"I Was a Reluctant Afrofuturist!" - Going Deep With Georgia Anne Muldrow
Georgia Anne Muldrow is perhaps one of the lesser known figures on the US West Coast avant garde hip hop and jazz scene in comparison to contemporaries like Flying Lotus, Madlib and Thundercat, but she's certainly not a lesser talent. Far from it. Over the course of a huge discography, alone and in collaboration with artists like Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Madlib and Robert Glasper, she's stretched her creative wings wide. Following closely an album by her more jazz-leaning alter-ego Jyoti, she's just released the third in her beat heavy VWETO album series. While these have previously been instrumental, this one features more of her vocals, further blurring the boundaries between her many projects. It’s also presented as an open collaboration: she’s asked singers, rappers, dancers and remixers to respond to it, the results of which will be showcased on her Instagram.
Mixtape spoke to her at home, to find a little more about her utterly unique approach...
Did you have a conceptual framework for this? It's kind of in between an album and a beat tape...
It's really more of a beat tape though. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll be familiar with the things I do - sometimes I'll have hooks that I'll present on there and say, "here you go, this is a bundle", these are the things to sell online, just hustling on the net. It's a very real thing, folks make beats and then sell 'em, this is giving you an experience of that.
Like a snapshot of ongoing work in progress?
Yeah. I have done a LOT of records - I think it's even more than 20, I think it's 22 records. So the deal is like, I don't feel like there's no rules to making no record, and if there is I don't care about em, you know? I feel this is open-ended music, I've said so many things about where I'm at, they may modify themselves as they speak - but Black folks still need to be compensated for their labour, they still need to be able to afford to rest, they need to be free. So I can either flog a dead horse, or I can I go the hell on and have a little stuff on record where people can rap to it, they can interact with it and do their own thing with it... I'm making space for people to be the star of the story, that's the record. That's why I said this music is the theme music so people can be their own superhero.
You don't sit exactly within hip hop, or jazz, or electronic, or experimental music...
Welllll... when it comes to hip hop, if someone wants to battle me on beats it would be a very good thing, I know what I'm doing in hip hop!
Sure, but you're not constrained within any one of those things... Is there a specific desire to show people that they can be free from these definitions?
Yes I want my people to be free! There's a very specific category of people that my priorities lay with, and it's the people who are oppressed, the people among the African diaspora. Those are the main people that I want to know they can be free to do whatever the hell they wanna do. That's my main focus. The music is just a by-product of what my intent is. I want people to know, there's no such thing as music that's too brainy on the one side - if you love Coltrane, you want to express that shit through your music, then do it! But then on the other side, if you want to just sing the blues and it's not as so-called brainy as the other thing that's out there, do that - be yourself. Whatever your moment call for, be yourself in that moment and own it. That's what I'm on. It's all about freedom, the freedom to choose your own expression and be tough enough to not give a damn what someone else has to say about it.
There's a lot of academic discourse on "Afrofuturism" that seems to insist that it has to be complicated or ultra radical, and writes off anything that's simple or straight-up emotional...
First thing on that: I have no critique of my people. I have nothing but love and space for us figuring out whatever it is we need to figure out. That should be noted. Now, for many years, I was very much a reluctant Afrofuturist, until I just did a deep research and deeper inquiry into what was going on there and then it was "oh... that's exactly what I'm doing!" My only thing is I'm an ultra-present African, I strive to be ultra-present. With time, I think a lot of things can get misconstrued with the title "Afrofuturism" as far as what the aims of it is: but it's a dealing with time itself, knowing we been here so long, and I really believe in the past, present and future merging into one thing. That comes out in my sound, in how I talk to people, in my sense of humour: the whole spectrum of Black people throughout time. It's not just in the future, it's happening right now. All we've ever had is "right now", moment to moment. I'm into technology: my job title is that I'm an "instrument of the ancestors", and I work with computers, so that's really Afrofuturist. But that was really happening naturally before that title gained more traction for naming things and labelling them and shipping them off. Which is cool: that's allowed me to be a guest on college courses, I've had great experience in what this is as a philosophy, and it's beautiful that this is something that's of value to academia or the like. But when you zoom out, academia has a far way to go in the values that it holds for children, for people who seek to gain knowledge. Some of the values it holds are very flawed and very colonial. So when it comes to Afrofuturism, it's cool that people can name it this, that or the third, but it's always been happening, it's just another name for us living, for Black folks just be. We talk and we talk, we been in the past, present and the future, so I say "that's just how we be": it's different to "that's just how we are."
When you look to musical expression of the past do you think of genres and eras? There are definite parts on this record that seem to reference specific times, whether it's 60s soul with hammond organs, 80s synth stuff, classic 90s hip hop breakbeats...
Yeah! For the longest time, what afforded me a sense of being able to travel when I couldn't afford to go nowhere, was the sense of being able to travel through time. I could build my own time machine through music, and feel the vibe and speculate about how it would feel to be an adult in that time or an artist. With jams like "Unforgettable" it was definitely some new wave kind of thing, but there's breakdancers that love that kind of song. I always envision groups of people, places and things when I make music. Something that's always intrigued me is convergence of different scenes at one point, like how hip hop brought together punk rock, new wave, a lot of different people because they're all on the outside looking in on general society, which wasn't working for them.
Talking of scenes, do you feel part of, or close to, what people call the "beat scene" out of California?
Man, c'mon, I know these people! I made record with Madlib, I know these people, these people know me, know what I'm saying? They know that I got beats. Even before the beat scene turned to what it turned to with the more abstract leaning, I really had something to do with that going that way. I'm definitely part of that. I'm from L.A. Yes! I'm literally from here!
Do you have feelings about how that sound and scene has gone global, so now you've got people making off-kilter, Californian inspired beats from Moscow to Macau?
Well.... my main target is Black people. I think that's what distinguish me from some other beat scene people: the Black folks is my concern. I feel in servicing them, everyone else going to be serviced. That's where I'm coming from. My beats is not really off-kilter - I'm doing ancient rhythm. It's informed by very ancient African rhythm what I'm doing, it's not just to be abstract and bleeps and bloops! I have a background in experimental synthesiser music too, and in my experience of that, when you're shaping a waveform and seeing where it's going to take you, you're not doing it just so it sounds experimental, you're doing it to search. You're not thinking about other people trying to figure out how you did it, you're doing it to unleash a vibration, right? That's where I'm at with it. I very much do appreciate the respect I get in L.A., I've worked really hard to bring a sound to life that people could use. I really wanted to bring about an open-source sound: a sound that allows people to interface their own whims and preferences on to it, and just to be themselves on it. And yeah that's happening here, it's finally happening. It's happening because of the devotion of fine musicianship, the devotion of fine multi-media artists, and due to folks just wanting to hear more things as listeners. All of those things have contributed to me being able to still work, and I do appreciate it. I love it. I love that this sound is growing, because it's my sound! So if this sound is expanding into the world, that allows me to keep on experiencing and reaching myself, and being able to actually work.
And do you tend to work on discrete projects, or multiple things at once?
Oh man, I be jumping, skipping, hopping and tripping - I love music. I'm always doing something different. Just when I think I can't, there'll be something inspiring to lead the way. A collaboration that presents itself, or the right band, or the right kind of creative environment that's going to provide. I just released a new single, "Can't Let Go" with Donn T who's an amazing singer and fellow Black woman, so I'm excited about that. I been dropping guerilla stuff, doing all kinds of stuff, it's quite immense and I love it. Because I'm just still into being what I want to do when I want to do it, and getting people into the concept of sharing as they feel, and that's it!
Cover Image: Georgia Anne Muldrow
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs