Who's your number one local inspiration?
Sarah White of Shiro Dame: That's tricky because for me it falls somewhere in-between Polica and Up Rock. I can't pick one, so both merged together will have to be my answer. Up Rock is on some futuristic afro electronic eruption, while Polica is emotional, limitless and fearless. I love them both.
Allan Kingdom: My mom.
tiny deaths: How to pick just one? Impossible! Really inspired by the work Father You See Queen has been doing of late. Love Aby Wolf, Solid Gold, Polica, The Cloak Ox, too. Also super inspired by some talented instrumentalists I surround myself with... JT Bates, Mike Lewis, Frankie Lee, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Mike Rossetto, Martin Dosh, Joey Van Phillips... the list goes on and on and on.
Manny Phesto: I was late in learning about the scene here but the first people I became aware of, that I'd credit with inspiring me would be Big Quarters, Big Zach, I Self Devine and Glo Pesci of the Abstract Pack.
Ander Other: The pursuit of a practical and efficient coping strategy for seasonal affective disorder.
DJ Just Nine: My inspiration would be this community and local scene that I'm lucky enough to be a part of. I get to see a TON of great works of art come out of here every single day. I have so many friends who not only make music but also draw, paint, sculpt, write, cook, craft, build, sew, amongst many other things and do it very very well. The creative process is never ending here. If that doesn't inspire you to be doing more, good luck finding something that will do that for you.
Ms Kenna Cotta, director for Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: Right now, I'm inspired by Ndugi Njoroge - this Kenyan sister who works on literacy with very young Black children. She's my sister, our kids are each others brother and sisters, she's a revolutionary for educating Black children. I'm planning on making a Liberation dance about her kind of work. Musically I love listening to Pavielle sing - she opens her mouth and pours all this pain and pleasure into the air. It's cathartic to experience.
As a musician, how would you define "success"?
Shiro Dame: I feel like music is successful if I am happy making it and my heart stays in the right place. It sounds like such a simple task, but I really often times get so lost in the process and the expectations, that I lose sight of how much I love the journey. When I'm in a pocket where I feel good about making music and feel the music I am making really reflects who I am (without outside influence), I feel successful. Fame comes and goes, but the beat goes on.
Allan Kingdom: Being able to express myself, improve the living experience, and connect to the largest amount of people possible.
tiny deaths: Lately I've been defining success as making music you're proud of with people you respect. Being able to live off of it is nice too.
Manny Phesto: Success to me is being able to make music people can connect with and relate to, & to support myself with it. Being able to travel and live a comfortable lifestyle doing what I love is success.
Ander Other: Near-satisfaction, in perpetuity.
DJ Just Nine: Success for me is to be able to have people listen and enjoy the stuff we create. Having people hear it and respond in a positive way is all we could really ask for. If they decide to come support us through the releases and the live shows is just an added bonus!
Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: Voice of Culture makes music that represents the various modes and facets of Blackness. We are successful when people connect with those stories and learn more about themselves from interacting with our work.
How did you first start playing music? How did you become involved in the Twin Cities music scene?
Shiro Dame: I was trained in piano, flute and choir as a young child. My love for music was pretty apparent even at a really young age. Once I found a passion for words and was old enough to make the deep connection between the two, I began writing lyrics and poems. I'll always give credit to Big Zach for teaching me to write bars and raps, and the rest is history. After forming Traditional Methods and playing around the midwest, I definitely grew some serious roots in the Twin Cities music scene. Even once I moved to Brooklyn, I kept my ear on the twin cities. It will always be a home and creative space in my heart.
Allan Kingdom: Been playing music since birth in some form. Whether it be writing, singing, an instrument, recording, I've just always naturally be involved in it. Same with the twin cities music scene, went to an arts school in high school and tried to immerse myself in every way possible.
tiny deaths: I've been writing songs since I was 5. I became involved in the twin cities music scene by going to Perpich, the arts high school, and playing every open mic night and shitty gig where someone would let me in front of a microphone.
Manny Phesto: I've been free styling forever. One of my first real shows was a benefit for the family of Fong Lee, a St. Paul kid murdered by police. I started organizing small shows around town as I began to discover and network through the different corners of the scene. In 2012 I co-founded and curated a day long music festival on the west bank, Hip Hop Harambee. I released my first body of work, the Social Capital EP at the event. After 2013's event I decided to focus more on my music and released Southside Looking In June of of this year.
Ander Other: My parents played music when I was young and I took to it. I started using digital audio workstations and video production suites in school and had interfaced with software at a young age. I made blends and mixes with the software I knew how to use and handled the musical aspect of a few family gatherings. Technology and music converged further in my teenage years. Shortly after that, I became involved in the Twin Cities community through spectatorship, persistence and staying true to the dreams that came true (some nightmares, too).
DJ Just Nine: My father was a musician so when I was really young, I started seeing an interest in music from the things he was doing recording and playing out. After trying out a number of instruments in my youth, I saw a DJ with some turntables and decided I want to do that! I became involved in the Twin Cities scene back around 2007 with my late friend Abdulle Elmi when we started up a group called "The Usual Suspects." Later joining forces with Greazy, Akrite and I.B.E. and playing out as much as possible
Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: My grandmother and father are Jazz radio DJs on KFAI, and my mother was a member of some of the first African Drum and Dance groups in the Cities. I grew up as a Black American Griot, learning from and through the music and movement in our culture. I started seriously drumming in 2004 when I got my first set of douns (west african bass drums). VoC formed in 2008 with myself and my children and a few other folks from the African drum and dance community. We used to practice in the basement of this art studio down the block from my house and our first performance was at Juneteenth when it was still over north.
What’s your claim to fame?
Shiro Dame: Hmm... I'm not sure I know the answer to that, or I'd claim it.
Allan Kingdom: Making music people like.
tiny deaths: I have the world's coolest mom.
Manny Phesto: People know me for smashing free style cyphers. throwing dope events, speaking my mind, and handling business.
Ander Other: I've been recognized from time to time but I'm not living or working to achieve some enviable notoriety.
DJ Just Nine: probably my skills on the turntables. Actually, maybe it's the hair...
Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: Only the very young members are worried about that. My seven year old son said 'oh yeah i wanted to be famous!' when we got to be on a web TV show for the Children's Hospital. But here's a quote from one of our songs, "Say VoC": VoC/That's the name/Voice of Culture/ not out for fame/we play the beats/we learn the steps/ its more than shows/this is Blackness we rep! I think we are unique because we are a Black space for African culture in a white dominated environment.
If you could turn a potential fan onto your music in one sentence, what would you say?
Shiro Dame: Sultry Electric Neon Soul Revival.
Allan Kingdom: Hey I really hope you like my music.
tiny deaths: Imagine if Twin Peaks was set in the future, in the cosmos.
Manny Phesto: I'd say "you probably shouldn't listen to this." Reverse psychology. Just kidding, I'd say it's some soul sample/bars/real life/smooth/politicized rooftop music.
Ander Other: Once this fantastic debt is paid to my most patient teacher I must learn from my mistakes and will a joy celestial into existence for you.
DJ Just Nine: "It's the best thing since the internet."
Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: I think our tagline says it well: West African Drum and Dance with a Black American Twist!
We loved your single "Crazy Ways." When will we get to hear more?
Shiro Dame: We are about to jump in the studio to finish recording the rest of our EP and will be dropping it late fall 2014. We promise it will be worth the wait.
Future Memoirs was a big deal this summer, but you're known for making lots of music in very little time. Should we be looking forward to something?
Allan Kingdom: Yes, always look forward to something because I'm always looking forward to share something new. Even when I can't talk about it.
You're very active in the local music scene and involved with other projects. How did get started with Tiny Deaths in the midst of everything else? What does this project offer that Chalice doesn't?
tiny deaths: I got started with Tiny Deaths because I met Grant Cutler and was really inspired by his work and wanted to make songs with him. I think Tiny Deaths allows me to stretch my songwriting muscles in a totally different way, and it's fun to sing all the time instead of just 1/3 of the time, too.
You dropped your debut full-length earlier this year. You describe the project as a stream of consciousness – what can listeners expect? What do you hope they take away from the mixtape?
Manny Phesto: People can expect to hear my thoughts on everything that crosses my mind. You'll definitely get a feel of who I am through this project, the environments we're in and the struggles and dreams we share. Everyone takes something different from music, and interprets it differently. I just hope people find some sort to connection with it, if so it's a mission accomplished.
You've only been in the Twin Cities since 2009. What initially drew you to the Twin Cities and Doomtree? What do we have to offer that California didn't?
Ander Other: The Twin Cities offered a change of climate and enough growth to stunt. Through Doomtree I found sounds that were thoughtful but less equivocating. Minnesota seems to want to be right all the time, and I'm working on dealing with being wrong all the time. Minnesota has grey ducks, California had geese.
You have been touring with I Self Devine for the past five years. What have you taken away from this experience?
DJ Just Nine: Too many things to list really. I learned a lot from my experiences from working with the legendary I Self. Some of the main ones are consistently work hard to achieve your goals, be humble, and never under any circumstance stop at a small taco shop in the middle of the desert.
Can you tell us a little more about how you put your West African-based art to work as a vehicle for social change in the Twin Cities?
Voice of Culture Drum and Dance: My mission in life is to transmit cultural and technical knowledge to my people through our children. Voice of Culture is interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and all about providing a space for Blackness to be the dominant culture. The change we want to see is an end to white supremacy that oppresses Black people for being who we are, when the way we talk, the way we dress, our music and dance, and our spirituality becomes the foundation for everything passed off as 'American culture'. We make music and beats, and we engage with members of my community in creating this art that makes us strong and helps us change our community for the better. This is the reason the drums were taken from us. Voice of Culture brings our drums back to the Black community.