Some call him the voice of Christian music, while others refer to him as a pioneer who took gospel mainstream. Yet, Don Moen doesn’t quite conform to such descriptions, choosing rather to call himself an architect whose purpose in life is to show people a path through his music.
The American singer-songwriter, who takes to the Dubai stage on December 18 with Nigerian gospel crooner Joe Praize and US musician Lenny LeBlanc, has achieved more in his three-decade long career in music than few would achieve in a lifetime. Quiz the 71-year-old artist thought, and Moen remains shy about his success, despite having written more than 100 songs over his lifetime and performed for fans on six continents.
“It is always a humbling experience to hear an audience sing my songs with me no matter where I am in the world,” Moen told Gulf News over email. “I also receive thousands of emails and comments on my social media every week from people thanking me for bringing hope to them while they are in a hopeless situation. I never take this for granted and feel very blessed to have this experience.”
With 22 albums and a fan following on nearly every continent, we caught up with Moen ahead of his Dubai concert at the Coca-Cola Arena, to chat with him about his music, new albums, life during lockdown and what he thought of Kanye West’s gospel album, ‘Jesus Is King’.
Q. You have been to Dubai many times before, so what is so special about this particular visit?
I think this is my fifth or sixth time to Dubai and it’s one of my favourite cities in the world… truly a world class city! Everyone who hears about the trip tells me a visit to Dubai is on their ‘bucket list’. People from around the world are sending their congrats and wishing they could join us.
This trip is special for several reasons: the pandemic has virtually shut down a lot of touring for artists and this is only my second international trip since February 2020. Fortunately, I’ve been able to communicate to my audience through our YouTube channel, virtual concerts, Facebook, donmoen.com and other streaming platforms.
While I am thankful for that, there is nothing quite like gathering with friends for a live concert. The fact that we’re able to start doing live concerts again is a great encouragement to me and I hope for many in the UAE and around the world. I am really looking forward to this.
Q. I guess that answers our next question about returning to stage with a live audience...
I am grateful for the opportunity technology has given us to be able to stay in touch during the past couple of years through various media platforms, but nothing can take the place of a live concert. There is a certain energy there that cannot be replicated through online platforms. I am looking forward to being with the people again.
Q. You have written hundreds of songs over the years — how do you find new themes to reflect upon for your listeners?
I’m always coming up with new themes and ideas to write about. The key to being a songwriter is to be a good listener. Listen to the conversations you hear throughout the day and you’ll come away with several good ideas to write about. People have been through a lot in the past couple of years and there is a lot of fear, despair and loneliness as a result of the pandemic. I’m trying to address these issues in the new songs I’m writing and through many of my older songs. I want to bring a word of hope, comfort and encouragement to people.
Q. Of the many songs that you have written, which is your favourite and why?
Probably ‘God Will Make A Way’ because it’s a very personal song that I wrote for my family when my little nephew was killed in a car accident many years ago. I didn’t know what to say to the family (my wife’s sister and husband) but on the airplane the next day as I prayed for them, the words and melody of this song came out of my heart, and I sketched them down on a sheet of paper. ‘God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me’. I only sang the song for them privately at the funeral and never intended to record it because it was so personal. Finally, people convinced me to record the song and it has become one of my most well-known songs, still bringing hope to those who have lost hope.
Q. At a time when there seems to be an explosion of new sounds and music across various mediums and platforms, how do you keep your music relevant?
As a producer I am always trying to stay up to date with new sounds, but as an artist, I must be true to who I am. I can’t be as hip and cool as some of the younger artists, but as I strive to be authentic to who I am, I think my music will always be relevant. I tell younger artists all the time, ‘Be yourself…everyone else is already taken!’”
Q. Is there new music you are working on? A new album in the works perhaps?
Yes. I have several new songs I’ve recorded and I’m working on several more. However, rather than releasing 10 new songs at once, we’re releasing them as singles through YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming channels.
Q. Of late, we’ve seen popular music artists such as Kanye West experiment with gospel music. The album has drawn mixed reviews from fans and communities. What’s your take?
I don’t know Kanye personally, but I commend him for what he is doing: trying to share a life changing message with his audience.
Q. Are there other musicians/artists you admire whose music you listen to in your downtime?
There are many and just as many varied styles! You would laugh at my eclectic playlists! Everything from Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans, Adelle, George Strait, Garth Brooks (after all, I live in Nashville), The Beach Boys, Jim Reeves, Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans and a lot of classical pieces, since I was trained as a classical violinist and played in orchestras all my life.
Q. How did you spend your time in lockdown and was it a great time for reflection as well?
I don’t think anyone thought COVID-19 was going to have the long-term impact it has had on the world. For the first couple of months, it felt like a forced sabbatical. My wife and I enjoyed being together, I wrote sweet and silly songs for our 11 grandchildren, and truly enjoyed not getting on a plane almost weekly for a concert somewhere. After a couple of months however, it got old, and I was ready to communicate with people again. That’s when I started posting on Facebook and our YouTube channel trying to encourage people with a simple song, a prayer, or an encouraging word. I found that very fulfilling.
Q. When not making music, where would we find you on your weekend — exploring the outdoors, in the kitchen, or catching up with friends?
Of course, you will find me in the kitchen. Our family is growing, and I don’t have a lot of time to spend with friends these days. Laura and I have five children and four of them are married with kids. We have 11 grandchildren, ranging from four-month-old twin girls to eight years old, all living about 10 minutes from our house… so life stays pretty busy! We see them regularly for dinners or breakfasts at our house. If you want to see something crazy, come to one of those gatherings! One day, I’ll have time to hike, camp and fish again, but right now I have a pretty important role as ‘Papa’, and I love it!
Don’t miss it!
Don Moen and Joe Praize, featuring Lenny Le Blanc, will be in Dubai to celebrate the festive season with their soulful melodies on December 18 at the Coca-Cola Arena. As a part of the Dubai Shopping Festival and organised by Orbit Event, tickets for the concert are priced from Dh95 up to Dh250 and are available at Coca-cola-arena.com, Platinumlist.net, 800tickets.com, orbit.events and dubaicalendar.com. Meet and greet before and after the show will also be part of the different packages.