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LE Newsletter - July 24, 2003

  Interview with Camara Alford, UOMO

I first met Camara Alford on the Juno train to Ottawa this year.  I was introduced to him as Shawn Desman’s manager.  After speaking with him a few minutes, I knew that there was much more to this Brooklyn native.  I had to know what brought this talented, globally-minded American to finding talent in Canada, namely Shawn Desman and Keshia Chanté (pictured top right with Camara).  We met at the BMG offices to discuss his journey through the music industry.  It is a story of passion, success and  a true testament to following your dreams and taking advantage of opportunities afforded to you.  Oh, and did I mention that Camara is nominated for a UMAC for Manager of the Year?  

Chapter 1

Camara broke into the entertainment industry at a very early age – the same age as his new artist Keshia Chanté, I might add, 14 years of age!  He was hanging out with his second cousins who were DJs in their 20s in Manhattan.  Camara also went to school in Manhattan.  He learned turntable skills from his cousins and started DJing with them until he was 16, when he went out on his own gigs
- namely at a NYC hot spot, The Tunnel.  A rep from Green Street Recordings heard him play and asked him to come and join their studio as an intern.  Since it was only five blocks from his high school, he started interning which turned out to mean, taking out the garbage and making the coffee!  Never think you are too “above” this sort of thing.  Know what Camara did?  He decided to take advantage of this opportunity and brought cinnamon in the next day to blend with the coffee.  Everyone noticed it at once and within two weeks, he was working the boards as an assistant engineer at the studio and there was no more garbage duty! 

Working every night at the studio meant long hours.  He told his mother that he was staying by his best friend (who lived across the street from the studio) – as if any mother in their right mind would let their son stay overnight at a studio when they are 16 and going to school!  She would call and his cousin would call the studio and Camara would run across the street to take the call!  
This young man was determined!

Camara’s projects at the studio included Public Enemy
- Fear of a Black Planet, Sonic Youth – Goo (rock group) and Bel Biv Devoe, to name a few.  He got credit for production on the Public Enemy album and that gave him a rush.  He also developed a sound relationship with the boys of Bel Biv Devoe, which would serve him another
opportunity in his career down the road.

Chapter 2

Michael Bivins (of Bel Biv Devoe) introduced Camara to Dallas Austin, Billboard’s #1 producer at the time.  Dallas was then working out of Atlanta and when faced with what college to attend, Camara chose the one he was accepted to in Atlanta so he would be able to work closely with Dallas.  Dallas was producing TLC, Boyz to Men and Camara worked alongside him.  Clive Davis then offered Dallas a label deal with Arista called Rowdy Records.  So, the first official members of Rowdy Records were Camara, Dallas Austin, Claude Austin and L.A. Reid!  Not bad for a college kid!   Rowd
y represented multi-platinum acts including Monica and Fishbone.  During this time as well, Camara supplemented his college education (which he had dropped to join Rowdy) by attending Kellogg School of Management for intensive schooling. 

On going to school vs. working in what you love, Camara said, “You have to follow your own path
You can learn from someone else’s path but you have to plot your own course and weigh the pros and cons and be comfortable with both.”

At 19, Camara was working with platinum artists and saw $1 million cheques going to these young artists.  Rowdy was producing the biggest records in the world which translated into expensive cars and houses.  He learned early that your limitations are only in your mind.  Said Camara, “There are no limits, and there’s nothing that you can’t do
If you can get a clear picture of it, you can make it happen with the time and effort.”

Although he was raised by parents that believed that he could do anything, this experience was PROOF that it works. “We were living our dreams.  We would be sitting around and say “Let’s go to Cali.” 

Camara worked alongside Dallas (including his experience at Rowdy) for 8 years.  Eventually Rowdy folded and bred another label, Free World which folded as well but bred yet another label DARP Inc. (Dallas Austin Recording Projects Incorporated).  DARP represented producers and songwriters, as well as artists - TLC, Pink, Monica, Boyz II Men, Deborah Cox, Michael Jackson and Madonna and Mick Jagger.  Not shabby!

Chapter 3

Camara’s own record label,
UOMO LLC are the next leg in the journey. 

While Camara was thrilled at his current status, he was always open to new ventures.  He started asking himself global questions like, who was the biggest act in Japan, Germany, and Canada?  So, he travelled across the globe, scheduled meetings with the appropriate parties and found work for DARP.  But Camara wanted to set up his own brand of label – and UOMO was born.

Why the name UOMO?  He was in Italy on a train and was thinking about a company name.  He had partnered with some
one in the boutique hotels business and needed a name that said fashion, music, boutique hotels, etc.  He flipped through some Italian fashion magazines and wrote down 30 words that he liked the look of but didn’t know the meanings of.    He knew that he liked UOMO the best and hoped that it didn’t mean something inappropriate!  To his credit, he picked a word that encompassed all these things – the Italian word means MAN.

UOMO started representing producers and DARP Inc.  In recalling his first client at his new label, he thinks Dallas’ camp was the first.  He also found work with the biggest acts in different countries. 

I asked Camara if this was in the production capacity or artist development.  He said that while he was producing, he was also always involved in artist development because Rowdy Records was all about that. 
“I don’t see myself as a manager, I don’t see myself as a producer.  I just see myself as a guy with a bunch of experiences in the entertainment business and I’m able to utilize them in order to help people.”

I then asked how BMG became involved with UOMO.  BMG were the distributors of other projects along the way (Rowdy, DARP) and it was a natural progression.  BMG worked well on the international level for Camara, who had worked with a lot of BMG artists through the years.  UOMO
allows Camara to work with the people he had always worked with but incorporates an international component that was missing – not to mention that he was now in control of my own destiny.  Camara started seeing that as long as you have a launching platform for artists, you can be successful anywhere in the world.  The three countries that were considered the most global platforms were Japan, Germany and Canada. 

Chapter 4

OK, so why has this talented producer set up an office here in Toronto? 

During his investigation into the international marketplace, Camara called Lisa Zbitnew, President of BMG Canada.  He told her that he wanted to come and see what was happening in Canada.  She was familiar with him and his work.  He took a couple of meetings with BMG Canada and then went to more meetings in Japan and Germany but thought Canada was the place to set up shop.  One of the major factors that enticed him were that the laws in place in Canada
, i.e. Cancon and FACTOR, were extremely beneficial to artists and implied that Canada really supports Canadian talent.  He knew that he would be able to make competitive records here. 

Chapter 5

The first Canadian artist that UOMO signed was Juno-award winning producer,
2Rude (pictured second right), which led to a cross-country tour.  In speaking with one of Rude’s dancers about what type of artist he was looking for – an edgy young, white male – he was told about Shawn Desman.  He got on the phone and asked to see him right away.  As soon as he saw Shawn walking towards him, Camara said to himself, “He stepped right out from inside my mind”. 

Camara had a clear vision of what type of artist he was looking for and after speaking with Shawn and working out some other details, Shawn was signed to UOMO.  And, outside of the Portuguese community, that was when we first heard of Shawn Desman and his vocal and dancing skills.  Camara even scored a Reebok deal for Shawn as he was the perfect fit for their product
to promote the Classic Amaze collection of footwear at Athletes World stores across Canada.

Ivan Berry, International & Artist Development at BMG Canada, spoke with Camara about checking out this new artist out of Ottawa.  Ivan and Camara really believe in this girl, Keshia Chanté.  I’m sure you’ve heard her track
sShook” and the recently released, “Unpredictable”.  Huge, mature talent for 14 years old!  Shawn Desman also wrote the tracks for Keshia.


To be continued … 

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Camara and thank him for taking the time to speak with me.  You can expect bigger and better things from Camara and UOMO in the years to come.