What do you get when you put Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Williams together? Harmony! No, not the kind that’s produced when several notes are sung simultaneously. This Harmony is the Grammy nominated, highly acclaimed producer/songwriter who -much like his name- creates and arranges a sound that aligns and coexists harmoniously with mainstream music and spirituality.
Harmony “H-Money” Samuels is a 35-year-old Nigerian transplant living in Los Angeles. Born and raised in London, he serves as pro bono music director at One Church LA in Hollywood. His unexpected English accent coupled with a soft voice reflects a mild mannered personality that, to strangers, might come off as a cocky. That and the sleek Cuban link chain that falls neatly around his neck mark him as a man who is comfortable with himself.
Samuels knew that he wanted to become a music producer at the age of twelve, while attending an all-boys Catholic School in Bexleyheath. His music teacher Ms. Ryan asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up and he responded “I like playing piano, I play drums…I can play guitar and bass”. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Samuels had been playing since the age of four. His father’s wide collection of records including, Fela Kute, Kenny Rogers, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder were what first opened his eyes to the world of music.
Under Ms. Ryan’s tutelage, Samuels learned the basic techniques of music production in a fully equipped studio at the school. There began his “obsession.” He spent all of his free time in the studio figuring out how to recreate some of his favorite 90’s R&B tracks in an effort to master the art. She urged him to look up successful producer Quincy Jones for inspiration. “Just like that, Quincy Jones became my mentor without him even knowing it or even meeting him,” Samuels said.
While being raised in a devout Christian household, Samuels attended church on a weekly basis and was appointed music director at twelve years old. Church was also a classroom as he noted in a 2013 interview. His father attempted to keep him away from the music scene because he had had a negative experience as an aspiring artist in the past.
“The only time I could do music was in church, so church was also my escape,” he explained. “In my two hours of being there I would try to learn everything I could.”
Faith also took the main stage when, as a young teenager, he was hit by a car. “I died on the spot and God awoke me back, basically,” Samuels said about his near-death experience. The scar that cuts vertically across his right eye and his faith are the two permanent markings that remain of that fateful day.
Harmony Samuels has produced hit records like Ariana Grande’s “The Way”, Chris Brown’s “Say it with Me” and Jennifer Lopez’s “Let it be Me.” “The Way” helped Grande -who initially gained fame as a Disney Channel child star- to break into the music scene with an unexpected 90’s R&B sound that Samuels created.
“When I first heard it, I was like ‘Oh my God, we signed Mariah? Mariah is making a comeback?’” recalled Jenny Gorotiza, marketing manager at Republic Records. “That’s what sets Harmony apart, it’s his ability to bring the 90’s R&B sound into other genres at a time when we all thought R&B had died.”
Luisa Moreno, Digital Manager at Universal Music, added, “While his songs vary in musical styles, there is one thing for sure: This is a kid who came of age musically in the late 90’s early 00’s, he’s innovative.”
Samuels has been able to hone in on a style of his own, but when asked about his influences, he admits that it’s more than what was playing on the radio, “It’s the church, but it’s not just the black church. I’m talking about church in general. The woman at my Catholic Church in London, she’d play the organ and I’d be mesmerized.”
But back when he was 28 years old, Samuels was ready to give up on music. He had graduated from college with a degree in music and had dedicated his life to creating it. But he’d reached an unsatisfying plateau. With an engagement (soon to be wedding) underway, he decided it was time to settle down and find a stable career. Ready to go back to work at his elementary school as the music teacher, Samuels prepared for one last gig to help finish a mixtape in New York. It was during this 2008 trip that Samuels bumped into Craig Kallman, head of Atlantic Records, who urged him to fly to Los Angeles and meet with one of his A&R staff, those responsible for finding talent and guiding their artist development.
The meeting, Samuels recalled, was a fiasco. “I’m sitting in front of this guy and he kind of like gave me a blasé blasé [vibe] in this 10 minute meeting to which he was already an hour late.” Already regretting his voyage to the West Coast, the friend whom Samuels brought to the meeting received a text as they were leaving: A producer named RJ wanted to meet Samuels. Unbeknownst to him, RJ turned out to be legendary producer/songwriter Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins who eventually took Samuels under his wing. And just like that, Harmony became an Angeleno!
Culture shock and homesickness followed the move west “Loneliness can be a very, very dangerous place to be in because you’re open to influence,” he said. “So the first thing I wanted to do was to be connected to a church because I knew that it would keep me grounded”
Samuels quickly found his place at One Church Los Angeles as the Music Director of One Voice ministry.
“God has opened the door for Harmony, because God trusts Harmony,” according to Elizabeth Komba, another member of the music ministry. “The reason why you see him every Sunday is because he blesses God back with his gift. It’s so humbling to see. He doesn’t need to be there. Sometimes he comes to church straight from the studio and he never complains.”
The music industry, especially in Hollywood, is notorious for being corrupt, shallow, self-absorbed, and cut-throat. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. How, then is Harmony Samuels able to find a balance between his growing mainstream career and his spiritual identity?
“Sometimes I’ll be in a studio session and be like ‘Yo, I gotta go to church, I’ll be back’ and artists respect it. From Fantasia to Machine Gun Kelly, they respect it… I’ve taken everybody from Kelly Rowland to Michelle Williams to Fantasia…everybody to church. It’s not to force anyone; it’s just for them to see.”
Samuels also admits to having turned down projects because they’d compromise his spiritual integrity. “There are hip hop artists I just won’t be involved with. I built a studio from the ground up and I don’t allow smoking weed… I don’t judge anybody, but when you’re in my space you have to respect what I do.” Talent has secured Samuels’ career, but his relationship with God has set the foundation for his style, consistency and mission.
“I’ve needed the faith to keep on, to keep moving and striving forward,” he explained.
“My faith gave me a vision… to inspire people.
Harmony Samuels’ roots are present in his music, mixing African beats and R&B rhythms with church chords and turning the fusion into a mainstream sound. His work with singer Michelle Williams, former Destiny’s Child member, in her 2014 single, “Say Yes” is a good example. He mixes sounds that coexist mellifluously to create a wave of music with a positive message.
Samuels has worked with some big name artists in the past few years, but his biggest goal is to generate light through his music: “if you pay attention to what people sing about lately, it’s always something negative,” he said. “I’m not criticizing who they are…but this generation is being contaminated with negative [expletive] all the time.”
He’s started a label, BOE (Best of Everything) with a business partner and has since signed three artists: Major, Rhyon Brown, and an alternative rock band. All hope to release new music later in the year. The label, Samuels says, is modeled after what he calls the “Jerry Maguire” ideology, named after the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise. Jerry Maguire dedicated himself to building genuine relationships with his clients despite the corrupt sports industry that surrounded them. That’s Samuels’ goal for BOE.
And why not? Harmony Samuels has already created several hit records while nurturing his spirituality and inspiring others.
Samuels aspires to have a similar influence in the secular world. “My songs are influenced by what I play at church every Sunday… I’m not a producer who you’ll hear on the radio every 5 minutes, but when you do hear my record, you’re gonna know it’s me.”
Listen to the playlist above for a taste of Harmony Samuels’ inspired beats.