Janie Chu returns to Red Light Café with Michael Magno and Rachel Zylstra for a Sunday evening of singer / songwriters.
Magno is derived from the Latin adjective magna, meaning “of greatness” — somewhere in the definition, Michael Magno inherited the drive to become a great singer / songwriter. Spoon-fed his musicality from radio-loving parents, Michael wrote his first song at 14 and has never looked back. By today’s standards, you can compare him to the likes of David Gray and John Mayer, accented with a smooth voice reminiscent of Sting or Bono.
As a Florida transplant living in Atlanta, Michael performs his acoustic rock-style solo or with the help of his band mates known as the Villains. His sound is an organic blend of rock, pop and soul, undeniably fresh and contagious. Inspired by gracious amounts of coffee, pop culture and the now, Magno’s songs are a personal invite into familiarity. They convey broad outlooks on life, love, heartbreak and happiness, while letting his listeners embrace each song in their own singularity.
Live performances showcase Magno’s natural abilities: his pristine voice, his comfortable demeanor onstage and undeniable conviction through music and lyrics. Poised for greatness, Magno’s ‘rockstar’ attitude and boy-next-door smile continues to draw a growing legion of fans, validating this singer / songwriter’s place in the music industry.
It’s a cold and overcast morning in downtown Atlanta on February 1, 2012. Janie Chu is working her way through a maze of cables and instruments just before sunrise in front of the Georgia Capitol building. She bends down to connect cords to her keyboard and electric guitar, then stands up to look at this electronic landscape. There’s no band, no fanfare and no roadie. On this day, Janie is doing it all by herself. She’s working off a few hours of anxious sleep and adrenaline for the torch she is about to pick up and carry.
In a few hours, she will perform in front of an eager crowd gathered to support anti-sex-trafficking legislation for Lobby Day. She will also premiere her song “Dear John” which addresses the issue. The song would go on to be featured in PSA videos to fight trafficking. That performance marked a major turn in Janie’s vision for her career. It was a public declaration that she is not only a musician but an abolitionist, too. After singing the last note of her last song, she joined everyone else in knocking on lawmakers’ office doors in the Capitol. In that moment, it became official: Janie’s activism and music would forever be intertwined.
Three weeks after that pivotal show, Janie released her sophomore album The Human Condition on which “Dear John” appears. The project is the follow-up to her 2006 debut, Roots. But in the time that passed between the two albums, Janie became a passionate social justice activist, deeply involved with anti-trafficking causes in her hometown of Atlanta. This happened after she was disturbed to learn that Atlanta was a major hub for sex slavery in the U.S. Disturbed to the point of taking action. She spent years researching and volunteering with advocacy and aftercare organizations and connecting with sex-trafficking survivors by hearing their horrific stories. Even her release party for The Human Condition was part of a benefit concert to end demand and fight the commercial and sexual exploitation of children.
Janie’s musical gifts used to be the impetus for her hustling to get gigs and recognition for those gifts alone. Now, they are not just about her anymore. Instead, they are a tithe of sorts. The offering she gives in gratitude of being able to be a light in darkness and to give voice to the voiceless.
In July 2013, Janie launched her “3for3 Campaign”—a three-month effort that benefits three aftercare programs for sex-trafficking survivors in three cities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Miami. Janie is also spearheading a music compilation dedicated to fighting trafficking called, Exposing Darkness: Artists Bringing Trafficking to Light. It will be released as part of the Price of Life NYC Invitational in October 2013, which will draw thousands of college students from several campuses to take part in fighting trafficking.
Classically trained, restlessly Midwestern and instinctually confessional, Rachel Zylstra formed a songwriting habit and moved to New York to find a home for this voice. Her 2005 debut Most of It Is True prompted The Village Voice to declare her "Michigan's answer to Nellie McKay.” The release of her sophomore album Before You Could Decide in 2008 expanded her audience via college radio and Pandora airwaves, affording Rachel several regional tours and the opportunity to open for national acts including Over the Rhine, David Bazan, Jay Brannan and Derek Webb.
Rachel's latest EP, Strings, is the result of collaboration between Zylstra and Matthew Gelfer, who penned the album’s arresting string trio arrangements, Strings takes the listener on a melodically lush, thought-jumbled journey from girlish dictate to adult uncertainty, from constrained longing to a love of the larger framework. Featuring Gelfer’s talent (helming violin, guitar, and harmony vocals), Gregory K. Williams’s winsome viola and Paul Wolfram’s emotive cello, the album’s tunes were captured over a six-month stretch by audio engineer Justin Milner in unconventional spaces, including an Upper West Side church sanctuary, a Brooklyn bedroom closet, and the cozy lamp-lit basement of Tony Bandelato’s Harbor Hill Studios on Long Island. Sharing in the mixing process with Milner, Alan Douches (Sufjan Stevens, Anais Mitchell) of West West Side Music in New Windsor, NY served as mastering engineer.
Currently, Rachel Zylstra focuses on performing, developing new material, and promoting the uniqueness of Strings. Those melted by the plaintive musical complexity of Rufus Wainwright or Ben Folds will feel instantly enfolded by Zylstra’s sound. For everyone else, Strings will be the welcome at the door.