Almost four years ago, I sat down with Xulu Jones at The Sentient Bean for a chat and later wrote about how he was finding his voice as a musician.
At the time, the singer/songwriter/guitarist was homeless, but busking his way into a new future. He was freshly sober and Savannah had breathed new life into him. He had just formed his band Xuluprophet with Irishman Oisin Daily and they were playing regular gigs.
Over the past four years, Xulu has experienced a transformation, using music as a vehicle to a better life. He's no longer homeless. He is in a stable, loving relationship and his reggae/funk/rock fusion band is making strides. They opened for The Wailers and just released a new single on Boom One Records. He now makes a living playing music.
On a cold Friday, right after the "snowpocalypse" of Jan. 3, Xulu and I again met at The Bean. At a table in the back, surrounded by locals and tourists, we chatted about his music a little, but mostly we stumbled in and out of deeper topics: community, love, respect, religion.
I always try to conduct my interviews like conversations. Good conversation, admittedly, is also one of my favorite things in life.
Over a roaming 35-minute chat, which continued off the record for another 20 minutes, Xulu and I broached a variety of topics. The conversation was interrupted by a host of different people. All of them lit up with joy when they saw Xulu and had to say hello.
Xulu extended love to them all, which triggered a lovely portion of our talk. It's hard to undercut the importance of community and a support system. Savannah, as has been noted on several occasions, has a very supportive music community. But it extends beyond musicians. The contingency of people who form our community are increasingly finding pathways to a stronger foundation, creating together a more powerful co-op of inclusion.
"I used to think Savannah is where cursed people wound up," Xulu said. "It is, but it's so they can get a reprieve from whatever harshness of life they had before here. There's no way I can pay back the people who gave me a couch to sleep on on a rainy night or a meal. What I can do is put in some effort in some places that might need some effort.
"It's a worthwhile investment. It's totally based in selfishness. If I am going to be here for 20 years, I don't want a bunch of malfunctioning people running the streets. I want people that are like the community I find myself in, full of forward thinking, creative, compassionate people.
"The only way to make that happen is to invest in people that are creative and compassionate. When I was homeless, my current roommate, I met her sitting in here. All these people coming up to us, I met them because I was sitting up in that window."
As his life has been elevated, he's had moments of jarring perspective. A while back, Xuluprophet booked a show on Sapelo Island in South Carolina. After six years of being estranged from his family, they were reunited around that gig.
"I am walking down to the beach," he recalled. "I am looking at my band, my mother, my daughter, my niece playing on this beach that has no houses on it and to pull it all full circle, I remember thinking to myself, this is why I got sober. I couldn't have known that was going to happen. That was a recharge for me.
"It's not all because of music," Xulu continued. "Music has been a vehicle for it. It keeps the insane part of me from being self-destructive. Having something that I can be obsessive and compulsive about. That's how I work. For 30 years, I was obsessive and compulsive about escaping reality. It's just serotonin and dopamine. That's why I put sugar in my coffee.
"My brain is treacherous â€¦ My brain will betray me. It will have me out doing ridiculous stuff that's harmful to my life and goals and my endeavors, just to get a few molecules of dopamine. I am not trying to fix my mental deficiencies; I am just trying to maneuver through them."
Xulu's story is one of many that form a web of interconnected lives within our community. As I watch Savannah grow and change, I am reminded of John Donne's words: "No man is an island/Entire of itself/Every man is a piece of the continent/A part of the main."
Joshua Peacock is a writer and musician based in Savannah. He studied music theory, jazz and playwriting at the University of Iowa. Empire of Sound has won two Georgia Press Awards in the past two years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out Xuluprophet's music at xuluprophet.bandcamp.com and find a schedule of upcoming shows at xuluprophet.com.