater to other people’s schedules.
That’s because real estate wasn’t truly what was in your soul.
Naw, it wasn’t, it wasn’t. A friend came to my job and she told me a story that changed my life and changed my perspective. I had to find the courage to get back to my gift. And that’s what I did, I started from the bottom and I rebuilt.
I don’t know if you’re faith-based, but do you now see that as being part of God’s plan?
They say, when God wants your attention, he makes you uncomfortable. He made me very uncomfortable, he got my attention. I wasn’t living right. Even in using my gift, I wasn’t using it right. So, for my journey this time around it’s different. I got back into music for the purpose. If I got back into music for the money, it would’ve been the wrong thing. When you chase purpose, [the] paper will catch up.
So, you and your brother’s relationship, where is it now?
We’re separated, by choice. The thing with any relationship — you go through bumps and bruises. We’re trying to mend our relationship. We’re two totally different people now and I wish him the best; I think about him all the time. I pray for him all the time. I pray that we’ll get back to the way we were down the line. But space is an amazing thing, it gives you time and it gives you perspective.
Tell us one living artist and one dead artist that you would like to work with.
One living artist that I’d like to work with now—there’s so many. Living: I really like Alabama Shakes, I love Anderson .Paak, Diana Ross, is still kickin’, I love her; Stevie’s still kickin’, I love him. The list continues to go on and on. D’Angelo, Lalah, Emily King is awesome. Dead: Prince, Mike … Teddy P, Marvin Gaye.
Why did you choose the violin?
I fell in love when I was six, I had to wait my turn to take it in school. I started playing it when I was eight. I was so intrigued by this instrument that made the same sound other than my voice
What stokes your creativity?
A lot of different things. People. My dreams. A lot of my music comes to me when I’m dreaming. I’ll hear something when I’m dreaming and I wake up and I’ll write it. Or I’ll look at what’s going on in the world and it inspires me to create, or a fan will send me a message and it’ll inspire me to create. My inspiration comes from everywhere.
Speaking of the world, seems like you’re “conscious.” Tell us about your foundation, Violins against Violence.
Violins against Violence is my old non-profit; I started that about eight years ago. That graduated itself into a program called M.A.D.E. M.A.D.E. stands for “Music and Arts with Damien Escobar.” The purpose behind M.A.D.E. is to get arts programs back into urban communities … give them the same opportunities that I had growing up. We’re taking it a step further and not giving the schools all the power … one thing that I’ve learned by partnering with organizations like Save the Music … when we gave the schools the checks, they didn’t use it on arts programs. So I’m not going to make that same mistake, instead, we’re going to develop the programs and implement them into the schools. I started a violin line—a full line of violins; they debut this coming March. I’m not only giving them the arts and teaching them, I’m giving them the instruments too.
Are there other instruments, as well?
The first phase is going to be violins; violins, cello, bass. That’s phase one; phase two, we’re going to branch off into drama—everything, science, technology, we’re going to put that into place around the nation. We’re starting off in the major cities like here in Detroit, New York, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, the cities that need it. We’re going to kick it off next fall by doing concerts in schools.
You’re a handsome young man, do you have a bae? What is something that the ladies would be surprised to know about you?
That I have one lady and I don’t talk about her much. I have one special lady; she’s amazing.
When it’s all said and done, what are five words that you want to come to mind when people think of you?
The greatest of all time. In every aspect of the word; not only a violinist, but a great person, a great man. A man of his word.
To catch Damien Escobar’s Boundless tour when it comes your way, check out dameesco.com.