Remember the days when you could count on the late Celia Cruz NOT remixing La Vida es un Carnaval over a reggaeton beat? Probably not! In the last decade we’ve become accustomed to Latin genre breakers, Pitbull, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and Marc Anthony crossing over to Pop from Latin and everything in between. These artists have been successful at taking musical risks we as listeners take for granted. To remain relevant in this day and age, artists incorporate R&B, pop, Latin, and hip hop into their sound. But it wasn’t too long ago that artists didn’t genre hop, but instead they would dig their heels into their decided musical destiny and rarely venture into unchartered waters. Then came along artists like Notch who dared to break Latin music boundaries by infusing his music with sounds outside of the genre. Calling upon his multicultural background, Notch created and continues to construct a bricolage of sound mixing reggae, Latin, and pop. When asked to describe himself as an artist, Notch puts it best, “I’m a classy crooner, a fusion-ista. Like a young Harry Belafonte!”
Notch has been on the scene for some time; first, as a pioneer in the dancehall arena with his reggae/hip hop band, Born Jamericans in the 90’s and today as a solo artist selling out shows at infamous nightclubs such as The Copacabana in New York City. Born Norman Howell in Hartford, Connecticut, Notch had the United Nations of families growing up. His family tree included a Jamaican father of Afro-Cuban descent and an African American mother of Native American, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican descent. If that weren’t enough, young Norman, aka Notch grew up in the predominantly Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican neighborhood of Hartford in the 70’s. “There was a time when I didn’t know there was anything other than Puerto Rican. I thought that was it for Latinos. The end all be all,” says Notch.
Notch grew up learning to speak Spanish in his community in order to assimilate, but remembers a time when he was too Moreno-looking, “My friends would have to lie to their parents when inviting me over. I couldn’t mention that my father was Jamaican.” Racial tension was always at an all time high in his neighborhood, “Where I was always between Puerto Ricans and Jamaicans that didn’t like each other. Music was the one way to overcome haters. I learned music can neutralize human frailty.”
Growing up, Notch would dance and sing mixing all of his cultures for that unique sound we know and love today. But the development of that Jamaican-American sound wasn’t barrierless, “There are key notes and melodies that are in every culture. Melody is a universal language. But there’s a love/hate relationship with anyone that delves into ‘their’ sound. Especially in reggae.”
Notch’s generation of music introduces audiences to “Spatoinglish”; a combination of Spanish, English and Patoi. His ability to dominate so many languages has broadened his musical scope to captivate all people, “I am an artist that is committed to becoming one of the many musical bridges connecting cultures of the world through my music. My diverse and racially mixed cultural background allows me to speak to a wider audience.”
As a young musician Notch was given his name because “it’s a term from Jamaica meaning owner of your position.” That he does. Earlier in his career, Notch’s band, Born Jamerican was not only massively popular in its heyday, but a total anomaly- a Reggae AND Hip Hop band. Born Jamerican was founded in Washington D.C. along with fellow band member Edley “Shine” Payne. Shine gave the group some edge with his rough rhymes while Notch lent his smooth and melodic voice for an unforgettable and ground-breaking sound in the 90’s. Notch and Born Jamericans got their first break while performing for BET’s Teen Summit in 1993. From there, they got the opportunity to play amateur night at the Apollo in Harlem. Describing the performance Notch remembers, “It was legendary. I could smell the nostalgia off the wood that everyone rubs.” The band received their first record deal and “Kids from Foreign” was released in 1994, becoming a cult favorite among hard-core reggae fans while earning love from hip hop fans as well.
When asked about surviving and staying afloat in the digital music world, Notch said it best about marketing his brand of music, “Play for Pay radio doesn’t inspire artists. The audience won’t allow you to grow but the internet allows you to package yourself.” Now showcasing tracks not previously released Notch says, “It’s the leftovers that everyone appreciates the next day. Same thing with my music, we appreciate the feast the second time around.”
Words by Michelle Waleck
Photography by Josh DeHonney
Styling & Grooming by Nayra Colon