KENNY BOBIEN with KING SUNSHINE and DJs JOJO FLORES, GROOVE INSTITUTE and SOUL IMMIGRANTS at the Reverb (651 Queen West), Saturday (November 10). $10 advance, $15 at the door. 416-504-0744.
There are always two sides to a story, but the more wholesome side of dance music often gets overlooked. Critics and politicians concentrate on the seedier elements -- drugs and violence.
New Jersey's Kenny Bobien is one of the most widely recognized male singers in house, but he doesn't fit the image commonly associated with underground dance music. As well as being a pastor at his church, Bobien is a dedicated family man and the father of a large and growing family.
"You have some people who will not ever and have never set foot in a club because of their sacred beliefs in God and what they stand for," Bobien says softly and deliberately on the phone from Newark. "At the same time, you have some people in the club who have never set foot in a church, and so our job is to take the gospel wherever we can take it and to use whatever vehicle we can use to get the people to understand.
"It's a music that reaches everyone, not just a certain sect of people. Dance music does something for the soul that no other music does. It's like gospel music."
Bobien's distinctive falsetto has powered many a club anthem through work with such notables as the Basement Boys and Kerri Chandler. In 1999 he released Blessed (A Gospel Dance Theory), a full-length album of soulful, uplifting New Jersey house. A heavy gospel influence pervades all his work, an inspiration that will be explored further in an upcoming pure gospel album with his wife, Stephanie Cooke.
"I'm a minister, and when people hear my songs, the first thing I want them to do is to think about where they are spiritually. Where they are spiritually will determine what state they are in naturally. I want them to feel a sense of love, and a sense of unity, a sense of peace that only God can give."
As well-loved as he is in the soulful house scene, he has also carved out a name for himself as a background vocalist in R&B, making his voice almost impossible to avoid in urban music.
"That's what was popular in the beginning, the vocal records. It's about time we got back to basics. We need to hear more real songs, we need to be inspired, we need to be encouraged, we need to be enlightened, and vocal records can do all of that.
"When I was a young boy, I hung out in clubs. I wasn't supposed to be there, but I hung out at Club Zanzibar. The most exciting thing about Zanzibar was standing around waiting. When you walked in and saw the curtains closed, you knew there was going to be a show. We've had some of the greatest singers in the world come through that club. I don't know what's going on in the dance music industry right now -- I don't know how the DJ gets put in front of the artist, and now DJs are like rock stars. The industry has kind of gotten screwed up, and everything is backwards."