“You have a great voice.”
As a radio host, I’ve heard this phrase in some form for 20 years.
I remember the night I was working at my college radio station and the program director at a commercial radio station called me up while I was on the air and told me that he liked my voice so much that he wanted to pay me to use it on his radio station.
Over the moon! Such are the days that we remember. Savannah singer, songwriter and guitarist Xulu Jones of Xuluprophet remembers where he found his voice.
It was on River Street, where he spent several months homeless, busking with his guitar. Another guitarist, Forrest Long, came up to him and asked him why he didn’t sing.
“I don’t really like the sound of my voice,” Xulu said. “And he looked at me with his head cocked to the side and said, ‘Man, you should never be ashamed of your art.’”
Xulu’s voice is distinctive, husky and low. He sings from places of incredible joy and pain that are as bright as the sun and dark as the night.
His journey to musical self-approval started when he was 19-years-old and living in the breakdancing world of the Bronx in the 1980’s. He heard a Jimmy Hendrix song.
“I can remember the details of the living room that day,” he says. “I can remember the color of the sunset. And it brought me to tears.”
He picked up the guitar, worked hard and wound up playing in a traveling North Carolina reggae band for 10 years. He says those were some of the happiest years of his life.
“I can tell you how I felt on New Year’s Eve 2001, opening up for The Wailers, playing one of my original songs in front of this sea of people,” he says. “My feet levitated.”
That was a high. He came to Savannah with a woman and found a low in alcoholism and homelessness. The woman didn’t last. But the words on River Street did.
“I was trying to sound like a Top 40 pop singer and that’s definitely not what my voice is,” he says. “It was just coming to a point of acceptance like, ‘This is me. I’m going to let me out no matter what.’”
He sobered up and found a musical soul mate in another relatively new Savannah arrival, the Irishman Oisin Daly.
Together, in Xuluprophet, they explore the global soul of sound. Their band is rock, R&B, flamenco, jazz, Irish, African, reggae and more from their varied experiences.
“He’s really funky,” Xulu says of Daly. “Whatever emotional state of mind that I write music from he’s able to interpret musically without a word between us.”
Xulu’s influences include The Police, Prince, Al Jarreau, King Crimson and Iron Maiden. His lyrics delve into social justice and religion.
“Some people paint and some people write poetry,” he says. “Artists have a responsibility to make the slogans and paint the signs that help lead and change social consciousness.”
So that’s why you might see him at events with a mission, like Food Day or a benefit concert for the homeless. It wasn’t that long ago that he himself slept under plastic bags.
“There’s no sense crying over spilled milk,” he says. “There’s as much beauty as there is horror in this world. And it’s best to embrace a little bit of both so you can actually live.”
And for words like that, I’m glad Xulu found his voice, the one from his vocal chords and the one from his heart. It’s a great voice.