- Ben Harper
Whereas many artists discuss their work with little prompting, like doting parents who can't stop talking about their children, Ben Harper maintains a sense of reverential distance. His deference to the creative process stems from his belief that he is more an instrument than a musician. "I've never sat down and tried to write a song in my life," the 33-year-old California native explains. "I get the ideas, and I put them down, but it's not something I try to do."
For the past decade, Harper has been channeling his music for an ever-expanding fan base. Though he has flirted with mainstream outlets -- his single "Steal My Kisses," from 1999's Burn to Shine, spent some time in radio rotation -- Harper credits his steady increase in recognition to word-of-mouth testimonials. "What's amazing is that this music has spread one disc at a time, one fan at a time," he says. "So now, if there's some smash hit, you can never take away the fact of how this music has grown on its own. It's been defined by the people who have embraced it, not by radio or video."
Harper's latest boldly eclectic release, Diamonds on the Inside, embraces everything from pure reggae to '70s wah-wah funk guitar to acoustic blues. On one end of the volume spectrum, there's the quiet a cappella spirituality of "Picture of Jesus," recorded with the African vocal ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. On the other, there are straight-ahead hard-rock flourishes. This blend, stirred by Harper's potent acoustic and electric slide-guitar work, renders Diamonds impossible to pigeonhole. Yet he maintains that he never intended to manufacture diversity.
"If it were a statement, it would be contrived," Harper says. "It's just an instinct. I just move with my emotion. It's from the heart and the head and what's right in between -- my mouth."