You may be unfamiliar with his journey, let alone the name of artist Norman Lewis. Lewis was an incredible spirit. An African-American man born in New York, fond of world travel, challenged and inspired by learning, teaching, and searching throughout his lifetime and artwork. Lewis specialized in Abstract Expressionism and is recognized for his precise color selection, all the while channeling his life experiences and interactions into various forms — including oil on canvas, crayons on paper, and water colors.
A man of dignity, Lewis expressed his interpretations surrounding morals and values that pertain to humanity and nature. He depicted work that represented the plights of African-Americans in America during the Harlem renaissance and Civil Rights Movement. In addition to his activism, Lewis created poignant works that reflected on his travels through Europe and United States.
Now on display until April 3rd, 2016, PROCESSION: THE ART OF NORMAN LEWIS, opened for viewing at PAFA’s Fisher Brooks Gallery, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building — just north of City Hall on Broad St.
PAFA is offering FREE museum admission for Procession, every Sunday for the duration of the exhibit.
Combined with the paintings, this exhibit displays a unique and touching collection of personal effects, notes, quotes, a video interview, and diverse library that shine light onto the man who devoted his life to his artistic passion and culture. The collection is set up to appreciate thematically rather than chronologically, guiding one through In the City, Visual Sound, Rhythm of Nature, Ritual, Civil Rights, and Summation.
Lewis was born in Harlem in 1909 and died in Harlem in 1979. During the infancy of Lewis’ professional career, he focused on the “New Negro Movement” as well as African Art. Although he started here, this is not where he would finish. The content of Lewis’ art shifted from African and African-American Artto a more global perception. During the mid 1940s, Lewis altered his subject matter and developed his style. Lewis began his Pure Abstractionism journey that developed to include Naturalist content.
Walking between the rooms and admiring different pieces, we chatted with Philadelphia artist Moe Brooker, who explained that Lewis “kept searching” in an authentic spirit of endless development, “continuing to find inspiration for form and he continues to deal with nature.”
As he moved forward in his explorations, Lewis was often overlooked and/or discredited because the nature of his work was deemed as both inappropriate and unimaginable for an artist of color. Brooker noted Lewis’ work was debunked in a time when the perception was that “it was not a possibility that one of color could do abstraction”. As is the case with many men and women of color, Lewis did not receive the accolades he deserved until over a decade after his death, during the 1990s — perhaps not even yet today.
Curator Ruth Fine shared that “Norman Lewis is not a very well known painter due to lack of visibility rooting to racism, but also because his was a style that is not readily categorized… and people tend to get to know people that they can put in categories. Lewis is a complicated painter.”
To put together Procession, Fine stated she “traveled to various collections over the past few years, and chose those works that would best convey the range of his art and the ideas that permeated the themes that then organized the exhibit.” Fine added she aimed to “give a sense of who the man was as well as the art.” Thus, the exhibition walls and short video tell a story through quotations and conversation that represent Lewis’ philosophy. “Abstraction offers a chance for each person, from a broad range of backgrounds, to bring their own experiences to the paintings… and take away what they want. I think that’s what Lewis wanted.”
Free to attend with great live music ALL DAY with 21+ beer garden and other activities (open to all ages). Fun starts at NOON.
See you there!
Presented by Saul Ewing:
This fall festival will fill the park with a series of fun activities & games, plus a social 21+ Saultoberfest Beer Garden by ROSA BLANCA CAFÉ. A variety of vendors, great food and plenty of beer, DJs & live music will spice up this party.
Noon – MR. SONNY JAMES
Well-known and respected Philly DJ from illVibe Collective, who plays different styles including funk, soul and hip-hop.
1:30 pm – ROSEMARY FIKI Philadelphia based singer staying true to the soulful musical tradition, captivating audiences far and wide with a trademark sound that is rooted in rock and peppered with alternative, and afrobeat influences.
2:30 pm – ERNEST STUART
Gifted and world-traveled trombonist steeped in the tradition of jazz and Philadelphia soul.
3:30 pm – XANDE CRUZ AND THE BATUKIS BAND
With a sound as rich and diverse as his native São Paulo, XANDE (shun-ji) CRUZ adeptly blends urban and traditional colors and sounds together in a soulful way like none other.
4:30 pm – JUST SOLE: STREET DANCE THEATER Just Sole: Street Dance Theater uses Street Dance and Theatrical principles as their mediums to inspire, empower, and share their life stories.
5:30 pm – BRIANNA CASH Singer/Songwriter hailing from North Philadelphia whose beautiful and innovative music is a pure and genuine combination of soul and folk.
6:30 pm – KRISS MINCEY Alternative RnB artist, Philadelphia New Girl and DMV Native Kriss Mincey beautifully blends her jazz-¬infused style with a touch of contemporary edge.
Games 1-5 pm: Bocce and Corn Hole presented by Major League Bocce will be part of the day’s fun. Grab your friends and get a social game of bocce and corn hole going while hanging outdoors in the crispness of a fall afternoon.
There’s something for everyone, even families and kids at Octoberfest at Dilworth Park presented by Saul Ewing. Throughout the day kids can enjoy –
Noon – 2pm: KYW Newsradio Kidcast gives children a chance to be a KYW news anchor.
Noon – 4pm: Pumpkin Painting presented by Philly Art Center. Artists will be able to take home their decorated pumpkin.
The Walnut Street Theatre will be on hand to showcase their upcoming shows for adults and children alike. Stop by their booth and enter to win tickets, and parents be sure to have your camera on hand as kids will be able to get their pictures taken behind a photo board.
Free face painting will also be available.
Noon – DAVE P (MAKING TIME)
Founder and presenter of Philly’s flavorful Making Time events which have hosted performances featuring different bands from all around the world.
1:30 pm – MYRRIAS
Myrrias patiently build layers of intertwined rhythms and melodies, as each band member complements the group’s high-end shimmer.
2:30 pm – WEEKENDER Vibrant 5 piece Philly Indie / Dream Pop who have crafted buzzing and dreamy songs served up with spacey, stretched-out vocals between the blissful, fuzzy guitar riffs.
3:30 pm – KATE FAUST Emerging and aspiring singer-songwriter whose diverse talent displays through her non traditional electro-pop and neo soul music.
4:30 pm – WORK DRUGS Popular Philly band that successfully blends dance-able percussion rhythms and synths with signature vocal styles, gaining notoriety while touring venues across North America.
Noon-4 pm: Bocce and Corn Hole presented by Major League Bocce will be part of the day’s fun. Grab your friends and get a social game of bocce and corn hole going while hanging outdoors in the crispness of a fall afternoon.
Last fall, you helped Mural Arts kick off the Philly DJ Mural Project, a program that put a creative spin on music education for youth. Now join us for our big return to Midtown Village and celebrate Shepard Fairey’s new mural, honoring Philly’s rich DJ history, all while dancing for hours to jams from your all-time faves.
Featuring the talents of: Rich Medina, Cosmo Baker, Illvibe Collective, Scratch Academy + more.
This is an Open Source event! For more information on our citywide public art exhibition and 40+ events in October, visit opensource.muralarts.org.
As the block party closes down, make sure you stroll down the block to Franky Bradley’s (1320 Chancellor St.) as Heineken presents OBEY THE DJ. Ugly Bass brothers Mr. Sonny James & DJ Royale will guide a musical journey bumping everything from Soulful Rhythms to Classic Party Bangers. No need for requests (or to pay cover before 11pm) just OBEY THE DJ and get your groove on!
We all wish we could see into the future, and have a competitive advantage regarding what’s to come. For a second year, Philadelphia was the place to be in order to get an idea of that. The Pennsylvania Convention Center held another “Forbes Under 30 Summit” where young creators, innovators, social leaders, and more join together in one place to celebrate advances in every field.
Industry success stories come to speak on their personal journeys and experiences, while encouraging those in attendance to find and chase their own passions. People travel from various cities to hear these words of encouragement and advice. Even getting an opportunity to network with individuals who don’t have thirty minutes on their schedule to hold a meeting with you for majority of the year.
So why is Philadelphia the perfect location for the future leaders of every industry ranging from health, tech, food, arts, and more ? Possibly, the business world see a shift caused by the expensive property value in surrounding major cities like New York and Washington, DC. The next generation will want to have access to these major markets, but will be able to develop and nurture their ideas in a more affordable location. Advances at colleges like Temple, Drexel, and Upenn will cause for more of the brightest scholars to collaborate in the Philadelphia area. Not to mention the development of collaborative work spaces like Pipeline Philly beginning to surface for industry shifters to work out of.
Looking back after this year’s summit came to a close, I’m thinking now that our future leaders certainly came and enjoyed the city of Brotherly Love, and will likely begin to make this stop more often as they progress in their respective fields. Forbes may be onto something holding its summit which focuses on youth and the future, directly in downtown Philadelphia.
As it was the film that truly cemented the late River Phoenix’ sterling legacy as a formidable actor of his generation, it’s understandable that Gus Van Sant’s serio-comic, surrealist story of a pair of homeless cats trying to hardscrabble their way in the world, would be best remembered for his performance, which is startling in its naked immediacy, but there’s a lot more here to treasure than just Phoenix’ considerable talent. Van Sant, who built an oeuvre of curious indie outliers – Drugstore Cowboy gave way to Idaho, which lead to To Die For) before turning towards more mainstream material, had a kind of kitchen-sink approach to his storytelling (hence a propensity for fanciful comic flights here, such as a discussion by the male models as they appear on magazine covers, and a Shakespearean bent to his plot), which, when it worked in harmony with his material, lead to wonderfully droll observations.
As the soulful, doomed Mike, Phoenix is certainly the star of the film, but don’t totally underestimate Keanu Reeves’ Scott, a trust-fund kid who’s enjoying the lowlife a bit before embracing his financially superior destiny. Van Sant, who often worked with homeless youth in his spare time, has a way with the world they inhabit and genuine warmth and sympathy for what they must endure on a day-to-day basis. In this, Phoenix, who fully inhabited the role much as his brother Joaquin has done throughout his career, was the perfect muse with whom Van Sant could focus his considerable creative energies.
This beautiful Criterion BD release also includes interviews, a making of doc (from 2005), deleted scenes, and an illustrated conversation between Van Sant and Todd Haynes, among other goodies.
ZZ Ward has flourished as a unique figure in the rock and blues music world since her 2012 debut album, Til The Casket Drops, was released. The singer/songwriter/guitarist was born in Abington, Pennsylvania and relocated to Roseburg, Oregon at the age of 8. Since then, she has collaborated with artists like Kendrick Lamar and has opened for Eric Clapton on his 2014 tour. Ward is currently on her Love and War tour in support of her new EP, Love & War. Her 2nd full length album, This Means War, is due out in early 2016. Ryan Quint talked with ZZ Ward on behalf of 215mag.
Conversation with ZZ Ward ZZ Ward talks Philadelphia homecoming, tour life, and more
Ryan Quint: Both of your parents are from the Philly area — Your mom is from Germantown and your dad is from Richboro. I know you moved to Oregon at a pretty young age but I want to know what impact Philadelphia has had on your music career and even though you moved at such a young age, do you still consider this a homecoming show for you?
ZZ Ward: Yeah, in some ways I do. I feel like where I moved to, I was definitely the oddball out. Especially for my brother, who was 16. He had a very hard East Coast accent and I always felt like I was little bold. I had that chutzpah. I think I got that from my parents being from this area. We’re strong and confident and I definitely think I stuck out from that because of where I moved to. A lot of my family’s history is from Philadelphia too. My dad used to hang out at TLA all the time.
Do you have any lasting memories from your time in Philadelphia?
Yeah, my family was from Bucks County so we would go to the reservoir there all the time. Also, I went to Holland Elementary and my brother went to Council Rock. I went back to my old house (in Bucks County), the owners let me in and they showed me the house and it was so much smaller than I remembered (laughing) because I was a little kid. They still had the board in it where my parents would write down our height in the basement, it was crazy.
You’re about half way through the tour, how has it been going so far and for people who have never been to a ZZ Ward show, what can people expect to see?
Awesomeness. It’s been going really well. The turnouts have been better than I ever expected because I’ve been away for over a year working on my album so to come out and have people so, so excited about my music has felt really rewarding. It’s been an amazing tour so far. And we are halfway through it, I had a little break in New York. I did Fashion Week for the first time which was such a different world than what I’m doing right now being on tour so it was a really cool juxtaposition.
You’ve performed at huge festivals like Made in America, Coachella, Bonnaroo and even opened up for Eric Clapton. How do those huge shows compare to your solo tours and which do you prefer?
Yeah, it’s very different but sometimes festivals can be really magical moments also. We played Firefly Festival in Delaware and that was the most people I’ve ever played for. I think it was about 15,000 or something. When I went to soundcheck, no one was out there and I was hoping that people would come but then when I walked on stage to perform, I started to realize that more and more people were showing up and I actually had a moment where I got really nervous. So festivals like that can be really exciting but obviously club shows are just my fans so there’s a lot of love there too. It is fun at festivals though because I get to see other bands and artists and get inspired by them which is cool.
So I just read the story about how you pretty much found out you were Jewish when you were 27? Please tell me more about that story because I think its fascinating…
So, my grandmother’s last name is Friedman, which made it pretty obvious but she hid it her whole life because she lived through the Holocaust. She was actually in a line to go to the concentration camps when she escaped. And I actually found out when I met my manager because he’s Jewish and he was curious about me. I told him my grandmother’s last name and he said “well then you’re Jewish.” So I kept asking my grandmother about it and finally she said that she had been a Catholic for a certain amount of years that didn’t add up to her age (laughing). She had converted to save her family. It’s very interesting. I go to Temple for holidays and I’m still learning about all of it. I’m doing Passover and Rosh Hashanah for the first time and a fan of mine got me a Shofar which was fun. I’m proud of it, it’s exciting.
I have to mention your Fedora and how it has become a signature look for you — when did you start wearing fedoras and did you know from the beginning that it’d be a huge part of you look?
I was just trying to be like blues artists that I grew up listening to. I was scared to get on stage when I was little so I just wanted to be like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and they always had fedoras on. So I have always tried to embody that and now I feel like it would be really strange if I went on stage without it. Plus, people don’t really get excited if I don’t have my hat on. Literally, I was outside of the tour bus before and fans were asking for pictures and I didn’t have my hat on and they would come back after the show and ask me to take another picture with my hat on.
It’s pretty similar to James Bay’s situation and how he has become associated with always wearing a fedora.
It’s so funny. I brought James on his first U.S. tour. He opened for me and he’s really taken off, I’m so proud of him.
Your songs have been in TONS of TV shows and movies including Pretty Little Liars, Shameless, Awkward, Degrassi, The View, Veronica Mars, We’re the Millers soundtrack & tons more — Sync deals are often overlooked in music, did you or your team specifically target sync deals with your music or did it happen naturally?
It just happened! I never would have expected to get so many of my songs in movies and tv shows. A lot of people have heard my music through Pretty Little Liars or through We’re The Millers. There’s so many shows that have used my music, it’s really been amazing. It’s just exciting to go to the movies and hear your songs there.
You’ve worked with Current rappers like Kendrick Lamar & Freddie Gibbs, legendary producers like Pete Rock and Ali Shaheed Muhammad and upcoming rappers like Pell, who Im a huge fan of. You’re dad was also in a blues band. Did this love for Hip-Hop come from your father and his musical background?
Actually, no. My love for Hip-Hop came from my big brother. He used to blast Jay-Z and Nas in his bedroom and my parents never used to let me listen to it so naturally I would take his CD’s and I just fell in love with their passion for the lyrics and music.
I know one of your dream collaborations is with Pharrell, who else in the Hip-Hop community would be on that wish list?
Well Pharrell is definitely still on that list but I actually got to work with S1 who has produced with Kanye before. He produced “Power” by Kanye! It was so inspiring working with him and just seeing how dedicated he was. So I guess if I had to pick anyone else for a dream collaboration it would be Kanye.
I’ve read a lot of comparisons about your Hip-Hop and Blues influences to Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly — do you feel as though that’s a fair comparison?
Yeah, I mean Kendrick is incredible. What I really love about Kendrick is that he does what he wants to do musically. I think his fans appreciate that about him too. People had some negative opinions about the album, which they always do, but he did what every artist dreams of doing which was creating an album that reflected who he was and what his musical vision was.
Lastly, the Love & War EP came out in August, your 2nd full-length LP is due out this upcoming March — How do you feel this new LP is different sonically than the first album?
So many people related to my first album and for that to happen, it made me feel even more confident to go further into my artistry. To, again, go and talk about what’s happening in my life and ask myself what moment in time am I at right now? So I feel like I really captured that on the new album. I’ve gone further into the blues and further into Hip-Hop on my 2nd album so I’m really proud of it.
Stopped to think recently when someone said: “You never get someone who is going to solve your life by loving you, until you’ve solved your life. Love is a reward. It’s not a solution.”
And what a wonderful reward it is.
Ce la vie, there is no turn key solution for those, say, looking for love. There are hints and bits of advice, suggested paths, et al (i.e. we know not to go looking in all the wrong places) but of course most facets of loving yourself/another remain an evolving mystery. One way to maybe step forth in the right direction is to bring a ready willingness and strong passion to a given situation.
One man practicing this in life and in song is none other than Tarrus Riley. Raising the bar for this generation of true vocalists hailing from Jamaica, and infusing fortified energy into what is sorely lost and needed to be found — Rock Steady/Lover’s Rock. From his earliest of recordings to his latest album Love Situation (2014), Tarrus Riley has shown us the way — weaving together the numerous fibers of love one can witness in the world, and stirring up a passion for more, using his music to uplift and inspire rather than chant down and burden with general’s orders.
Perhaps sensing the times are ripe for folks to come together — as Stevie Wonder said last week at Dilworth Park:“Love needs love, ya’ll.” — Tarrus is embarking on a multi-city Catch A Fire Touralongside artists including Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Stephen “Ragga” Marley, Morgan Heritage, special guests Jo Mersa, Black Am I, Skip Marley and Jamere Morgan. Coming up next weekend this fire will burn right here in Philly for Reggae in the Park 2015 at The Mann Center (Tickets HERE).
Purest Passion: Exclusive Q & A with Tarrus Riley I had the pleasure to talk with Tarrus about, among other things, his passion for his craft and how he has succeeded in reaching a diverse audience.
Aran Hart: Talk about the increasing fusion of reggae music with other genres and what you think while you’re observing the world’s music scene right now?
Tarrus Riley: Well first of all, as far as what’s happening in the music business…everything is seen nowadays because of social media. So things that used to happen in private now are in everybody’s face. The good thing is the unity part, and ya know, music inspires music. Within reggae music there are of course different influences. And it’s not only happening in music… it’s happening in fashion, in art, in movies. It’s happening in all these creative situations where people are mixing and blending. Everyone is trying to just share their country and how they see what’s going on. Everyone is everyone… like the last time I checked… everything is everything.
In any conversation you find those so called purists who want things forever to be how they once were, saying “Now it isn’t real like the past, etc.” Do you feel that reggae maybe has an unfair extra level of this critique?
Well first, because it’s blended doesn’t mean it’s not pure. I mean people like what people like. There’s a man who likes what he likes, all day everyday… And there’s another man who likes another thing, all day everyday. One man wears jeans and another man wears khaki suits. And then there’s a girl who wears shorts and there’s a girl who wears a church dress. And that doesn’t mean they’re not pure. They have their own different kind of style. And you’re allowed to have your style, and you’re allowed to like what you like, in my opinion.
I understand the concept of purists wanting things to be a certian way, but we’re not going back in time. We’re going forward in time and it’s funny, ya know — the more things change the more they stay the same. So if you just look, I mean purists don’t have to worry because there are fundamental things that cannot go anywhere. You have to understand that and allow the music to grow and evolve.
Many folks mention how you are able to stay rooted in traditional sounds of reggae but are also able to sound remarkably contemporary… Do you agree with that and is there a conscious effort to do so?
Well, music is my best friend. So I just listen to what my friend tells me. I make Reggae music and rock steady music. Recently you saw me on a song “Powerful” with Ellie Goulding and Major Lazer. Call it what you want, I make music. I’m not musically prejudice… I’m not prejudice of any kind. Regardless of how rooted I am in my beliefs, like I said it’s certain fundamental things I don’t change… such as I don’t change the content of my music. But you may hear the beats change.
In my bio they try to put me older than I really am. I’m an 80’s baby, man. I grew up on different kinds of music and have different musical influences: from Tupac and Biggie to Shabba and Super Cat, and many R&B people too. So it’s unfair to my creative mind to do one kind of thing. I just reflect who I am.
Given the themes of your music and the topics you cover is it safe to assume you had a strong network of people, family and community that you soaked up this knowledge from and now you’re expressing through your music?
You can say that, I mean it’s all love man. It’s all just love. I don’t want my music to be a burden to people. I want my music to be something to make people think positive, enjoy themselves and feel good. The world is a very stressful place and I think music should be comforting. When you feel down you listen to your favorite song and try to feel better… or you listen to something and try to learn from the music. So that’s what I want to be for people and why I make my music. For example I have a song called “My Day” and the words I sing are “It’s my day to do anything I want.” That’s what I want people to feel. I want people to know that it’s your day today to express yourself freely and do what you want.
Yeah that’s what we’re about. So I can talk about freedom without sounding like a dictionary or without sounding like I’m trying to force it down your throat. I can speak about it in a cool way. Go ahead and call it you want but I’m still giving you conscious music. I’m just not doing it like I’m bashing you with it.
We still definitely see the themes of struggle, rights, social injustice and culture, (these pillars of reggae music and its beliefs) in today’s music. But take your most recent album with “Love Situation”, which surrounds to me what is perhaps the most abandoned topic of today’s reggae music… love. Where do you think the love has gone and why did you have this album choose “it” being love as the focus?
First thing about the album, is it’s “Rock Steady” music. Rock Steady being the era before reggae that gave birth to reggae and hip-hop. A lot of people call that music lover’s rock but it’s Rock Steady. And there are different kinds of subjects like on “Burning Desire” — which is a marijuana song, but I wrote it like a love song. So I mean there’s different kinds of love situations that have double meanings. And as far as the love being lost somewhere… A lot people are trying to act too much like tough guys, and they don’t know that the real tough person is not afraid to love you. A lot of people try to act rough and cool like them some killers and real bad man ting. Nah man, like c’mon, there’s a time and place for everything. There’s nothing wrong with love.
I recently heard your version of Gregory Isaacs’ classic song “Front Door.” How did that song recording come to be?
With love and respect, first of all. Dean Fraser is the reason why we did that. He was doing a tribute to Gregory Isaacs. So the whole thing was just to say respect and I think he called it “We Remember Gregory,” because we don’t ever want to forget Gregory. So, ya have a whole heap of young artists, paying tribute to the legend.
It’s great, I had never heard the version before, and it definitely made me smile…
Yea, and I knew Gregory Issacs. He was my father’s friend, so it was somebody that I used to see. That’s the cool thing about it, and the cool about having a father being a musician… I got to see a lot of cool people around the house, man.
I can only imagine! Speaking of your family, you just mentioned your father [Jimmy Riley], and I know your mother has been very involved with your career as well. But just because your parents were music pros/lovers didn’t necessarily mean that you were going to make music. So, why is music the perfect way for you to express your experiences?
My mother’s a nurse and she loved music. My daddy’s a singer and ya know, every youth in Jamaica wants to be like their father. When we say youth in Jamaica we’re talking about a son, ya know, and every young boy wants to be like his father. So maybe it was admiration for my father, but I didn’t want to do his kind of music. I wanted to do the music that I liked when I was growing up. I was introduced at an early age and by being around music I think it just created a love for it.
I have other relatives who sing also, but maybe don’t have the same passion like I do. I love exercise, I love sports, I love cooking. But I love music more than everything!
How do you know that a song/album is ready for release, and what’s that feeling like to release the music?
Well, you never know. Half of it’s following your gut feeling. You just follow your feelings. You just do it and see what happens, you go off of your instincts. You put your best efforts out, but then after a while ya just got to know that “Alright, I did my best!”
And they can’t take that away from you…
What is some great advice and/or criticism you received at some point during your career?
Hmmm, I would say, it wouldn’t necessarily be somebody telling me something… it would more be me looking at the people that I admire and seeing the mistakes they made and seeing the great things that they’ve done. Like, I’ll see some people do some great things and I’ll be like, “ok that’s really how you do it” ya know… And I would see some people make some mistakes and be like, “ok, don’t do that”. That’s the kind of stuff that really stands out. Understand me?
I think you just gave everyone some great advice on discipline and choosing role models…
Yah mon! So that was my advice because Jamaicans are not really into telling ya things… I’m not gonna tell you what to do now, rather just show you. And you just be around and keep people around to show you. Cuz if you don’t pick up then that’s your bad because ‘dem showing you…
Do you consider yourself a rebel with a cause?
I see myself as someone who rebels for a cause, whenever it’s necessary… But I don’t want to see myself as a nuisance. I’m making some music to enlighten people, and I’m rebelling against stereotypes and prejudice. I’m rebelling against people that try to put you in a box. I’m an advocator of free thinking, so…. I’m a rebel when needs be. Some people rebel just because — and I’m not a rebel justbecause. And I make music to share my feelings and my experiences, and to also speak for other people.
Finally, talk about the opportunity that you have as a voice, no pun intended, and a songwriter to reach the younger generation in particular… who it seems it’s harder and harder to hold their attention these days…
That’s why I spoke about the contemporary sound and things. I find cool ways of getting their attention and I move quick. Everybody’s attention moves quickly because of this whole internet and social media thing. It’s even hard to learn anything new because by the time you learn it, it’s gone tomorrow. Simple thing like a phone, the minute you get used to your phone, the phone company makes a new one. So things are moving so fast. You have to find your way and how you can communicate because it’s not easy. And no disrespect to the internet, it’s helping to make the world good, but bad happens in the space too… that’s the truth.
Anything else you’re working on right now that you wanted to highlight and any signing off message for your fans?
The Catch A Fire tour is something I’m really excited about right now. I mentioned the new song and video for “Powerful” with Ellie Goudling. Just tell the people who support my music, thank you very much. I really want you to write that… Just tell them that I never take for granted the support I get from people and I’m just getting started. I’m a serious musician, serious in the sense that I want to give them good quality music. I try to represent Jamaica in fine style from the world of music. I’m not here to be any kind of superman or anything… I just hope people can find comfort in my music.
Thank you so much for your time. We look forward to seeing you at Reggae in the Park and best wishes on your upcoming tour and beyond.
The best film of 2014, and it wasn’t terribly close. It comes from the brilliant Belgian directing team, the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre & Luc), whose work has long shimmered with plainspoken elemental human truths. This film is a brilliant addition to their oeuvre. It stars the mesmerizing Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother, just returning to work after a bout with depression, only to find her boss has held a vote with her co-workers to keep their bonuses at the expense of her job. She is given one weekend to change their minds or be laid off. Deceptively simple in its execution, but positively stunning in its effect: It’s as honest and insightful about the human condition as Bicycle Thieves, an assertion I by no means make lightly. In the end, it’s an example of one of the rarest and best forms of morality cinema: It makes no demands, and grinds no axes, but makes its powerful statement in absolute service to its characters. A triumph.
This gorgeous Criterion blu-ray edition also features interviews with the Dardenne brothers, as well as Cotillard and co-star Fabrizio Rongione, a tour of the film’s locations, and When Léon M.’s Boot Went Down the Meuse for the First Time, a Dardenne doc from 1979, among other goodies.
In a world of increasingly quick, fast, now, next… we can and easily do lose sight of some things that last longer and delve deeper. Many move on to the next before really appreciating the now. Theoretically, it seems something extraordinary will just simply rise to the top against lesser competition. But it often tends to be the opposite — with a distracted and perhaps media-exhausted audience.
Just look at how we find new music – blended in with a seemingly endless list of others one click or swipe away; as opposed to sitting down for a listen to one album by one artist, for a dedicated period of time. Let alone if music doesn’t follow a traditional 4/4 format and verse/chorus/bridge in a clean 3.5 min package. That is what for many of our ears we’ve perhaps accepted as comfort.
But for the likes of saxophone extraordinaire Kamasi Washington, no bother. He has succeeded in growing his talent immensely since a young age, and now pioneering an impressive career while doing what may be exactly the key: Not really paying attention to what conventional wisdom would say – rather making strides to explore and hone his craft the way his art form and fellow musicians inspire him to do so. And letting the track run on a little longer [10 + min at times], where he may come across a new found groove that would’ve remained caged and tethered. Ahhh, let freedom reign!
This approach, whether directly intentional or not, has frequently landed Kamasi in recording studios and on stages with many of music’s brightest stars, save no genre — including Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, and Broken Bells just to name a recent few.
Now in 2015, he has proudly presented his momentous effort, the critically acclaimed and aptly entitled album, “The Epic.” Take for example that Kamasi — and his crew “The Next Step or The West Coast Get Down” (who have been playing together since high school) have spent nearly five years putting together this album — which is a close to three-hour collection featuring full choirs and string sections.
I talked with Kamasi ahead of his upcoming show at World Café Live 8/27 (tix HERE) about The Epic, some experiences that have in turn formed his approach, and much more.
CONVERSATION WITH KAMASI WASHINGTON
Aran Hart: What do you think it is in your musical education, exploration, or maybe just in your natural ear for music that lends itself to successfully trying out different varieties/forms of music?
Kamasi Washington: It’s probably mix of all that, my personality combined with how I like to live. I kind of get obsessed with whatever I’m doing. I was also an Ethnopsychology major (the psychology of races and peoples) in school. I studied jazz music growing up and got my first gig with Snoop Dogg… so it’s always been a mixture of things bringing me to where I am today.
AH: With a lot of music that listeners are exposed to today, there is a safe format/structure that many have come to expect when they press play… How does your approach and style differ? How do find a groove and bring all the moving parts together into what can be a track/song/album ?
KW: In my approach to music I didn’t ever really take to thoseconventions. With my career I spent so much time playing for other people and immersing myself into whatever their music was. It was great for me because I learned and absorbed a lot from them, but it became hard to express my own thoughts, ideas, and concepts.
When I started into my own process, I was able to be much more uncompromising. It’s like a dog that’s lived in the yard for so long and you open the gate — it wants to run. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to run, I wanted to go, I didn’t want to really pay attention to other people. I was by myself and there were no rules… no time punching … I could just make the music the way that it naturally came. It happens so often that musicians feel as if they don’t follow those conventions, that no one listen to their music, that no one will play their music, or no one will like their music. So they follow those guidelines because they think that’s what they need to do. I didn’t care. I was going to express myself how I wanted to express myself and not be so concerned about the outcome.
AH: I know you just talked about how you focused inward for your own music. Could you also talk about the importance of playing with other musicians — that collaborative process — and for you in particular how it has helped you learn and grow as a musician…
KW: It’s very important in general, not just in music, but in life… in order to expand your horizons. For me when I play music with someone else I try to totally immerse myself in their philosophy, and take that information and that philosophy back to my music. I often learn something new about my music by looking at it in a new way I didn’t know was there.
I remember in the band we had together with Snoop, people were seeing that they had this super detailed and different approach to hearing music and playing music… For example, there were different frequencies and tones people felt were relevant to them. Not just what key you were playing but what part of the beat you were playing on. We weren’t just talking about notes… we were talking about frequencies, and life organisms (haha). And really they were all related to what everyone else knew about each other. It gets deep…
AH: Given your music’s format and style, how closely does the live version of your music resemble its recording?
KW: Every time I play it’s completely different. Even if I tried to make it the same it would be completely different. When I was putting together my album we had a full choir, a full band, and we had all these plans. It’s a difficult thing but it’s a beautiful thing about the guys that I play with… We’re all really tuned in to each other. And when you’re tuned in like that your spirit changes not just day to day, but even hour to hour. It won’t be the same tempo, won’t be the same place. So, the music is dictating for us to go different places. The slightest little change in feeling or space might, and usually does, totally change what you end up playing.
In terms of live versions — we just finished our first two weeks of our first tour [dates] — and basically every single night has been completely different. It’s cool though because it ends up being relevant to where we are. I don’t try to force it in any one direction… just flow with it, and we’re all open to responding and reacting to what it is, not what it was.
AH: Are you superstitious or ritualistic about any part of playing your music? Any kind of must haves or must do’s that you can share?
KW: No, not exactly. If anything I really try to clear my mind and relax by taking a moment or two to day dream. I’m around a bunch of musicians that all are pretty spacey and all over the place [haha]. So I find myself wrangling all the personalities to I guess … keep the chaos in order — but really the chaos is the order. I think I try not to do any one thing because there’s an energy and a spirit that you get from being free and you can’t really be free and do the same thing every time. I try to let myself be open to whatever’s going to happen at that moment.
AH: You have an impressive list of features and appearances where you’ve played with a lot of different people and sat in on studio sessions etc… Discuss the difference in the creative process for you now being the “leader” of your own project(s)?
KW: For someone else’s project you are figuring out what that other person or people have in mind as their vision — and what they want. And you know, sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s not. Some people are articulate and can tell you want they want and some people can’t.
Making music for yourself is more trying to create that vision, which is a different feel and different process — it’s more introspective. It’s like looking in versus looking out. When I was making The Epic, it was very clear to me what the vision of this album was and what I was going to be trying to capture. There was a sound and an approach I knew that we as a group had been working on for a while.
As a listener, you kind of just listen. With this, I could really feel all the changes, the push and pull of what was happening. I was in it. Everything felt amplified, and bigger, and slower in a way. For me it became very contextual and I could see it the different colors and different textures, if you will.
AH: Two part question: Your music being mainly instrumental seems to allow the listener to interpret a scene, rather than lyrics driving a topic… Do you see any movie scores or soundtracks in your future? And also, talk about the power of instrumental music compared to music that is lyric driven…
KW: As far as the movie score, yea that would be awesome. When I came up with the concept of The Epic I was definitely thinking about epic in the sense of “the story,” not “the size.” What inspired the whole album to be what it is, was that I had this vague kind of dream, which turns into this “wow story.” That story really encompasses what all the songs are about.
In regards to instrumental music… Music to me is a universal form of expression and to a degree sometimes words can get in the way of expression. Of course also sometimes lyrics can capture what the music is expressing. I feel like music in general doesn’t come from us, it comes through us. It comes to us as a seed and depending on what you do to it, it grows. So in that aspect, music is left in the hands of the writer and in the musician.
That’s why great songs differ from good songs, and good songs differ from bad songs. It’s like listeners all think, “Did the composer capture the essence of the music? And if so, how exactly did they capture that essence?” Basically, that’s going to dictate to the listener if they like the song.
Words add another layer — but also another opportunity to mess it up. Instrumental music is the purest form of expression. Once you bring words into the mix it can really amplify an expression — by either having your words match that expression, or you can mess it up by having words that don’t match.
With instrumental music you just feel it. It’s telling you something. You’re learning something. You’re feeling something and absorbing it. You’re communicating something without words… rather with a pure emotional connection.
AH: Lastly, where would one most likely find you in your hometown of LA?
KW: I’m all over the place. I live in Inglewood so maybe catch me somewhere like Leimert Park. We have an ongoing residency at Piano Bar in Hollywood. Honestly, I’m a pretty active person, not a home body, so I’m all over the place… So wherever there’s something happening, there’s a good possibility I’m there!