In Conversation: Moor Mother Talks Reaching New Listeners With “Black Encyclopedia of the Air”

Moorish mother, born Camae Ayewa, is a traveler; it transcends the linear constructions of time as it crosses geographical boundaries. The artist works in a range of mediums, from poetry and visuals to music and education – and with each new endeavor the list only grows longer, as current and past projects draw inspiration and mix up.

Experimentation is the cornerstone of Moor Mother’s artistic ethos, and with it the intention to make her work accessible to all audiences. His next album, Black Air Encyclopedia, ruminates on themes of time and ancestry, as Ayewa seeks to ask: how are things redefined? How can legacies and traditions be perpetuated?

The 13-track project features a diverse roster of collaborators – from Philadelphia rapper Lojii to Armand Hammer’s Elucid to Moor Mother’s own art collective, Black Quantum Futurism – bringing a fluid mix to Ayewa’s vocals, ranging from singing to voice distortion to recitation. of poetry. We spoke to Moor Mother about the relationship between poetry and music, working within artistic boundaries and floating between different simultaneous projects, with Encyclopedia proving a companion piece to another upcoming album titled Jazz Codes.

When did you start recording Dark Encyclopedia of Air? When did you start thinking about it conceptually?

I recorded it in March 2020. I was actually working on two albums at once. This album kind of just came to vibrate music and find beats that I liked, but didn’t work for Jazz Codes. And then you have a few pieces, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, this thing is becoming his – I don’t mean ‘monster’, but – blessing. It was kind of not planned at all. It turns out that sometimes when you’re having fun with something, it tends to be finished first. That’s basically what I was doing, just floating between these two records. This one just ended.

“When I play with different genres, I always try to make it accessible to different people. I always try to find accessibility angles to reach more people with the message.”

I read an interview where you mentioned wanting to make this album accessible. What made you want to be intentional about it?

When I play with different genres, I always try to make it accessible to different people. I have a jazz band, so people who don’t like noise or industrial or electronic music can check that out, and I have a punk band for people who don’t like jazz, and I do hip hop. I always try to find accessibility angles to reach more people with the message. But for this one, I really wanted to think about black women – mothers, children. I think of people on the margins of race and gender. At the same time, I don’t stray too far from what I love. It’s not like I’m playing a role or anything. I just try new things. At the same time, it’s not really new. It’s just people who really know what I’m doing. The biggest difference for me was that there was no synthesizer, and really no noise. I also always wanted to sing more. These two records really show it. I feel like I’m constantly trying to get better with my voice and my direction. This album might not be as political as my other stuff, but I keep it weird.

On the track “Made a Circle”, you bring in Nappy Nina, Maasai, Antonia Gabriela and Orion Sun. How did it happen?

Well, I’ve always loved Nappy Nina. We were supposed to hang out in Europe last year, and how bad the vibe [of the track] was going, I said, “Oh, I hear their real nice voice on that.” I just reached out and Nina sent the verse back, and it was perfect. But then I was like, “Hmm, there’s this young rapper, Maasai, let me see if I can bring Maasai on that too.” And Nina didn’t even know it. It’s not like we discussed it. I do my own curating. And so Maasai was like, “I’m down.” So what boom, you know, it’s like that classic song that I wish I had made a video for. It’s quite rare to have these three types of artists on a track. I was like, “Oh, my singing is still kinda weird, I need that kind of lip gloss on top of that.” Then I brought Orion Sun. I don’t think everyone even knew who was on the trail. I just hope they will trust me, that I will do a good job.

How does Philadelphia as a city influence your art?

I’ve been in Philadelphia for a really long time, so I guess this kind of question changes everywhere. I’ve said a lot of good things about Philadelphia in interviews, but it was my 40s when I recorded this. I was inside. It wasn’t like I was on the streets looking for inspiration. I had just returned from a tour in February 2020, and the last place I was was Venice, Italy. I was coming back from that energy and I played a great show with the art ensemble in Paris. I was getting ready to go on tour in March with my jazz band. I had a very good energy, I always wanted to go to Venice. That’s why my name is Moor Mother – I’ve always been a world musician. I am not based in any border. Yeah, I lived in Philadelphia, but I’m bicoastal now, you might say. I live in California, and the Philadelphia punk scene definitely inspired my first record, bone fetish. But now I come from a slightly different point of view regarding the influence of Philadelphia on the last album.

A song that I really liked lyrically was “Clock Flight”. Can you talk about the repeating pattern of the lyrics?

I was just thinking about the weight we carry, the bags we carry, and all the work that has gone into getting us here, all the trials and tribulations our ancestors went through to provide those kinds of moments. I have this poem where I talk about my grandmother who died of cancer. I say she was blowing air with her hands so we could all breathe. It’s a bit like what I feel for our ancestors. They make this world, make these feelings through all the conflict.

“I have this poem where I talk about my grandmother who died of cancer. I say she was blowing air with her hands so we could all breathe. It’s a bit like what I feel for our ancestors. They make this world, make these feelings through all the conflict.

Why did you title the album Dark Encyclopedia of Air?

When people talk about taking up the torch or carrying on the legacy, we have to think, “What does that really mean? What’s that like?” There’s this idea that nothing’s new under the sun. You can see in science that they’re able to advance certain things, like taking this vaccine and making a something else that can save people from another time. I’m more into expansion, not so much into reinvention, but I like this idea of ​​redefining what something means to you. Basically, I like it. innovation and all that, but I was just thinking about carrying on legacies and traditions.

I’m someone who faces a lot of limitations as an artist. I have to do whatever I can to provide those simple things like music videos and photo shoots. All of this is not very easy for me, so it’s difficult to try to build this infrastructure around work. No way I took it lightly. I sent this record to my manager when it was done like, “Hey, I think we’ve got something here, it’s about 30 minutes, but I think it can really touch people that I don’t have not touched.” It’s put together in that way of thinking about me as a curator and also a conductor. That’s what this album is really about – how I’m able to listen to the world and integrate these different pieces to make something work. And you will continue to see that on the next disc. Then I come back to blues and noise. But I really love curation and I love composing.

What do you think is the relationship between poetry and music?

Oh, that’s it. I now realize that poetry is everything to me. I wrote this book of poetry called Jazz Codesand the answer would be this album called Jazz Codes. Writing a book of poetry inspires so much more music. I wrote the book for one thing, but also Dark Encyclopedia of Air also lives in Jazz Codes. It’s just like, wow, a book of poetry can really inspire a lot of records. My first book, bone fetish, has inspired at least five records. Now I’m more direct at poetry. I’m giving a bigger offering to poetry right now. I just feel like it’s more important than the music, to be honest.

What do you hope people take away from Dark Encyclopedia of Air?

I hope people take away some kind of healing. When I made this record, I was riding that high. But once the summer was over, it got really hard and depression set in. Walking in Fairmount Park and listening to this album because it was finished healed me so much. It really helped me to be able to record all the other music I made that year – I made, like, eight albums in 2020. I can’t even imagine what I would have done if I didn’t. didn’t have this album to listen to and to build on, so that I work continuously. I guess I hope it creates that feeling for someone else, because I desperately needed that kind of healing energy to keep moving forward. Florida

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