Moor Mother’s musical galaxy is growing again
Poet and musician Camae Ayewa is a study of non-stop movement. On a recent video call from Los Angeles, she chatted as she paced her apartment, stopping to open a few wardrobes and popping a Ricola cough lozenge. “When people hang out with me, we’re not going to sit and talk all the time,” she said. “I like to create. It’s my energy.
Unsurprisingly, Ayewa is an accomplished multitasking. Over the past five years, she has released a thoughtful mix of hip-hop, spoken poetry, punk and electro under the name Moor Mother – a handful of critically acclaimed solo albums, two (with a other in progress) as a member of the free jazz quintet Irreversible Entanglements and a joint rap record with Brooklyn rapper Billy Woods. It’s unclear where she’ll perform: dreaming with British jazz troupe Sons of Kemet, performing with the Art Ensemble of Chicago or on stage with pianist Vijay Iyer.
“I meet people and then we kind of form a kinship and then something works,” Ayewa said. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, forced her to tap into another well for her new album, “Black Encyclopedia of the Air,” which was released last week. Without the face-to-face interaction she prefers, she started working on the album alone in Spring 2020 as a fun side project to explore traditional hip-hop textures.
Produced largely by Olof Melander (whose beats blend free jazz and electronics), and starring rappers maassai, Nappy Nina, Lojii and Pink Siifu, Ayewa’s latest album is one of her simplest to date. day. “Like most people on the East Coast, I started to get into this depression,” she explained. (She currently teaches composition at the University of Southern California, but spent most of the pandemic in Philadelphia.) “So I was listening to this album, and it became a healing process as I worked on it. other things.”
The majority of the Moor Mother catalog is, in a nutshell, intense. Take “The Myth Hold Weight” from his 2016 album “Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes”. “We want our money refunded / printed on fresh cotton and a glass of blood from the Confederate Fountain / that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains,” she speaks on a weightless beep and bloop trail that looks like a spaceship landing. It can sometimes seem like Ayewa inhabits her own universe. (When asked how old she was, she replied, “I don’t believe in age.”)
Iyer, who collaborated with Ayewa for a concert in Prospect Park in August, said his lyrics were “so eclectic, so vast, so deep, so sharp.”
“All about it,” he continued, “the sound artist side, the hip-hop side, the spontaneous poetry, the collaboration and the community, the imagination that extends beyond, all of it together continues to be super exciting to follow and to be a small part of his world.
Some of Ayewa’s earliest musical memories include listening to gospel as a child in Aberdeen, Maryland. Her father sang in the church choir and she eventually followed suit, until she gave up to start practicing taekwondo.
She smiled widely as she spoke of her first love – basketball – which she entered after her sister Paulette became a star player at North Carolina A&T. “Then I discovered Bob Marley,” she said with a smile. “I started to be a little more creative, like ‘maybe I want to be an artist.’ She started listening to hip-hop; rappers MC Lyte and Da Brat are among his favorites.
“Hip-hop was so cool,” Ayewa said. “There were so many different artists in so many different boxes, not just one type of look.”
When Ayewa moved to Philadelphia to study photography at the Art Institute, she formed a rap duo with her best friend, Rebecca Roe, called the Mighty Paradocs, who quickly morphed into a punk band – “a Rage Against the Machine meets a sort of Bad Brains band, “Ayewa said – with political lyrics and brash instrumentation. This led to a monthly concert series called Rockers !, a place for like-minded musicians who made it happen. esoteric art that did not fit a particular space. The shows lasted over a decade. Along the way, Ayewa started or was part of a number of groups or collectives, each representing different aspects of her art: Girls Dressed as Girls, a lo-fi punk outfit; Black Quantum Futurism, a multidisciplinary duo with author Rasheedah Phillips.
In 2015, Ayewa joined saxophonist Keir Neuringer and bassist Luke Stewart to play the Musicians Against Police Brutality rally, held in the wake of the murder of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, in eastern New York. There they meet trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes and soon enter a group in a recording studio in Brooklyn. The resulting album, “Irreversible Entanglements” (also the name of the project), was a combative free jazz set that berated the police, racism, capitalism and politics.
“We each had a few different ideas, but ultimately the first thing we did was start playing,” said Stewart. The LP arrived in 2017 amid heightened awareness surrounding the deaths of unarmed blacks. In turn, Ayewa’s words did not fire any punches. “She brings the intensity of her vocal performance to a rudimentary level of musicality,” added Stewart. “The sound and timbre of his voice lends itself well to this kind of situation. Looking at her movements as an artist and community organizer, I think she comes from a very deep place. “
The collective’s third album, “Open the Gates”, is due out on November 12th. While he’s got all the fire from his first two outings, he’s destined to break out of the rage. Ayewa had studied books on Tai Chi as a way to relax during the throes of the pandemic and decided to apply this practice in her writing for the group’s new record. “We entered with the intention of meditation,” she said.
As for her own album, “Black Encyclopedia of the Air”, Ayewa said it was time to come back down to earth a bit, to come up with a more direct project that doesn’t sacrifice complexity. “I want it to be accessible so you can play it when hanging out with your mom or little sister,” she said. “You can still get the point across, but it’s not over your head, you know?” The feelings are still there.