Move over Beyoncé and Jay Z, forget Sonny and Cher – we have our very own musical power couple in Melbourne’s Gary and Natasha Pinto. Odds are you’ll remember Gary as the fresh-faced one in the 90’s R&B group CDB, and own a copy of their platinum-selling cover of Earth Wind and Fire’s hit ‘Lets Groove’. Or in more recent times you may have caught a glimpse of him back-stage on the set of the X Factor in his role as vocal coach/mentor; while Natasha has shared the stage with acts like Chris Brown and Rihanna, worked alongside Puffy Daddy’s posse and been hailed a ‘superstar’ by Jay Z’s crew.
Now the talented twosome have been added to the ridiculously smooth line-up set to soothe audiences around the country at Australia’s first neo-soul, jazz and hip-hop festival – Soulfest.
“We feel incredibly blessed to be part of the show – all these amazing artists coming to Australia. It’s going to fun!” Gary began when I sat down for a chat with the pair recently. “When we first heard who was on the bill, we thought ‘Is it real!?’” Natasha interjected excitedly. “It’s too good to be true.”
For those who haven’t heard, the good people behind Soulfest have outdone themselves and managed to put together the A-team – a who’s who of modern soul, hip-hop and jazz. International names include Maxwell, D’Angelo, Mos Def and Angie Stone, while artists such as Ngaiire, Nathaniel, DJ Trey and Miracle will be flying the flag for Australia at this first-time event.
“Where have you seen this quality of artists together anywhere?” agrees Gary, before revealing that he and his lovely wife are planning to impress when they take to the stage this spring.
“Our aim is to do the best that we can in everything that we do – whether it’s song writing for other people [Gary has written songs for Guy Sebastian, Christine Anu, Jimmy Barnes, Jade Mcrae and American soul singer Taylor Dane, among others] or performing our own music.”
“We’re putting together a set-list of our best songs – Gary will sing, I’ll do some of mine, and we’ll definitely do some together,” Natasha added.
“Natasha is such a gifted singer/songwriter,” praised Gary. “In New York they just love her – people in Puff Daddy’s camp and some of Jay Z’s guys have said she’ll be a superstar! Natasha’s actually heading back to Philly to work with people who have written a lot of stuff for Musiq Soulchild and Angie Stone.
“In fact, my new EP [‘Into The Sun’] that I’m about to release has two of the songs written by Andrea Martin [who works regularly with Beyoncé and Mary J Blige]. She’s unbelievable – she wrote ‘I wish I Didn’t Miss You’ for Angie Stone.”
This couple are true Australian music royalty, reflected in their long list of fans and admirers. However, together they remain as humble as ever and I can almost feel Gary blushing when I ask about the birthday party he attended on Stevie Wonder’s boat. “It’s God’s mercy – I feel that blessings have been upon my life.”
As he tells the story you can tell it’s a childhood dream come true. “I heard Stevie was having a 16th birthday for his daughter Sophia on his boat. Being asked to sing was an incredible honour.
“During the speeches he kept saying ‘Thanks Gary for coming, thank you Gary for performing, thank you Gary …’. I was so embarrassed! And when it was time to sing and I realised I didn’t have any instrumental, I asked Stevie if he could play piano and he answered ’Yeah! What will we play!?’ I couldn’t believe it – it was an amazing experience.”
Gary has experienced a lot in his 20 plus years in the industry, including a standing ‘O’ from Motown legend Smoky Robinson. Taking it all in his stride, Gary seems like the perfect role model to young, up-and-coming artists who are just finding their feet.
“For the past few years I’ve been helping the artists prepare themselves for the live shows [of X Factor] and for life after the show too. I was just thinking about that this week – I see these young artists 15 or 16, all the way up to thirty years old and beyond, who are stepping into the industry for the first time. Each step is so important in their foundation. It’s a privilege to be able to help shape them and prepare them for life as a recording and touring artist.”
Natasha also works with burgeoning singer/songwriters at the newly opened Melbourne branch of the Australian Institute of Music. “2014 is the first year it’s been opened. There’s some really exceptional talent coming through. I told my students all about the Soulfest competition that was open to local artists – I can’t wait to get involved.”
In the meantime Natasha will be jetting off to the East Coast of the US to work on more new material with prominent producer/songwriter Carvin Haggins (Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Estelle), but promises to release her single ‘Anywhere But Here’ before Soulfest rolls around in October.
“Our careers keep us apart from time to time but we want each other to succeed and music is a really great thing to share as a married couple.” Eat your heart out Chavril!
When&Where: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne – October 19
By Natalie Rogers