Atlantis Music Conference adds more soul

Annual showcase includes R&B events at Apache Cafe

Chimére Scott can name drop with the best of them.

She's lent her chocolate alto to industry heavyweights from Ludacris and OutKast to Anthony David and India.Arie as a featured vocalist and touring background singer.

And her 2007 solo debut, Turn Me Up, features production from Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford (Lil Wayne, "A Milli"), Nate Wonder (Janelle Monaé, Metropolis) and David Banner.

So when she says she's participating in this year's Atlantis Music Conference because she's "hoping it'll open up some doors," one wonders how big of an entrance she intends to make.

"I feel like my music can hit a wide range of genres and has crossover potential," says Chimére, who applied this year to perform at Atlantis for the first time. "I wanted to not just expose myself to the soul side of R&B, but to the other genres as well."

After a decade spent nurturing its own movement from the ground up, Atlanta's soul scene is emerging from its shell. As artists such as Chimére position themselves to step onto a bigger stage, Atlantis is embracing the groove.

Over the last 10 years, Atlantis and the city's soul music scene ran a parallel course of sorts. The same year founder Mark Willis and his nonprofit threw its first conference, Jamal Ahmad and Anasa Troutman released the classic Groovement EP, featuring then up-and-comers India.Arie and Donnie.

While Yin Yang Café served as the incubator for the neo-soul scene's raw, subversive talent, Atlantis established its identity as the city's premier music conference and showcase by catering to unsigned rock, hip-hop and R&B acts with mainstream aspirations.

But along the way, the conference earned a bad rap for overhyping its brand. By 2001, Atlantis regularly boasted about the role it played in signing dozens of artists to major deals.

Sure, it convinced plenty of struggling artists that the $25 application fee and $100-$200 registration required to hobnob with industry bigwigs during the three-day conference were worth it. But Atlantis paid a price, too.

"For a long time, people had this mentality with Atlantis that it was to sell pipe dreams to people," says Brian Knott, founder of A3C Hip-Hop Festival and the defunct indie rap label ATF Records. So when Willis hired him as the director of marketing for last year's conference, the first thing Knott did was tone down the marketing rhetoric. "At the end of the day, there's so few artists that are getting signed to major-label deals anyway that the idea that you could come to one place for a weekend and get discovered is just ridiculous."

Despite India.Arie's multiplatinum Motown debut, Acoustic Soul (2001), the industry's response to the scene remained tepid. When Motown picked up Donnie's first album, The Colored Section, for release in 2002 then dropped him after it failed to move major units, that only fueled the movement's independent spirit.

Since then, it's blossomed into an entrepreneurial subgenre in Atlanta and beyond. Dallas, Texas, hosted the second annual I Got Soul Music Conference this summer, while the third International Soul Music Summit just took place last weekend in Atlanta.

Atlantis has taken notice, too. Of the 800 artists who applied to perform in this year's showcase, half of the 200 selected are urban acts. Soul, in particular, gets a major bounce with the Soul Suite Showcase.

New York-based publicist Fiona Bloom, who has two Atlanta artists – April Hill and Melissa Young – performing at Atlantis for the first time this year, understands why the scene is getting some long-overdue love.

"The audience wants it," she says, "and Atlantis finally stepped to the table."

Like a lot of alternative urban acts, Chimére's definition of success has evolved since she started recording at age 10 with dreams of signing to a major. Now, at 27, with a self-released CD to her credit, she hopes to make connections at Atlantis that could lead to national distribution. As for the conference price tag, which will probably run Chimére and her team close to $1,000 altogether, "Everything is what you make of it," she says. "Any opportunity for exposure is great; you've just gotta use it to your best advantage."