Singer-songwriter Justin Faye was excited to play socially distant shows in Estes Park over the summer and fall. Then the gigs came to an abrupt end.
“The fire broke out and we had to leave,” Faye explains, recalling the historic 2020 wildfires that blazed through Colorado.
The Senegal native has called the small mountain town home off and on since about 2004. He’s embedded himself in the local music community, working at a local record and music shop and playing at the iconic Stanley Hotel with a full band in years past. He left Estes Park for a stint in Denver before returning a few years ago. Since coming to the United States, he’s also lived in Las Vegas, hoping to take a crack at the music business, and has worked in Missouri and New York.
Faye says he has collaborated with producers attached to major labels and garnered interest from them, but he's currently an independent artist. He wanted to get his music out to a wider audience in 2020, and he entered three songs into the popular UK Songwriting Contest. One of them, “Diamond in the Mud” made it to the finals in the R&B category. Two others, which Faye says were more rough-around-the-edges demos, made it to the semi-finals.
According to the contest's website, since 2002 about 100,000 songs have been entered by thousands of artists and judged in a variety of categories, including R&B, pop and adult contemporary.
"Diamond in the Mud," which Faye says is a true story about someone going through a hard time, is nearly a decade old. It didn’t get a lot of exposure when it was first released in 2014, but it's gotten a second life of sorts through recognition from the contest.
Faye, who works in a variety of R&B-adjacent genres and releases club mixes of his songs, can sing in five languages: Spanish, English, French, Wolof and Serer (two languages spoken in Senegal). It’s an impressive feat by any standard. Although he didn't study English until middle school, Faye says he started singing in English as a child, mimicking American music he heard through his parents and uncle. He spoke French, the official language of Senegal, from elementary school up until he went to college.
“We didn’t know the language; we just memorized things,” he says of listening to English-language music. "Sometimes we weren’t saying the words really correctly, but we were close. It depends on who is teaching you the language or the song.”
Faye eventually went to college to study foreign languages. “I wanted to understand the music I was listening to,” he says. “I was listening to music from Motown, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Bob Marley and Tracy Chapman. But I didn’t know what they were saying.”
Senegal's rich music community includes homegrown stars such as Youssou N'Dour, who has worked with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Chapman, says Faye. The country also has a bustling live-music scene, with many bands playing traditional Senegalese music and some tackling American rock.
“It’s a place for live music,” he says. “Places get packed.”
Faye grew up hearing traditional Senegalese music, and he's well versed in it and plays it live on occasion upon request. However, he has always had more of an affinity for R&B music and performing in English because he wanted to be "heard by the world." His first band back in Senegal played original songs, but the group covered a lot of Van Morrison and Marley, too.
“We played everything,” he says. “We would play a variety of music.”
Moving forward, Faye says he’d like to get back into the studio in 2021 and work on some unfinished songs, particularly those demos that made it to the semi-finals.
“I wanted to record two more songs last year,” he says. “With COVID and stuff, that let me focus on something else. I decided I was going to enter competitions, and I sent my stuff [in]. Maybe this year, I’ll record those tracks that I planned on recording last year.”
For more information, visit Justin Faye's website.