Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

County tunes

Many Prince George’s residents nominated for the Wammies

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Rick and Audrey Engdahl of Hyattsville (performing) have been nominated for four Wammies in children’s and folk music.
Whether it be country, classical or choral, the Washington metropolitan area is rich in its local musical offerings. And each year, one awards ceremony celebrates the best and brightest in local music — the Wammies.

Hosted by the Washington Area Music Association — or WAMA — the Wammies are the local equivalent to the Grammys. The 22nd annual ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 17 at The State Theatre in Falls Church, Va.

WAMA members select nominees in the fall and eventually vote for the winners. Half of the nominees are non-WAMA members, WAMA president Mike Schreibman said. Musicians have to live in the Washington area or earn the majority of their money from music in the area in order to qualify for the awards.

Schreibman said WAMA doesn’t keep track of where nominees and winners are from. But throughout his 22 years with the organization, Schreibman has seen Prince George’s County deliver a diverse group of musicians, ranging from bluegrass to rap. And this year’s crop of county nominees is no different.

A number of county residents are nominated for a Wammie this year, including Stephen Hurd for best gospel⁄inspirational vocalist; Tommy Lepson of College Park for best blues⁄traditional R&B male vocalist; Brother Maniac of Brentwood for best rap⁄hip hop duo⁄group; CCB of Suitland for best go go duo⁄group; BanjerDan of Laurel for country recording of the year; and Anamer Castrello of Riverdale for best debut recording and best classical female soloist.

Other nominees include:

Raheem DeVaughn

Best Urban Contemporary Vocalist

Raheem DeVaughn is nominated for a Wammie this year, but he’s also up for another big award — a Grammy.

The Beltsville native says the local support he’s received throughout the years has provided his career with a solid foundation.

‘‘I accept all accolades and praises. The hard work I’ve laid down is paying off, and it’s still a grind, whether it’s a Grammy or a Wammie.”

DeVaughn just kicked off a nationwide tour with Jill Scott, but he said no matter how many places he travels to, there’s no place like being back home.

‘‘I can always go back and feel the vibe and feel the love, and put my ear to the street,” he said.

On Jan. 31 he visited his old school, High Point High School in Beltsville, where he saw his name flashing on the school’s marquee.

‘‘I just remember being a student and seeing other people being on the marquee,” he said. ‘‘I saw, ‘Congratulations, you’re nominated for a Grammy.’ It was overwhelming.”

Rick and Audrey

Best Debut Recording; Best Children’s Music Artist; Best Record Design; Best Children’s Music Recording

This married couple hails from Hyattsville. During the day, Audrey Engdahl works as a daycare provider and Rick Engdahl works for Motley Fool, an investment Web site. But whenever they find time, they like to play children’s music at festivals, cafes and other venues.

The couple has been playing music for years, but they began making children’s music together after Audrey employed Rick’s help in performing songs she had written with students while working as a teacher. And they’ve been hooked ever since.

‘‘We do a lot of communication with our music,” Audrey said. ‘‘With the children’s music, it feels so good to engage the kids on that level and also to keep their parents happy and entertained.”

The last time the Engdahls were nominated for a Wammie was in 2003, when they first broke into the children’s music scene. This year, the couple is nominated for four awards, thanks to their debut albums released last year: ‘‘Open the Gate” is their folk album and ‘‘Imagine That” is their children’s album.

The pair said they were surprised at their nominations this year because they haven’t been able to promote their albums that much.

‘‘We came out with two albums and had a baby in the same year. It was a bad marketing plan,” Rick Engdahl said.

The folk album took them a year and a half to complete; the children’s album took two years.

‘‘It feels really good after all these years to get some recognition,” Audrey Engdahl said.

Priest Da Nomad

Best Rapper

Priest Da Nomad, or Larry Ware, of Laurel spends most of his days locked up in a recording studio in Rockville, working on gospel, rock, country and R&B musical projects. But the full-time recording engineer for Omega Studios says hip-hop is his true passion.

It began with lunchroom freestyling in high school and then he immersed himself in the hip-hop dance-dominated club scene.

‘‘I kind of wound up getting pulled back into rhyming,” he said.

Since 1993, Priest Da Nomad has become an integral part of the area’s hip-hop scene, releasing albums and joining with other artists for various projects.

He characterizes his music as conscious and soulful, drawing upon soul music he heard growing up from his father and socially conscious MCs from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

‘‘My goal is just to make good music and soulful music,” he said. ‘‘I happened to blend the two, and just my personality, I happen to be a progressive thinker.”

The county resident has been nominated for a Wammie before but has never won. Even his nomination came as a surprise to him this year because of his work schedule revolving around other musician’s projects.

‘‘It’s funny because I’ve been in this area doing music for a long time, and most people know I’ve evolved to be an engineer,” he said. ‘‘I’m not in every day, out in the street, because I’m locked in the studio all day.”

But a Wammie win would be a welcome start to a year that will include the release of a new album.

Mike Surratt

Best World Music Recording

Mike Surratt has lived in Prince George’s County for years. The Lanham resident is a full-time musician who plays solo and with a band. He plays a variety of music, including electronica, samba and merenge, but this year he’s up for a Wammie for a polka recording.

Surratt started playing the accordion at age 11, at the urging of his mother. And although he’s branched out since, he still considers polka his music of choice to play.

‘‘My mother was German, so I guess the ethnic music is what I enjoyed playing the most,” he said.

Surratt has been nominated three times before and won a Wammie last year in the electronica category.

‘‘I was ecstatic,” he said. ‘‘I heard a comment from somebody in attendance, ‘If you win one, you must be good.’ I felt, wow, I felt really special.”

And although the Wammie win didn’t leave him with more business than he could handle, Surratt said winning a Wammie is welcome appreciation and acknowledgment for hard-working musicians.

Janine Wilson

Best Roots Rock Female Vocalist; Best Roots Rock Duo⁄Group

Wilson is no stranger to the Wammies — throughout the years, she’s been nominated about 30 times and has won six Wammies.

This year she’s up for a vocalist award and also for an award with her band, the Janine Wilson Band.

Wilson plays roots rock. She studied piano and acted in school plays and musicals but had always put music on the back burner. She moved to Hyattsville from Ohio in 1983, but didn’t start performing her music until 1990.

‘‘While I always loved music and sort of dreamed of that life, I didn’t really start pursuing it until I was a little older.”

She met local musicians and began playing with them, and slowly blossomed into a roots rock vocalist and singer-songwriter.

‘‘This area is so rich with musicians that I don’t think people realize how so,” she said. ‘‘There’s so many [musicians] that have lived here for their whole lives.”

Music isn’t Wilson’s full-time job — she works for a lobbyist — but she manages to make time to perform and record. And this year the hard work may pay off, as she could take home another Wammie to place on her shelf.

‘‘It’s all member-voting so you’re voted on by your peers, which is especially nice,” she said.

Noyeek the Grizzly Bear

Best Rapper

This Fort Washington resident has been nominated for three years in a row for Best Rapper but has no awards. But this year could be the year for Noyeek the Grizzly Bear, or Keeyon Raspberry.

The county resident always loved hip-hop. He grew up listening to it and began freestyling when he was just 10 years old.

‘‘When I heard [hip-hop], it was an instant relationship,” he said. ‘‘Everybody that knew me was like, ‘Do you listen to anything but rap?’”

He also dabbled in breakdancing and graffiti, but freestyling appealed to him the most and he gravitated toward rhyming.

He struck a deal with Mercury Records in 1995 but eventually left the label. Noyeek the Grizzly Bear is now an independent artist who has also started an entertainment company in November.

E-mail Elahe Izadi at

If You Go

The Wammies

When: 8 p.m. on Feb. 17

Where: The State Theatre, 2200 N. Washington, Falls Church, Va.

Tickets: $25 Non-WAMA members; $18 WAMA members (up to 4); $12 nominees

Box Office: 703-368-3300;888-843-0933