Francesco Yates is one to watch, for a number of reasons.
The Toronto native has a jaw-droppingly rich voice that has garnered comparisons to Prince from some quarters. His chops are so special, in fact, that they caught the ear of major American label Atlantic Records (home to artists like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin), which signed him when he was just 14. Justin Timberlake noticed his talent, too, giving Yates’ groovy disco jam “Call” a shoutout last summer to his near 50 million followers on Twitter. Pharrell Williams is also a huge advocate for Yates, producing his eponymous debut EP, which was just released in September, and publicly praising the now-20-year-old as the kind of popstar we haven’t seen in years while comparing him to Michael Jackson.
But beyond the accolades, one of the best reasons to pay attention to Yates? He’s a passionate social activist dedicated to motivating young minds to start making a difference in their local communities.
As a result Yates is currently performing his social anthem, #CallForChange, as part of WE Day; and Vancity Buzz had the opportunity to sit down with the singer when the event stopped in Vancouver as part of its Canadian tour.
Tell us about the #CallForChange initiative
Since WE Day has a very social message, in order to coincide with WE Day, we decided to gear “Call” more towards sort of an anthem, a social anthem sort of thing. And what I found out, at the end of all of it, making the video, is that TELUS will donate $10 to Free The Children for every time that the video gets shared. So I was really liking that cause, in particular.
How inspiring was it seeing people getting involved and that the song made an impact on them?
To me, anytime is a good time [if] the people are jamming and that they’re actually taking the time to do it. You know, there was a time where I was just jamming out on the guitar in the basement and it’s crazy how it can come to such a point when one believes. And also, when they believe, too.
There’s been a lot of talk on WE Day about having a “spark.” What is your spark?
I have to have a relationship with music. I think if I just maintain that, I’ll be alright.
Do you think music has the power to change the world?
Music has always had the power to change the world. If you look at rock and roll, half of the reason we are [more] free now is because of what happened in the ‘60s. So music has a bigger power; it has an understated effect. But it’s there. And I think it’s a good thing.
Is there one song that left a serious impression on you?
It’s difficult, because there’s a lot of them that mean so [much]… I was just listening to Marvin Gaye [“What’s Going On”]. I think there are certain messages that will always remain the same and that’s one of those songs that remains timeless in its content, in its emotional context.
If you could give one message to all the kids at WE Day, what would it be?
Think. Be aware. Know your world around you. And don’t let these things that you think aren’t good happen. Because it’s the collective mind — once the collective mind makes a difference, that’s what happens. If you look at what happened in the ‘60s, when people boycotted going on the bus, they all consciously did that. And look what happens when that happens. In order for change to happen, to actually happen, all the collective must be on the same page. So what I encourage them to do is be aware of the world and get on the same page.