Indie singer-songwriter Handsum Santiago's style of soulful pop is rooted in an old school approach to love stories | Photo provided

The uncomplicated, R&B-inspired indie pop music from local singer-songwriter Handsum Santiago explains the world of love in terms with which any classic soul musician could identify, channeling the oldies that have influenced him the most, such as Marvin Gaye and The Isley Brothers. 

“Our industry now, everything is popcorn. They want it quick,” Santiago said. “Prince, Al Green, Luther Vandross — these artists took their time to explain love to you and to show you what’s going on versus making it quick.”

To him, what separates true artists from ones who want to make appealing songs is creating a memorable story.

“ ‘Summer Breeze’ — Isley Brothers broke it down and let you understand what they mean by summer breeze,” he said. And Santiago channels this unhurried manner in his lyrical observances of relationships and desire. 

While his old-school futuristic sound dissects the theme of romance that is universal to all genres, he has an upcoming single called “Ms. Independence” that will focus more on delivering a message of empowerment to women, which he sees as a rare occurrence in contemporary music. 

“Women need to know someone is still talking about them in an uplifting way
— You’re raising five kids? You’ve got your own career? I applaud you. I am happy for you. I adore you,” Santiago said. 

Another way he rewrites mainstream culture is in his approach to his recent music videos, in which he redid scenes from movies Coming to America and Bones as intros for the songs “Back It Up” and “I Won’t Change.” For his next video he’s planning a spinoff from a Top Gun scene to be filmed on the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point.

Just as he had to be strict in his daily vocal practices to get where he is today, he also said he had to be firm in his belief that God fills in the blanks. 

“If you aren’t religious, I get it,” he said. “But there is something that you have installed in you that you’re good at and you’ve been drawn to, but you’ve been running from it — the very thing that’s going to make you and bring you peace.”

Santiago left music for almost 13 years after his cousin, who was his music partner, was killed. When he had a near-death experience himself at age 30, he decided he had to pick it back up.

“Everything we have inside of us, it’s not for you, it’s for people who are coming behind you. If you never push yourself to the greatness of what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re never going to be a blessing to anyone who’s coming after you.”

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