Every Detroiter knows certain struggles. Part of the city’s indomitable spirit, however, is how Detroiters turn those struggles into forces for positive change.
Stevie Soul’s story is a classic example of that spirit. He’s struggled against a condition of his birth, but turned his adversity into a medium to teach those around him the power of art.
When Stevie Soul (birth name: Stevie Ansara) learned to speak, his mouth wouldn’t make the words his mind articulated: he had a stutter.
“I would try to say words I would get caught up on the first letter,” Ansara says. “I would try to push through it and all these funny, weird sounds would come out as I tried to say words.”
Ansara’s parents tried speech therapy and other attempts at helping him with his stutter, but Ansara found an ingenious way to help himself.
“In order to try sentence structure, I would take these funny sounds and arrange them into beats and patterns which gave me a little rhythm and I discovered that I had this little talent,” Ansara says.
And with that realization, Stevie Soul was born.
A few weeks ago, Ansara’s life took a turn that capped off his struggle with speech: He served as the keynote speaker for the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Currently, Ansara is embarking on a year-long quest to create original beatboxes every day and upload them to Instagram with the hashtag #yearofbeatbox.
As a young beatboxer, Ansara honed his craft, guided by popular beatboxers like Rahzel, the Fat Boys and Biz Markie. He says the first artist that he loved and connected to was The Roots, with whom Rahzel frequently appears.
“When I really [started to] understand music, it was because of The Roots. They introduced me to Rahzel, who at that time was playing with The Roots. Then I understood, man, there are beatboxers who can sit in with the band, can sit in with a rapper...I started to understand how artists collaborate and then, ideally, how you could make a career and make money off of it.”
Ansara has since devoted his life to music, and later developed a passion for video after studying digital media at the Academy of Design in Troy, Michigan. He’s taken to the stage several times, the first when he was still in high school.
“I didn’t want to be the sit-around lazy artist. I wanted to create content in every possible way. I knew [from a young age] that content was king.”
Ansara spent his early 20s teaching music and art to Detroit schoolchildren in partnership with the College for Creative Studies, a job that was as rewarding as it was challenging.
“Teaching in the inner city is not a joke, but it was a great time for me.” Ansara says. “I did it for five years. Man, some days were the best days of my career. When you teach something, it sharpens your craft.”
Eventually, Ansara achieved a level of local celebrity, with interviews in local weeklies like the Metro Times and local DJs playing his beatboxing records on the radio. He was even interviewed for a USA Today piece on Detroit’s comeback.
He lucked into a job shooting videos for Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert’s family of companies after Gilbert saw Ansara perform at a Detroit event and was impressed by his talent and drive.
Ansara’s living his dream, he says, and the only thing he wants next is to do more of what he’s doing.
“I never had an idol or someone to look up to or admire in a similar craft that I have,” Ansara says. “I just want to share my story and create content on the highest possible level.”