Meet Paul July Joseph ’27, a drummer and Contemporary Musical Arts undergraduate at New England Conservatory. Born and raised in Haiti, he has performed with numerous groups and artists, including his project Haitian Groove, the Holy Praise Choir, Bel Melody Haïti, and on the project RED with Schnyder Rene. He's competed in international drum competitions like Drumfest, Le Batteur, and Drum-Off Global. As a first-year CMA student, Paul brought the musical influences of his home country with him to NEC’s campus, from last summer at Silkroad's Global Musician Workshop to jam sessions with his peers to classes and lessons with faculty members Hankus Netsky and Austin MacMahon.
What did your journey into music look like? What made you decide to pursue music in college?
I started playing music at eight, playing tambourine and performing at church. Then I saw a drummer playing on the drums, and I decided to try and learn what he was doing. That's where I started. And then, I went to drum lessons with my professor, Prosper Prevoit. From there, I would go home and practice every day — practice, practice —and I would go to church and play in the afternoon service. I kept getting better, and then I got into a choir playing gospel music.
By the time I went to high school, I started listening to music more. I started listening to other artists and thinking that music could be a living for me. And I said, "I want to do more. I want to know more about music." I decided to come to the United States to study music. I applied and went to Berklee for their summer program, and that's where the big things started.
When I was in Haiti, I did a lot of collaboration. I have my own project. We played the Panama Jazz Festival during the Covid-19, but it was online, so we didn't have the chance to travel. Then we played the Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival (PAPJAZZ). I went to drum contests like Drum-Off Global, an international drum contest. I went to Studio Fest and I did the Bag Show in France in 2019.
I decided to come study music in college because I need more knowledge. I need to really know what I'm doing — to not just be a drummer but to be a musician.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
My biggest musical influences are Haitian musicians, my first being was my first teacher, Prosper Prevoire. I didn’t know if I could play music, and he helped me develop my gift. Many Haitian drummers have given me advice. There is the Duvert Family — I grew up with them and learned so much from performing with them, and they are very special to me. Then, for international musicians, there is Chris Coleman, who gave me music advice when I was in the Drum-Off Global contest in 2021. And drummers called Aaron Spears and Larnell Lewis, they’re great. They are two of my favorite drummers who I started watching early on in my career. And playing gospel music is another musical influence — at church, playing traditional music from my culture. I am Haitian, so we play a lot of Yanvalou, Congo, Ibo, Kompa, and Zouk music.
Have you been able to share the music that you love from Haiti with any of your peers at NEC?
Yeah, I do. We jam on it sometimes.
Do you have an artist or song on repeat lately?
I'm just listening to Max Roach. His album Deeds, Not Words. And then I’m listening to “In the Moment” by Larnell Lewis.
How did you decide on NEC as the school you wanted to attend?
I realized a conservatory would be better for me because they can give me a better foundation. Because, first of all, it’s very different from college. So that’s why I decided to go. When I was applying, I met Hankus Netsky—he’s my mentor. I love him so much. I also did a summer program here—GMW, Global Musicians Workshop, with Mike Block. I did that before I entered NEC.
Who are your studio teachers? What has your experience been like working with them so far?
I have two studio teachers; Hankus and Austin MacMahon, who is a jazz drummer and piano player. Hankus showed me what music is. He explained to me that it’s not only about the instrument you play, it’s about so much other stuff if you want to compose and go deeper into music. And as a human being, he has influenced me a lot—how to network with people, which is a really good thing. And MacMahon, he has really inspired me and helped me develop my musicianship more on my instrument with things like technique and listening.
What are your professional goals post-NEC?
Good question. After graduating, I will go after a master’s degree and will work on my first album. I have a few festivals I need to apply to, and I think having an album will make me ready to go on tour. And one of the biggest things I want to do is get into the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
What have you enjoyed most about Boston so far?
I enjoy being in Boston! It’s very cold, but I enjoy the people and I have made a lot of connections. And I played a lot of gigs in 2022 and 2023. I’ve played in Cambridge at the Dance Complex and I’m playing in Akili Jamal Haynes’ band. And now I'm playing at an American church. We're playing gospel music; old school gospel and modern gospel.
What is your favorite part about studying CMA at NEC so far?
I think it's the freedom that you have to explore different styles of music from other people and from other cultures. I've learned a lot about different countries and different cultures.
Have you found it challenging being an international student?
I don't find it challenging; I find it fun because I know things they don't know, and I don't know things they know. So we've been able to share with each other. I think it's fun. But the learning process is challenging because there's a lot of basic things you need to know, you know, that's the only part.
What would be your best piece of advice for an incoming CMA student?
I think the only thing I can say is to know what you want to do, have your plan, and execute the plan. Maybe sometimes you can have an inconvenience, but don't be distracted, and really focus on what you are doing.
Before we wrap up, do you have any creative projects you're working on that you want people to know about?
I'm working on a project, Creole Jazz Fusion, that I'm looking forward to. We're going to play songs from my roots, and then we will mix the jazz we have in America with different cultures. The biggest thing is to bring my culture and its music into this and let people see and experience it.
Keep up with Paul on Instagram @pauldrummermusic, and click here to watch him perform on YouTube.