Polyphonic Studios, LLC Entrepreneur Spotlight

It’s a snowy Saturday and we have another fantastic entrepreneur of color you need to know! Enjoy this longer read from Amplify’s Rachael Devaney, who spoke with Polyphonic Studios LLC’s Mwalim, also known as Morgan James Peters and Daphunkee Professor!

March 13, 2023

5 min read

Amplify POC Cape Cod

“This man has a way of telling stories that hit you right in the heart,” she says.

Here we go!

Like a flurry of chords from one of his Grammy-nominated GroovaLottos jazz songs, Mwalim (Morgan James Peters), has composed a musical career that continues to hit the high notes across Cape Cod and beyond. His latest venture, Polyphonic Studios, is a recording studio, a digital content creation company, and a state-of-the-art setting where local singers and songwriters can be groomed by experts in the music industry to reach their own melodic potential. Opening the Buzzards Bay studio “feels like a new beginning,” he says.

“The studio business is not a young person’s game. You need to go out there on the road first and get ripped off by promoters and record companies and have your equipment stolen from you more than a few times,” Mwalim said. “After you’ve lived through that, you’ll have some experience and the kind if integrity it takes to open a studio. It’s that time for me now. I’m picking up right where I left off.”

Mwalim’s list of personal and professional accomplishments is already long: Co-founder and “life-long member” of his band The GroovaLottos; a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, he helped design the Tribal education department as a co-founder; and associate professor of English and Black studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Amplify: What does Polyphonic Studios specialize in?

Mwalim: We specialize in the production, recording, mixing, mastering, and editing of music, audio books, podcasts, voice-overs, and a sound design for film, video and video games. From Hip Hop to jazz to reggae to dance hall and any kind of singers and songwriters in between, we have every genre covered and attract an intergenerational variety of musicians. This is the perfect place for artists who want commercial-grade creations. Even in a small place like this, because of the expertise of who is involved, we are set up acoustically to record a 12-voice choir or a small orchestra just by how we shift things around. If you want to make a record, come on in and tell us what you have and what you need. You can work on song ideas, or your vocals. The sky is honestly the limit.

Amplify: Who else is involved in the daily aspects of the studio together?

Mwalim: I own and operate Polyphonic Studios but Chuck V, our chief audio engineer and folk and rock musician, also co-built and designed the studio. It’s funny because I started out doing stereo recordings of orchestras as an AV kid and learned how to mic an auditorium at a really early age. I learned sound dynamics in high school. Both Chuck and I have always been captured by this whole notion of sound. Even before playing music professionally, I was playing with tape recorders - an old Panasonic. Chuck, come to find out, was doing same thing with studio programs as a kid. When we went to check out this facility, initially, we were running around clapping our hands in the vocal booth, and mix room. We want our artists to love the way they sound, and we spent a lot of time and energy trying to ensure that we can do that. My son Zyg (The ZYG 808) is also involved as a composer, performer, and Hip-Hop, and jazz recording artist - as well as a jazz drummer and percussionist. The GroovaLottos (Mwalim, Zyg and Chuck V are all members of the GroovaLottos) have really become the house band for the studio so when someone needs a drummer, we send Zyg in, or when someone needs a bass guitar we send Chuck in the booth.

Amplify: What kind of unexpected projects have turned up by opening the studio?

Mwalim: Without intending to, the studio is also becoming a label. Because of the way the music business has changed, with so much streaming and independent music being released, a label kind of comes along with the project. Years ago, I was directed to the SCORE program – what a wonderful program. They hook prospective entrepreneurs with mentors in their field. To my surprise, they connected me to Kirk Imamura - one of my absolute idols actually. You ever met someone, and you turn into a little kid? Yea, it was like that. Kirk Imamura had a studio back in the 1980s and he was telling me that, at that time, the label was an outgrowth of the studio. But now, studios have a label just like how a business would have a candy machine in their lobby. By moving towards that, we are trying to keep our studio in a tight circle and keep everyone happy.

Amplify: Has Covid impacted your ability to have artists in the studio?

Mwalim: In terms of having people in - yes. At this time, CDC guidelines say that you can only have one person in the booth at a time. And three people beyond staff together in the facility at one time. And, of course, everyone is wearing face masks – except in the booth. We are also constantly sanitizing our equipment and facility. We’ve also been doing a lot of remote work.

Amplify: What else do you have in the works?

Mwalim: The first thing that comes to mind is “The Truly Cape Cod Jazz Fest.” It’s a pre-recorded show, hosted by Naheem Garcia, which will launch and archive on Facebook and Instagram at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25 and Thursday, March 4 featuring musicians like FiST Rivera, Brad the Maroon, Donald Smith III, Andy Troyanos, Alan Eugene Price, Tyrone Fredericks Jr., Gabriella Simpkins, The Zyg 808, Andrew Hellwig, and myself.

The reason we wanted to hold this festival is because the jazz scene is still largely segregated on Cape Cod. I could always play the Mill Hill, Puffs, Joes Twin Villa – but people never realized how divided it was when I was coming up as a musician and how it still is now. From the Provincetown Jazz Fest to the Falmouth Jazz Festival - very few or no Black musicians are asked to play. Even at Falmouth we’ve played the streets, but not the main stage. Then we have the Cape Cod Jazz Fest that doesn’t even feature Cape musicians.

It’s ridiculous that as a jazz player... can play amazing gigs in New York, and DC, but can’t play on the Cape. I see so many incredible musicians like Michelle Cruz (jazz, folk, rock musician) out of Providence; and all of these young players out of Boston, Providence, and New Bedford - and they never get booked to play on Cape. We are ultimately looking at a history of segregated music locally and the only reason Black performers have ever been able to play here is because of Black venues.

If Black people are going to have what we want and what we need, we invest in ourselves. And that’s the lesson Black musicians really learn on the Cape. Long gone are venues like the Wigwam (Mashpee), the Plantation (Falmouth), Joes Twin Villa (Osterville). Can you believe that Muddy Waters and Bobby Bland used to play in Mashpee all the time? That was because of the Wigwam owned by Eddie Mitchell!

One of the people playing “The Truly Cape Cod Jazz Fest” is Alan Eugene - one of Joe Biden’s select performers - and he has never been booked to play Cape Cod. That’s how racist this place can be. We truly need to look out for those Black performers that want to play here, and I can’t wait to do it live and bring these exceptional musicians here regularly.

Amplify: Obviously the GroovaLottos has been a huge part of your musical career - especially with six Grammy nominations for its songs “Ask Yo’ Mamma (Ima GroovaLotto),” “Do You Mind (If We Dance Wit Yo Date),” and “Autumn Moon.” For those who don’t know, can you give some history on its foundation?

Mwalim: The Groovalottos story begins with Cape Cod Center for the Arts and its founder and former executive director Jamie Wolf (who was also one of the last Motown session players). The center was doing its annual poetry and chili event and I was performing as a music poet and as I came off the stage, Jamie said, “Hey, I have a drummer you were born to play with.” Jamie goes ahead and arranges the session where I would play keys with Eddie Ray Johnson on the drums. Eddie Ray was his stage name, but Billie Atkins was his real name. What most musicians know, is that the keyboard player is usually the stiff guy in the band. So, in our first session, Billie starts playing this game called “lose the keyboard player.” But here I am, following him all over the place. We were laughing ourselves silly. Jamie was right. Billie and I were meant to play with each other. We had a strong sound and a strong vibe. That first day we talked about being two Black musicians on Cape Cod and swapped stories over being pulled over by police and being questioned about how we could afford the music equipment in our cars; or about how we would be booked over the phone for gigs, but told not to play once we showed up because of what we looked like; or about how we wanted to cover Earth, Wind and Fire, but instead had to perform the keyboard jump for Van Halen. We immediately bonded over these experiences and were instantly brothers and started jamming as the GroovaLottos (along with James and Nick Wolf) from 2009 to 2011. There was a period where we were dormant (musically). And we went out for lunch on my birthday one year, and I was like, “You know what? Steely Dan is only two guys.” From there, the GroovaLattos kept right on going. No disrespect to the other nine musicians that were at one time or another GroovaLottos, but the GroovaLottos was really the two of us.

[According to his obituary, drummer, bandleader, record producer, and beloved musician and music teacher Eddie Ray Johnson (born, Billie J Atkins II), died on June 25, 2020 after a brief hospitalization for diabetes related complications. He was 58 years old. After a long, emotional pause, Mwalim went on to describe how Atkins impacted the GroovaLottos as a whole.]

It’s important to mention that Billie wasn’t the first to leave us. Chris Sweeting, our former bass player and one of our brothers passed first. But Billie and I we were yin and yang. He was a road player I was a studio player. He was a blues/funk/rock drummer, who had some jazz experience and I was a jazz player who loved and could play funk. Zyg started studying with Billie about seven years go, and I remember Billie, at that point, could look down at Zyg – and said, “Young man, I see you are here for drum lessons.” And Zyg, who was a smart ass even back then said, “Yes, and I’m going to replace you in two years.” And Billie said, “Okay - that’s exactly what a drum player should say.” That was a strong bond to watch – the two of them. Billie would make the joke that we are the only band in the industry that trains its own replacements. It was actually Billie who found the space for the studio. He was also a master carpenter. He renovated the space and finished it the week before he died. It was like he was taking care of us. As a working band, I think about how many hours I spent with him. We were on the road so much my truck could find its way into his backyard all on its own.

Amplify: Where do you see the studio, or your musical career going in the next five years?

Mwalim: I’m working on a solo jazz album – it will come out whenever it’s done. My process as a writer is to allow the music to take shape and then I figure out who it’s for. The song tells me after its done. I write some tunes and I’ll say this is not a GroovaLottos song – this is more my style. What I didn’t realize until Billie’s passing is what a remarkable influence his sense had on me. With the music I’m writing now, I hear him in the arrangements. In addition to the album, I’m also still working on SONG Keepers, LTD. Back in 2015, Billie and I wanted to start an organization for aspiring musicians - a mentoring program. One of our first projects was to take on the Mashpee Middle School jazz band and expand that into an audio and engineering program. We are regrouping the Song Keeper’s project and our jazz fest is actually a Song Keeper’s project. We also hope to work with Zion Union (Zion Union Heritage Museum) and connect further with the community. I look at that as passing on generational wealth. People don’t look at music like that. But it’s about showing upcoming artists the diversification of being a musician. It’s an art form that people will do whether there’s a paycheck attached or not. The teaching of writing music is showing a love for writing and love in general. -- Rachael Devaney

On the Web: https://www.polyphonicstudios.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/polyphonicstudios260
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/polyphonicstudios/
The Truly Cape Cod Jazz Fest: https://www.polyphonicstudios.com/tccjf‍
Song Keepers, Ltd.: http://www.songkeepers.org
Hear The GrooveaLotto’s Six-Time Grammy nominated album is here: https://thegroovalottos.bandcamp.com

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