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JAZZ IS DEAD. ADRIAN YOUNGE & ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD IN CONVERSATION

How’s lockdown life on the west coast Adrian?
Same as it is over there, boring! *laughs*

I guess music is keeping you running through though, right?
I guess so, trying man.

So, going back to your early days then, you majored in political law and studied entertainment law and obviously music was a big passion for you at that time too, what drew you into the music world over politics and law?
Music was always it for me, man. So the other side, that’s just my academic side, I always want to have that side of my brain working, to coincide with the right side of my brain. My thing is, I love academics, I love law, I love studying but I love music and being a creator even more, so that was just me self-investing and expanding my mind, essentially. But always, ever since I was a kid, wanted to do music.

Ok, multi-instrumentalist & self-taught, is that right?
Yes, exactly. So me and Ali, we both started off as DJs, sampling, and in order to make the music that we actually want, we realised that we had to invest ourselves into learning something and it’s interesting because we both learnt how to play instruments before YouTube time. So if we learn now, it’s just easier, y’know? But we’re still learning all the time.

There’s some serious application there, to put yourself through university, as well as teach yourself multiple instruments. I’ve always said the hardest thing about anything is actually doing it, ‘cos everyone’s got these ideas about something they wanna do but they never get round to actually picking up and instrument and if they do, they don’t stick with it, y’know what I mean? So, to do what you’ve done takes some serious dedication
Yeh, but to get good at anything takes real dedication; to be a great athlete takes dedication, everything takes great dedication, so our perspective is essentially, if you’re gonna be an artist; be the best version of yourself and always learn, y’know. I’ll call Ali at midnight and be like “Yo, do you know what this chord is?” Or “do you know the scale?” And he’ll do the same thing with me. We’re always trying to make each other better, y’know so, it’s something that’s going to happen until the day we’re no longer here, that’s just how it is, that’s how we live.


Ok, so have you got any plans to use your degree?
My law degree?
Yeah
Nah, straight, straight music.

Ok, cool, so the first release for yourself was a fictional movie score for ‘Venice Dawn’ back in 2000. Between releases was it a nine year break before the ‘Black Dynamite’ score?
Yeah, basically, yeah, exactly.

You’ve been pretty prolific since then, was it a case of you studying for those nine years in between?
Well, yeah, I mean, during those times I got interested in film and was doing documentaries and just kinda building up my abilities as a filmmaker, ahh and at the same time I was recording music but nothing was really released. My first Venice dawn album in 2000 I just self-released. So I didn’t have a real, actual release with the label until 2009 with Black Dynamite and that was a moment I was really waiting for and all the work I’d been putting in, years prior, put me in the position to be able to do that

How did that come about, the Black Dynamite score? Were you simply putting yourself about at that time and sending work off to people?
Basically, I was an editor, I was editing films and I had created that whole soundtrack. So, one of my good friends I was DJing with said “Hey man, so you do soundtracks and you edit, man I’d love you to be part of this film.” And we just all got together and made it happen. It was really as simple as that. Right place, right time

Okay, great. Ali, hope you’re well. A question to you. You have had a longstanding career in the music industry, obviously from your early days with Tribe and onwards, i always wondered if there were any down times between albums and more so after ‘The Love Movement’ Have you ever had to do anything else or has it always been music for you?
Erm, I stayed involved with the music, even in between working on Tribe’s albums, I worked with other artists, producing different groups. So, after The Love Movement, I formed a group called ‘The Lucy Pearl’ with Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson, so the music is in my soul, it’s in my spirit. It is a place for me to seek refuge too, it’s a place for me to connect with other people, connect with other ideas to learn from, also a way for me to connect with other people and share. So, tribe was . . . hard for me to really put into any words, a very special group and musically, what we did, seemed to connect with people and make an impact. I think with Lucy Pearl, the same thing and my other productions seemed to have connected with people but moving past that, working on a solo record, and after that, producing still, at some point, made the acquaintance of my brother, Adrian Younge. He invited me to a project that he was producing, and through that, it seemed, we were kinda like twins separated at birth and we’ve formed ‘The Midnight Hour’ and been composing and scoring together and even developing the works of ‘Jazz is Dead’ So, that’s what I’m gonna put on.

Yeah it’s an incredible partnership you guys have formed. A question for Adrian here. You’re a few years younger than Ali, so, i’m guessing Tribe were a big influence on you as well. How did you come to approach Ali to get involved with what you were doing?
He had said something on Twitter regarding my music and saying “I like your music” and I was like “You like my music?! Errrrr come on man, y’know?” *laughs* He influenced me so much and I was in New York at the time and we met, I think that day, and we lunch. Man, we just been tight ever since. I asked him to be part of the ‘Souls of Mischief’ album and he said “yeahhh”. He flew out to L.A, and we just started working. We were just clicking so much that y’know, we just really made each other better, it’s that simple.

Was it The Midnight Hour first or was it the Luke Cage project that you guys started on first?
We started on Midnight Hour and Luke Cage came along and we had to chill on Midnight Hour for a second and then we went back and finished it.

Ok great, and with regards to the production side of what you guys do, does the political landscape in America, and in the wider world influence what you guys do? Especially in recent years and with this current administration, is there any effect on your sound, what you’re trying to do, what you’re trying to project?
Well I mean, y’know as creatives, we make the music we feel in the moment, and with Ali, he’s even more than me, very statement orientated when it comes to making music y’know, and he’s been doing that since Tribe. So, we both respond politically, but it’s really more so what’s going on at that moment, if we feel like talking about that, at that moment, y’know? So, it all depends on where we’re at.

Ali, to you; how did the idea of The Midnight Hour come about?
The Midnight Hour came about from, actually, the work that we started on the Souls of Mischief album that Adrian was producing. And, just the flow of the outcome of music that he asked me to be a part of on that. At some point, every time we got together, when that project was done, we were doing music and we realised that we had a good amount of music and felt that we should do something with it and at that point we decided to put together and call it, The Midnight Hour. To go back to your other question, about American politics, definitely what goes on here, effects us, y’know we’re creative people and as artists, y’know you take what’s going on, if you’re that kind of an artist, you take the things that are going on and life experiences, and you put it to song. Some people don’t, but some people make obvious, or over the top political statements and some people don’t. But with us, we’re affected by it and the song on The Midnight Hour album – ‘Black Beacon’ – that song has a political undertone, just in terms of blacks in America, still in this modern day, seem to not have life on a completely equal plane. Knowing, y’know, the origins of where we come from, y’know we come from great origins and that’s on a level of science, medical perspective, technological perspective, architecturally, and often, Africans are not credited for the knowledge that is used today. We have a song like Black Beacon which is just really a statement, a reminder, of where you come from, no matter what time period, whether it the 1400s, the 2020 or the 3052, y’know, that song is to make a statement of remembering you come from greatness and no matter what trials or tribulations you may go through in life, they may darken your spirit, make you forget who you are, where you come from, y’know there’s a beacon that’s supposedly, hopefully, a reminder, so that’s what the song Black Beacon is.

This may or may not seem like an obvious question, but do you think things have become more difficult for black people in America in recent years, or do you feel that nothing’s really changed?
I think that, y’know, obviously there have been changes in America but y’know you make two steps forwards and then it’s twenty steps backwards at any given time and unfortunately whether they know it or not, white supremacy and that part of the mentality is woven into the frame of, not just America, cos America gets the rappest, the country that really has issues from a racial perspective, but it’s not just here. But, as an American, you see the changes and then you see the areas where there needs to be improvement, and so, until the day when people don’t feel like they have to have this superiority complex and they will let people have a different skin colour and culture, live and do as they do, then we will continue to have these issues.

I guess everyone has to keep fighting the fight, more so than ever before now. Adrian, coming back to The Midnight Hour album, that’s the first album and such an incredible piece of work, there are so many collaborations on there, it must have been a real pleasure to work on, do you know and have many relationships with many of the guys you worked with on that first album?
Yeah, it’s interesting because outside of The Midnight Hour, whenever Ali and I are doing music, and we have a collaboration, we’re always asked the question; how did this collaboration come about and y’know, were you planning to have this/that person? It’s crazy because all it is was “yo Ali, you gonna be in the studio today? Okay, let’s see if CeeLo wants to come in?” Y’know, it’s just as simple as, we got people’s phone numbers in our phone y’know and we’re like “hey man would you like to do this? Y’know like hey Marsha Ambrosius, we want you to be on something we doing. And they’re like “yeah, alright let’s do it next Thursday”, so it’s really that easy. I mean, when you work with people that are very talented, they make their own lane, and Ali and I like to create something that is tailor made for them, in the hope that it brings out more of them. That’s essentially how these tracks were created, y’know. So, collaboration was just simple and on the fly, in our live band we roll with a group of vocalists, so we can’t bring CeeLo all over the place, we can’t bring Marsha Ambrosius, Raphael Saadiq, and all these people, so it’s just us onstage essentially.

So you guys, seem to have been on tour forever, obviously that’s been put on hold now because of C-19. Was Jazz is Dead born out of Midnight Hour live tour sessions?
Jazz is Dead was something that our manager Andrew Lojero coined because he was doing a concert and he wanted to call it Jazz is Dead and myself, Ali and our good friend and executive Adam Block, all came together with Andrew and decided to turn it into a movement. We started having all these crazy concerts with all these legends and started secretly recording full albums with them and we wanna build up enough albums and then make an absolute announcement that “hey, we are not only creating concerts and content, we are also opening a jazz record label” Y’know something that is reminiscent of the old CTI blue-note days and that’s what we’re doing with these artists right now, we’ve been working on it for the last two years. Our next release is a Roy Ayers album.

Yes, that’s very exciting and we are looking forward to that, this is something that was recorded in your live sessions last year, was it?
Yes.

So, Ali, what are you guys planning on next, obviously you’ve got this Roy Ayers album coming out and you’re working with other artists producing albums I understand?
Yeah, right now the focus is prepping the Jazz is Dead recordings, we put a lot of time and passion into them. We just wanna make sure they out properly and promote them properly and in addition to that, y’know, I like the way you abbreviated and called it C-19, it put somewhat of a dampener on live shows we had planned for this year. So, as we’re getting the albums ready, we’re trying to figure out how to type some really important, special events, considering the new way that we have to present live performances right now so that’s what we’re focusing on. Adrian and I have started the second Midnight hour album, we haven’t completed it yet, we were on our way to doing that until we had to put a pause on things due to Covid-19. We are currently working on some scores, some television shows, and a movie. There’s an artist that we’re developing from New Zealand, her name is Georgie, and we’re looking forward to getting that out, hopefully this year. That’s it at the moment.

Okay, and back to Adrian just before we go, how do you guys adapt and change things with regards to promotion of the new projects with lockdown as it is at the moment? Obviously Ali’s just mentioned that you can’t get out and do your live shows as you would normally do to promote?
Yeah, as Ali said, you can’t travel or anything, so you still do all the same things regarding promotion with the exception of travelling because all promotion is essentially done through the internet, it’s not done walking around putting flyers in windows and on cars anymore, so we still do the same thing and keep pushing and y’know, hope people are paying attention.

Are you looking at next year for live dates, or just waiting to see how things progress in the next few months?
I don’t think there’s any live shows until next year, I don’t wanna go to a show where there’s people standing six feet apart.

Fair enough. So plans now are all Jazz is Dead project and the next Midnight Hour album?
Yeah that’s pretty much what’s happening.

Okay, great, well I’d like to say thank you Adrian and to you, Ali. Guys thank you very much for your time, full blessings and good luck with everything that’s going on and keep up the good work cos it’s amazing what you guys are doing together

Roy Ayers, Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Jazz Is Dead 002 is released on Friday 19th Jun.

 

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