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Soul violinist Dominique Hammons gives his audience a 'Sweet Escape'

Courtesy photo
"The Sweet Escape" by Dominique Hammons was released last month.

Soul violinist Dominique Hammons performs at the Wichita Art Museum this Sunday.

Houston violinist Dominique Hammons has played in venues throughout the world, during NBA halftime shows and with the Houston Symphony. He has more than a million followers on social media who enjoy his craft.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You started playing violin at the tender age of eight, what attracted you to the violin?

I felt like just playing the violin is just something outside of the box/my personality. I've always wanted to do things that you don't really see too many people doing. And I've always strived ... to know, and [to be], who I am, and I've always had a passion for music. So when I was eight, the school that I went to offered fine arts, so ... theater, dance, music, band ... it was one of those things where I had to choose an art and my grandmother suggested I play the violin. ...I wasn't too sure about it, just because it was so different and a little hard, and ... I didn't want to get made fun [of]. But I gave it a shot, ended up loving it. And you know, after that, I just kept going with it.

It's been said that you give the violin new life.

I'm classically trained, so I do read music, but I would say my style is more soulful. I like to really incorporate my everyday life, my feelings, my emotions into my music, and use my violin as my voice. So if I'm feeling a certain way, you can definitely hear [it] through the violin. And I feel like when I play in front of people, they can really connect with me even more just because of that. So I would say I'm more of a soul violinist, and it's what I do — hip hop and gospel. And once you put your soul into it, it's hard to replicate.

It's interesting to me that you are inspiring people to pick up the violin for the first time.

I have a pretty big following on social media. ...Nearly every day, I get people saying how I've inspired their kids to start taking lessons. I've inspired them to get a violin, and I'd say these are people like in their 60s and 70s. ...I tell people, "it's never too late to learn an instrument." ...The violin is very challenging and for [people] to take on that is really cool to see. And it shows how much of an impact my music had on the world.

Well, I'm glad you said that. I know it's very challenging, and you make it look so easy. It's just incredible. You really, really do. And I think people say, "Well, let me try it," right? You have talked about the strict discipline that it takes to practice every day.

Right? Yeah, just coming up, I hated practicing. I've always understood [that] because I used to teach private lessons before I started really traveling. So, I understood. You know, the kids know how much they hated practicing. I was like, "Look, I hated it, too." But it's one of those things where you just kind of have to ... build up to, you know, so I always ... tell people just take 20 minutes out [of the] day [and] work on a ... a scale or, or like a technique, and then, as you progress, just add on 10 minutes. Then ... you're doing 30 minutes today, add on another 10 minutes, 40, you know? So the more you do it, and you do it every day, the more you know. Of course, you get used to it, and you don't even think about it. I think when I got to ... the highest amount of time I started practicing was about ... two and a half hours a day. But practicing is definitely essential if you want to get better. And that's ... just to go for anything.

Courtesy photo
Violinist Dominique Hammons will perform at the Wichita Art Museum this Sunday, May 26, at 6 p.m.

It's been said that it's challenging to get young people to learn the violin and string instruments and play classical music, especially for children of color. Are there barriers that you think need to be removed?

I don't think there are barriers. I think it needs to be encouraged more. I'm not sure about other schools and other states, but I know in Texas, there was a time where they wanted to eliminate all the fine arts out of schools for budget reasons, but it just wasn't a priority. And what a lot of people fail to know is, [that] music is, number one, a universal language, but number two, it helps with academics. ...I feel like a lot of people fail to see that. So I always ... tell people to encourage, and I always encourage, people to learn the violin.

Math and science is a part of it. I mean, there's so much that you learn when you play the violin.

Yes. When it comes to parents or teachers, I feel like they need to encourage their kids to try something new. Try something different. Yes, it's a challenging instrument. But it's possible to learn it.

You've got a new release out, "Soul Capsule 2," and there's a lot of great music on there. And you do some covers of songs, like "Candy Rain," why did you choose that particular song?

I have a lot of followers that are, I'd say, my age range, and followers about [that are] 40 to 60 ... you don't really hear too much of that real [music] — because I consider that real music already.

And you're only 30 years old, right?

That's what comes with me being raised by my grandparents! I have an old soul. So, I'm so familiar with a lot of the old songs and just to be able to bring that back, but in a different kind of color. People love it. So I made it my mission to cover a lot of soul oldies and also do a lot of newer songs as well. But just to be able to take people down memory lane.

How do people respond to your music?

I get a lot of messages ... from people saying how amazing the music was, really just changed their lives ... how they listened to my music while getting chemotherapy. I've gotten a few messages from people saying how they ... didn't want to be on this planet anymore and how my music puts their mind out of that mindset and puts it into just a mindset of positivity and hope and love. Just saying how my music really impacts people's lives each and every day.

...And that's really why I do it. That's really why I do it just because I'm able to change people's lives and, and to give people a sense of hope and love ... that's the power of music.

Your new album, "The Sweet Escape," includes songs like "Groovy Air" and "Funky Waves."

Yeah, so "The Sweet Escape" is my original album. All original songs [were] produced by my bass player here in Houston, [Texas], [by] Cedric Patterson. ...All of the songs we kind of just made up on the spot. We just kind of started from scratch. A lot of musicians, a lot of music that people hear, the songs are already made and then the artist ... puts their spin on it. But Cedric and I literally made each song from scratch. So we'll start out with drums, and then we'll add keys and then bass, so it's kind of one of those things where we're just adding layers, different layers. And then by the end of the session, I think for us, it took about three hours to make a full song.

You give back to your audience, in each city that you visit, for example, serenading people and also you give monetary gifts, I understand, from time to time.

I try to. I decided to impact lives. It's not every day [that] somebody can get serenaded by violinists, you know, this is not something that people experience. So, I try to give people "the experience" that they won't ever forget. ...Especially [on] birthdays and anniversaries, I probably bring them upstage and serenade them. And then ... just coming up, I've never had much money, you know, and ... just being able to give back [through] my platform ... it makes me feel good.

Dominique Hammons.mov

When you were in Ft. Scott, Kansas, you played "I Wish" by Stevie Wonder and you absolutely made us dance. Is that always your desire to engage the crowd in that way?

Yeah ... my number one goal ... [is] to really get the crowd going. Because I strive [to connect] with my audience. I feel like there's so much going on in the world. Everybody has their own problems. And when they come to my shows, I tell everybody, "Just put your problems on hold right now and take your mind out of out of reality and just put it in this environment."

What's next for you?

Well, I'm working on another album, so another soul capsule. My album is going to be volume three and that's my next project. And then related to that, I'll be working on a jazz album. So those are a couple of products I got on the way, and then of course, we have a lot more cities that we're going to be touring too. Just got word that we'll be in Jamaica andGermany and the Dominican Republic ... we've got a lot of international dates in the world on the way. I'm excited that there's a lot more in store.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.