Hey All, today's the special day! Normally my birthday goes by w/o much fanfare since I usually don't think about it 'til the last minute, but this year I'm doing something different. At noon ET (just over an hour) I'll be doing a "virtual listening party" right here & on twitter. Instead of "receiving" a gift this year, I'm giving one, and it is the gift of music to all of you who have supported my creative/political/generally-opinionated voice over the years.
If you haven't yet heard the music, download it above or here on Soundcloud. At 12pm ET I'll be live-blogging notes on the album, answering questions about the music, the messages & how it relates to ongoing events in our world. The goal is to try to give some insight into the madness behind the method, and to encourage people to SPREAD THE WORD!
Usually, live-tweeting is more my speed, so the live-blog will be a first. Should be fun so tell a friend! See you right here in an hour or so! :)
Hey folks it's time for the VIRTUAL B-DAY LISTENING PARTY! First of all welcome to all of you & thanks a bunch for participating. This is our first time doing a liveblog, since I'm usually live tweeting, but I'm gonna' jump in feet-first & hopefully we'll have fun. First off the ways in which you can participate. Feel free to leave a comment here, hit me as @ashong on Twitter or jump on the Soulfège facebook page.
You can pose question or comments about the album, about the band, about social issues, politics, whatever.
At the same time, I will be writing updates on what the record is all about, why we did it & what we mean by the term AFropolitan. I will also hopefully be tying all of this into some of the issues I care about in society & that perhaps you care about to. At the end of the hour, I will stop typing & will keep this record for posterity. With that said, let's begin! Next update will be about the first song & I will listen to it while I type. Won't comment beyond the length of a given tune, because otherwise there's no way we make it thru in an hour. ;)
Right, I'm not going to say much about "Prelude to a Dance" because...well it's a prelude, and we all would much rather get to the dancing part. So then let's talk "AFropolitan." This is a song I wrote in collaboration w/ Jonathan who you hear rhyming on Verse 3, and Sajato who produced the track. It embraces a few different themes, but it actually has a through current that talks about the West African spiritual trope of "trance". When we say that word a lot of ppl will think of a style of music, but we're really talking about an entire spiritual/cultural phenomenon. Every verse has some metaphor related to that idea of magic, possession, spiritual power & all manifest through the movement of dance. So this one is literally meant to move body AND soul.
6 billion ways to live...choose one.
Easy Does It - Yes indeed! This one was written by Jonathan in collaboration w/ Jamaican/UK producer Tippa Irie. I love this track because it harkens to beautiful days gone by & yet to come. It's a love song that J wrote for his daughter & after having my own a year ago, I've never been able to listen to it quite the same way. Every time I hear it, I smile and I think of the lyric "like walks holding hands w/ your daughter." My lil girl learned to walk a few months ago, and while she's not big on holding hands (more like running wild), I still feel an immense spirit of love & upliftment in my heart every time she reaches out to take my hand. Love like this is so easy, and thus J has captured a feeling that many of us can relate to in one way or another.
"On the strings of my heart she goes a strum-strum-strum, to the rhythm she keeps tapping on my heart drum..."
Find Another Man - I LOVE this joint! The whole idea is that there's something about music that brings out that raw diggy in you! It's just a certain thing that people don't necessarily understand. I wrote this after dating numerous wonderful young women, who just didn't understand the role that artistry plays in my life. So there would always be a false "competition" between the girl & the music. Fortunately I wound up w/ another artist, so the understanding is fundamental. Still, this was a funky way to put things in perspective...
"If you say the sound is all in your soul...and when it's sweet, you lose control...and if you say the beat it makes you whole...girl you found your man."
Love Rain Down - This is another song that is very meaningful to me. It's actually a follow up to a tune called "Johnny's Song" that is on the previous album. It speaks of the story of a little boy who goes down to the "Crossroads" and sings a song to the devil. It draws from an old-school blues-style idiom & the imagery that the legendary Robert Johnson emblazoned upon our cultural psyche. It also features a DJ, which is a first for the band, but which was important in juxtaposing some of the sweetness in the vocal harmonies, with the raw textures of the DJs cuts. Most of them were taken from a rock song we did years ago called "A Long Way From Heaven," so all those burning sounds you hear were actually played by the band in our early days. This song is a challenge to each of us, to be willing to stand up to wickedness & to fight hatred with the power of love. To many such ideas seem naive & unrealistic, but ultimately I believe that even the weak are dealt a hand of power and if we band together that hand is mightier than those who would oppose our pursuit of basic human rights & dignity. I for one will not yield to fear in the face of injustice. Let us be like that small boy...spiritual warriors for good.
"Love rain down, why don't you heal me now..."
Angel/Trapped in My Heart - I wrote this song for my mother. I'm going to get emotional if I talk too much about her, but I'm so blessed to have this woman in my life & still guiding & guarding me to this very day. I grew up in so many places around the world, with so many influences, good & bad that worked to make a little boy very confused about where he fit & with whom he could/should identify. My mother was a massive force in both calling me to remember & revere my African heritage, and also to challenging me to be open and embrace the culture & values of others. I was shocked the first time I learned that most Americans don't have a passport. At the same time I recognize, this nation is so big most ppl here need to spend more time learning about their "own" country before they might even be prepared to truly expand their horizons. Still, in moving every 4 years of my life to a new nation, until I was 20, my mother helped me strike the balance between radically expanding my horizons, and remaining proud of whence I came. She helped me to discover that my dreams were indeed right at hand, and she taught me to fly on powerful wings that she fashioned for me. This song is for my mama, who was, is and ever shall be my Angel.
"How did you know, that you'd be my Angel, when your wings were trapped in my heart? Where did you see, that we would be wonderful, and our dreams would live where we are..."
Mle Mle Mle - this one is a ton of fun! :) It's an old Ga folk song from Ghana & the bulk of it is actually sung in my native tongue. My dad used to sing this to us, and it basically talks about these various animals & how they each have their own particular way, their own thing that they love. The message is to teach kids to be themselves & to be comfortable in their own skins. I decided to flip it & add a little bit of the "Diaspora" in the mix. So halfway through the song you'll hear us flip to an old-school Hip Hop groove & rhyme. If you listen to the rhythm you can hear Stix on drums & Atta Addo on percussion doing a lovely fusion of Hip Hop & African rhythms.
"If u ever need a listen on how to be free, just you do you, let me be me..."
Life of The Party - another cheeky tract about grrrls. lol This song is dedicated to all the dudes out there who don't treat your woman well enough, and she winds up "finding another man" so to speak. Now don't take offense gents, I've been on both sides of the barrel on this one & that's why I don't play w/ guns anymore. I wrote this on an airplane as I was actually thinking about the Doo-Wop era & how much I love some of that old music - Sam Cooke, the Drifters, even the Beach Boys (tho they aren't really doo-wop per say). Anyway, I wanted to do something that paid homage to the Doo-Wop style, but to put my own "AFropolitan" twist to it. Once again Stix & Atta Addo set an amazing rhythmic foundation, but check out the Latin flavour Micah throws in on the keys.
"You may be the life of the party, but she's my baby tonight."
No More - This is another collaboration w/ Sajato "JahtoWorks" Jarrett. It's in a reggae-style idiom & has a pretty directly political message. I think a lot of us were raised in a world that presumes that Western ways of thinking & living are to be privileged above others. But look at the entire world & history of humanity and if your vision is clear in the slightest you will quickly see the massive contributions of people around the world. Our struggle today is not simply w/ colonial borders & despotic leaders, but with the colonization of our minds. We see people who would take advantage of the poor, the defenseless, in order to advance their own agenda. The days of doing so w/ impunity are over. Our eyes are open.
"Look to what's bound you...and you'll be a slave, No more."
Never Know Why - this song embraces a series of metaphors. Upon first listening it may seem to be about the futility of questioning life, but this is actually not the message we're delivering. There are so many things that happen in our world, in our lives that are beyond our understanding. And yet despite that we stand & go on. Whether it be good or bad, this song is dedicated to both the brave & those afraid. Our humanity simply "is" and it is beautiful in it's mystery, as is the world we live in.
"Unshaken by the wailing of a world that simply doesn't understand you..."
Another Day - another "political" tune. Most of the songs on this album have spiritual or political significance, but this one is more explicit than most. It talks about the day to day struggle of life in "the yard", the challenge to pay those bills & rise up from sinking sands. It speaks of those who would promise us the world tomorrow, and yet with time we realize that "tomorrow never comes." This is dedicated to those politicians worldwide, who prey upon the fears of the people, in order to buttress their own position. But again, our world is changing, and so we grow wise...
"Enough of lies, open your eyes & hear me cry, I can't promise you tomorrow. For thus the wise, have long surmised...tomorrow never comes."
Smile - I wrote this song in Dec 2005 in Jamaica. By boy Marvin Hall & had spent a week traveling around Kingston raising righteous hell & talking to young people about our ideas of youth empowerment through education, technology & artistry. But we didn't just talk, we also listened & learned a great deal. I remember going to see Liberty Hall, the former offices of the great Marcus Garvey, reading the works of Pan-AFricanists & revolutionaries like Kwame Nkrumah & others who had taken up the mantle of Garvey's work. I wrote this song in remembrance of the love of my African heritage & people. It features a gorgeous solo by Micah & some really grooving basslines from Alex who carries us seamlessly from the Reggae to the Rock portions of the song.
"Smile because I know you're afraid. Smile, we are the children of change. Smile & let the world think us strange. We'll smile, 'til the end of our days."
Close Your Eyes - the final song on the album. This one has a very simple theme, and embodies an old trope of chant, and call & response to deliver that message. It features a wicked New Orleans style second line section with Elizabeth! Dotson-Westphalen on Trombone & Micah & Stix adding some additional flavor on keys & drums. At the end it repeats the chorus from "Michael Row Your Boat." An old Negro spiritual, about crossing over that river Jordan. Ultimately this album is a love song, dedicated to the African Diaspora, but also to all the people around the world, who have lived, loved & breathed the spirit of another culture. People have asked me before if I feel I am more African or more American. If my allegiances are based on race, or nation, or religion. The answer for me is none-of-the-above. I've always believed in living for something greater for myself & for me a big part of that is embracing the awesome gifts & wonder of those around me. I believe our world has room enough for all of us, to live together & to live well. I believe there are certain actors in our world who manipulate us to act against our own self-interests, and the interests of our collective humanity, in order to advance their own narrow interests. I believe it is high time we awoke and opened our eyes to the fact, that "you" are not my enemy, and neither am I yours. A new day is dawning & we will help to advance it with an open heart & a creative spirit.
"You can close your eyes...but I am never going blindly again."