Get TuneDn with multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda

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  • Published on December 15, 2023
  • In Originals

Read DETOUR’s interview with music producer, Jerry Wonda

When we’re traveling here, there and everywhere in between, music instantly grounds us on our journeys. In DETOUR’s new TuneDn column, we chat with new voices and legendary artists about the sights, sounds and wanderlust that shape who they are.

Up next: legendary multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. Here is what made the “Killing Me Softly” producer who he is today, and what he’s looking forward to in the future.

How has your Haitian background influenced your music production style, and in what ways do you incorporate elements of Haitian culture into your work?

As a musician born in Haiti, my sound is created by adding culture to my production style. I grew up around many different cultures and music genres, such as Compas, Latin music, Afrobeat, Reggae, Country, and Funk like Motown. As a bass player, it’s all about the groove, so whenever I pick up a bass guitar or add drums to a record, I always think about how to keep the ‘groove’ going. If you listen to Bob Marley or James Brown, it’s all about locking the drum and the bass. I’ve played with all kinds of bands, from Reggae bands to Afrobeat bands, Haitian bands and Salsa bands, which all influenced my sound.

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

As a highly accomplished producer, you’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively. How have your travel experiences shaped your musical creativity and production techniques?

Once again, we go back to culture. I remember going on tour with The Fugees for “The Score” album. After each show, Wyclef and I would go straight to the studio. There was no after-party for us. Then the next day, we would leave the studio, and we’d hop right on a plane and go to the next country for the next show. You could say that we started to work on Wyclef’s solo debut album “The Carnival” while on the road. When you travel a lot, your creativity is inspired by your environment – what you’re breathing, the air, the culture of the country – it adds value. If you’re in one place, like New York City, in the studio you’d create a certain way, inspired by your environment. Then in Dublin, there’s another sound, a different vibe. If you go to Germany, or to Jamaica, even to Japan or Brazil–it inspires your sound. Traveling adds a lot of value to your sound as a creator and has had an impact and added a lot of value to how I ended up here and being the producer that I am today.

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

Can you share an instance where a travel destination had a profound impact on your musical journey and how it influenced your approach to production?

Wyclef and I started the idea for the remake of “Guantanamera” by Celia Cruz, one of the most popular Latin songs of all time, while the Fugees were in Haiti. Haiti inspired the song! It expresses the relationship between Cuban and Haitian cultures and their connection through music. It was the perfect time to create a different version of “Guanatanamera,” something like we did with “Killing Me Softly.” Of course, we could have created this song anywhere, but it was a vibe in Haiti. Then there was “Maria Maria”–Wyclef, Carlos Santana, and The Product G&B started this song in San Francisco because there was a vibe inspired by the culture there. Then there was “U Smile” by Justin Bieber with Arden “ArKeyz” Altino, and we were inspired by traveling and the culture of that environment. That one was a Platinum Sound vibe!

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

Can you share a memorable moment or story from the time you were traveling with the Fugees?

So many things happened. I could tell you when we had to travel in the beginning when we didn’t have a budget for the Fugees to perform, and we had to travel with a full band. We had to go to Howard University in DC, and we had to each carry a piece of the drum set on the train. Big shout out Johnny Wise, the drummer, because I only had to carry my bass, the singers didn’t have to carry anything, Wyclef had to carry his guitar because you don’t get those at the venue, so each of us had to carry pieces of the set to the venue, like the snare. At the time, the venue didn’t give us any instruments because they would say “you guys aren’t a live band, you’re hip hop!” It was a cross connection of live instruments with the turntables, at the time, it was called Dubplates. Big shoutout to The Roots! It was a vibe. I’ll never forget that.

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

What do you love most about traveling?

I don’t like to stop in one place. Any place that you stay at for a long time sucks out all of your energy, and you start to not think clearly. So every 2-3 weeks. I have to go somewhere. I basically live in three states because I go between New Jersey, New York, and Minnesota. It’s good for my creativity. Then I travel to LA, Miami, Atlanta, and Nashville. I especially love going outside of the country to places like Africa and Asia. Sometimes I just want to chill and not work so I go take a week somewhere. That’s what I do.

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

Tell us about your new project, The Other Side of Newark.

Anytime someone thinks about Newark they usually think about guns, gangs, violence, when Newark is not just that. Newark is such a wonderful city. I went to Essex County College and lived in Newark, and it felt like it was right for me to go back and start a project. I was able to partner up with Newark Infrastructure, which is the City of Newark and Mayor Ras Baraka, Newark Board of Education, Brick City Peace Collective, and Newark Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery. We were able to create a project with 10 artists that were from each ward of Newark–East, South, West, North, and Central–to create 10 songs and 10 music videos. We did that through the connection of Mayor Ras Baraka and Councilman Dupre “DoitAll” Kelly, Brick City Peace Collective, Newark Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, and Superintendent Roger León and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maria Ortiz with the Newark Board of Education. This project was something Mayor Ras Baraka had planned out, and they were thinking about who they could bring as the executive producer, so I had a meeting with him and was able to accept and take on that project. It took a lot because I was not just trying to create an album, but a family bond and a movement with those artists. They started out as strangers but saw each other as family by the end of the album. “The Other Side of Newark” is out on all streaming platforms, and all of the videos will be coming out soon. We just won an award for Best Music Video at the Newark International Film Festival. That project was my favorite project that I have done in my life, and I have done so many. When you add things to the community, you add things to the world.

Multi-platinum music producer, Jerry Wonda. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Wonda)

Frances Handy (aka Franie M) is a music marketing and public relations specialist from Staten Island, New York. Music has always been a major influence since interning at Roc Nation, where she assisted on numerous artist marketing projects, brand activations, and PR campaigns. After achieving her BA in Business and Marketing Communication at Berkeley College, she founded public relation and artist branding agency, CGM Publicity.

Kayra Raecke is a proud brown queer Los Angeles-born neurodivergent with a predilection for syntax, mild cat obsession, and a collection of odd hobbies.

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