Photo: Ali Shaheed Muhammad @ the303, NYC – May 5

Photos by Eddie Pearson

Last night a packed house celebrated Cinco de Mayo with Ali Shaheed Muhammad for a special night of dinner and dancing at the303 in NYC! Get the visual recap above!

Ali had everyone singing along to every song, not skipping one beat. And you know if the DJ has a smile on his face all night long, something is going right!

Iggy Azalea Makes It Bounce in Brooklyn

Iggy Azalea at Music Hall of Williamsburg

Words by Chelsea Whitaker

Iggy Azalea has learned how to be a superstar. Everything about her sold out show in Brooklyn – the art deco South Beach themed set, the choreographed dancers, her flawless rapping – was polished, professional and ready to live up to the expectations of her rabid “Azelians”, as well as silence the skeptical critics.

With her hit single “Fancy” climbing the charts, Iggy is finally taking her place as a genre-transcendent artist. She walks the line between rapper and pop star, ratchet and iconic. And her are fans eating it up, seizing the opportunity to come to shows, buying merchandise and singing along to every line.

A warm-up DJ set of perfectly mixed disco and deep house by Lauren Flax – a star in her own right – got the crowd into a girl power groove. When the dancers came out through the “Hotel Iggy door”, followed by Iggy herself, every phone and every hand was in the air. Iggy paused, posed and said “Stop. Think about it” just before dropping into the Steve Aoki produced “Beat Down”. It was immediately obvious she was practiced and ready – every word was clear, and her voice was powerful even without backing vocals (something some other rappers could certainly learn from).

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Photo: Art of Cool Festival in Durham – April 25 & 26

Photos by Jen Diaz

Coming straight from Bull City after a two-day live music binge is a must. If you haven’t already enjoyed that type of adventure, start planning for next year. The Art of Cool Festival made its debut this past weekend taking over Durham, North Carolina and inviting a city to enjoy the sounds of Jazz, Hip Hop, and R&B with a world-class lineup. A few artists on the bill were Maceo Parker, The Foreign Exchange, Amel Larrieux, Hubert Laws, Kneebody, KING, Thundercat and Cody ChestnuTT, just to name a few. Venues were filled across town and the streets were packed with music-lovers navigating their way through the performances. Be sure to support this tremendous effort to highlight Jazz and all of its influences by donating to the Art of Cool Project.

Keep Jazz Alive!

Alsarah Talks ‘Silt’ & Embracing the Concept of a Living Tradition

alsarah

Former Giant Step staff member and singer Alsarah has gone on do some amazing things; Constantly on the go internationally and within Brooklyn, she’s enamored dozens of audiences with her vibrant music and dynamic stage presence. While her influences clearly draw from her Sudanese heritage, the frequent experimenter’s sound knows no bounds. Last month she released Silt, the debut album for her group, Alsarah & The Nubatones. Get a look into the rising star’s mind and what lies ahead in this exclusive interview!

Giant Step: What was the driving force behind you creating Silt? Where would you want it to reside in the greater musical dialogue?

Alsarah: I wanted to make an album that spoke to my experience as a musician. Something that both spoke to my roots as well as my present. I see it as being a part of the greater East African musical dialogue. A dialogue that I think needs to be heard internationally and not just in the region.

GS: Since many of your listeners may not speak Arabic, could you give us a rundown of some of the focal topics on Silt?

A: The over-arching common theme in this album is migration/immigration, and while that is never overtly addressed in a didactic sense, it is the common denominator. It is addressed directly sometimes in songs like “Bilad Aldahb” (The Land of Gold), which is part of the Nubian Songs of Return genre written by Ahmed Mounib. This song speaks of a nubian person’s longing for their home by the banks of the nile and their deep sense of loss with a repeating chorus that states “I am a human, and my address is the land of gold”. We also touch on it indirectly sometimes with songs like “Soukura (It’s Late)”, an original composition by myself arranged by The Nubatones that speaks of ‘secrets untold that must melt and pour out someday’. But we also flirt with the idea of this topic thru traditional girls music like the opening track “Habibi Taal” (my love come here) where a woman sings to her lover to come and be with her across all distances and different lands. Also, I’m working on a PDF of translations for all the lyrics of the songs that I plan on putting up on my website soon!

GS: How does being an ethnomusicologist inform your music making?

A: Well, I think the biggest thing is it put all my music in a larger historical context and allowed me to see myself as part of a larger story of music culture. It also helps me understand how the western world views the idea of ‘ethnic’ music and all the trappings that come with that gaze i.e. preserving traditional music in its purest format; what is authentic enough and why, etc. Once you see yourself as part of a living tradition but not its sole keeper, you are free to create new work within that tradition as opposed to just being a slave to the idea of preserving it.

GS: We had the pleasure of having you at Giant Step for a few years. How do your experiences working on the business side of music influence your approach to the music industry?

A: Honestly, it was one of the most valuable experiences I could ever have as a musician. Nothing can make you understand how the business works quite like being on the industry side of things. What’s really important and what’s not, the types of traps to avoid, who to trust or not and how to make that judgement call. All of that is nothing anyone teaches you as a musician; you are supposed to just learn it by trial and error, but working at GS for a few years has helped me avoid some serious mistakes so far.

GS: In your opinion, what qualities make certain music timeless?

A: I think music that communicates a past present and future is timeless music. And the most beautiful part of those qualities is the diverse array of ways to communicate them.

GS: As someone that seems to deeply enjoy experimentation and exploration, you’ve worked on an array of projects over time, including your recent release with Debruit. What’s next on the horizon for you?

A: There is lots brewing right now, so its an exciting time. I’m finishing up projects that were already started and starting new ones. Debruit and I are going on our first tour together in June around Europe and trying to plan an August tour in North America already. I’m working as the music producer on a documentary about war, music and identity in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions of Sudan where I traveled last year. We should have ready for release by the end of the summer. I’m also working with a few other producers and musicians making songs here and there that will be trickling out over the next few months. Another exciting project for me is working with folk musician Toshi Reagon on a new body of songs I’ve been writing but that’s still a long way from done, so we won’t talk about it now :)