I can’t think of another musician who could pull off a hook with the word “pedagogy” in it so elegantly as Abdu Ali, breakout star of what might be called Baltimore club music’s fourth wave. But that’s what you get on “I’m Alive,” a bombastic, intelligent hybrid of critical theory and club music, equal parts W.E.B. Du Bois and long dick boasts. Watch the video, created by Brian Agamie and co-directed with Ali, and read a short interview about the thinking behind it. Ali will start a monthlong tour on February 26 in Philly; a full list of dates is at the bottom of this post.
The production on “I’m Alive” is further from Baltimore club than some of your past music. Do you feel this song is still a “Baltimore" song in the stylistic sense?
ABDU ALI: The kick drum pattern is definitely an evolution of the Baltimore knock riddim. It's a song that's rooted in Baltimore club but travels into a different dimension fusing jazz, afro beat, and rap. I call it Afro Rave. I wanted a song that is really ethereal, charged, and engulfing. Baltimore club, jazz, afro beat, rap are sort of trance music. Sounds that eat you up when you're listening, especially live, and you have no choice but to be lured in.
You’ve cited the critical theorist Paulo Freire as an influence. Can you talk more about that?
I was reading Pedagogy of The Oppressed by Freire, and one of the most compelling things he discussed was the idea of the oppressed: people of color and people who live in poverty are dehumanized by classism and white supremacy, feminine oppression, and homophobia. It was my first time seeing the term dehumanized or dehumanization. I was awed in anger and sadness. I believed Freire's theory, cause as you see victims of police brutality are usually always depicted as thugs, beings who desired to be sleighed, i.e. not humans. The way people are subjected to live in poverty is not only vile but inhumane. Our humanity is taken away from us as if we are not deserving of being human. It's deep. It derived from a dated ignorant fact and the law that a black slave/blacks were 3/5 of a person.
There’s the Alice Coltrane sample, and the video’s rebirth ending has a Sun Ra vibe. Do you think afrofuturism is especially relevant to anti-oppression today?
I definitely feel a connection between the musings of afrofuturism, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, The Funkadelics and Parliament, etc. in todays struggle. In our art, from gospel music to afrofuturism, black Americans always channel the ideas of escapism from the woes of oppression. I like afrofuturism because not only does it channel escapism fantasy but transcendentalism and astronomy, too, and the idea that peace for people of color does not exist on this planet but on another planet or in space. They also believed we came from space. The future. But it makes sense that with todays struggle you see a lot of afrofuturistic connections cause we want to escape again, and do not see ourselves being alive in this world, nor does the system see us as being a live, so we’d rather go somewhere else where we truly can be alive. It's not necessary a physical space but an internal space, a space within ourselves sort of like the state of nirvana as you see in Buddhistic teachings.
What’s behind the lyric, Fuck your textbooks, I’m realer than a white crook?
Well, in western and European history, people of color, people of the African diaspora have always been cast out of history from textbooks to paintings. Like literally painted out. There was an exhibit at The Walters Museum in Baltimore called Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe where they had paintings of prominent African figures literally painted out of portraits. They revealed these figures by some complex paint restoration technique on light/distorted spots on the paintings where these black people were posing. My mind was blown. So that's where that line comes from: fuck your textbooks, no matter what you try to do I'm realer than a white crook/(white supremacy), which is a very real thing.
FEB 26 PHILLY@ GIRARD HALL
FEB 27 PITTSBURGH @ ACE HOTEL BALLROOM
FEB 28 NYC @ SILENT BARN
MAR 1 PROVIDENCE @ AURORA
MAR 3 BOSTON @ LILYPAD
MAR 5 DC @ THE PINCH
MAR 6 BALTIMORE @ BELLY
MAR 9 CHAPEL HILL @ NIGHTLIGHT
MAR 10 SAVANNAH @ QUOLAB
MAR 11 ATLANTA @ THE CONTEMPORARY
MAR 12 NOLA @ SKATE PARK
MAR 15 HOUSTON @ NOTSUOH
MAR 14 - MAR20 SXSW
MAR 22 DALLAS @ BLK LDG
MAR 23 MEMPHIS @ HI TONE CAFE
MAR 24 KNOXVILLE @ 1400
MAR 25 RICHMOND @ CRYSTAL PALACE
MAR 26 BALTIMORE KAHLON @ THE CROWN*
MAR 29 @ VASSAR COLLEGE*
APRIL 2 @ MACROCK FESTIVAL*
*Just Abdu Ali