These past few weeks have been a lot for us and a reminder that the fight doesn’t stop because others just started to notice. Protests worldwide broke out in the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Nina Pop and too many others. Artists and musicians are humans beings, offering reflection and support for the Black Lives Matter movement in gesture and in song.
Many people took part in Blackout Tuesday this week, but my Blackness doesn’t get any days off. What sense does it make to be silent in solidarity? How does anything change that way? Like I said, these past few weeks have been a lot for us all—in very upsetting and maddening ways. I continue to pray everyone continues to stay safe and healthy out in these still-COVID-19-laced streets.
While streaming services like Spotify create voiceless tributes in memory of George Floyd, I wanted this edition of ESSENCE’s The Playlist to celebrate the lives of the fallen with some heartfelt jazz. Listen below as Nubya Garcia, Terrace Martin, Braxton Cook—and the late greats Hugh Masekela and Tony Allen—plus more share music to aid us in this time of chaos.
1. Jyoti (Georgia Anne Muldrow) — “This Walk”
Georgia Anne Muldrow is mesmerizing in so many different ways. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has announced her new LP as Jyoti, her third solo jazz project under a name given to her by Alice Coltrane. “This Walk,” the lead single from Mama, You Can Bet!, is described by the multi-instrumentalist and producer as how “violence can both ignite and snuff out a voice.” A timely song from a timeless artist, “This Walk” is a ballad that speaks to feelings of people across the country.
2. Salaam Remi & Terrace Martin — “ChickenNWaffles Baptist Chuuch”
These two super-producers are no strangers to the streets. Salaam Remi and Terrace Martin have crafted classics that empowered the youth (Nas’s “I Can”) and became a chant at Black Lives Matter protests. On “ChickenNWaffles Baptist Chuuch” from their 2019 effort, North Side of Linden, West Side of Slauson, the two capture the realness of their hometowns and deliver an uplifting number for any true-blue jazz lover.
3. Kamaal Williams — “Salaam”
Hearing a young virtuoso like Kamaal Williams will make anyone’s heart smile. As one half of the short-lived London-based jazz group Yussef Kamaal, Williams has continued to pierce the celestial plane with his genre-contorting abilities. “Salaam,” which jumpstarts Williams’ 2018 dynamic album, The Return, satisfies like an ice cold lemonade in the summertime. Listen to his newest cut, “One More Time,” if you’re listening out for a spiritual rebellion.
4. Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes — “Storm Before The Calm” (ft. Kaidi Akinnibi)
I didn’t place Yussef Dayes next to his former collaborator on purpose, but his purpose on What Kinda Music is cosmic in scope. “Storm Before The Calm,” which also features jazz talent Kaidi Akinnibi, is an expansive yet tightly coordinated number that brings out the best in Dayes and Tom Misch. There is a depth and darkness in Dayes’ rhythms that is offset by Misch’s pitch-perfect pop vocals. This song will have you stretching yourself to your outer limits and achieving peace.
5. Ghost-Note — “Looking at the World”
Ghost-Note is the side project of Robert “Sput” Searight and percussionist Nate Werth, best known as two members of the multiple Grammy-winning jazz collective Snarky Puppy. “Looking at the World” is one of my favorite cuts from 2018’s Swagism adventure. A social justice anthem with a hefty dose of conscious funk, this song is a great discovery for first-time listeners and jazz newcomers.
6. Nubya Garcia — “Pace”
It’s no secret that I love Nubya Garcia and her music. To hear her first release on Concord Jazz, Pace—jointly produced by her and Kwes (Solange, Bobby Womack)—is like experiencing the contrast and colors of living the fast life. According to Garcia, Pace is meant to inspire listeners to “think on what makes each of us joyful, what things we personally reach towards to feel ground.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
7. Nina Simone — “I Sing Just to Know That I’m Alive
Nina Simone’s newly reissued 1982 album Fodder On My Wings is considered an outlier in her catalog, but with what’s going on these days, it is more like Black classical music to my ears. “I Sing Just to Know That I’m Alive” hits a bit differently when you listen to it after hearing Simone’s frustrations molded into a jarring personal statement. If you need to drawing on extra motivation, this is one soul sound that needs to be played loud and proudly.
8. Hugh Masekela & Tony Allen — “Obama Shuffle Strut Blues”
Rest in Power to Hugh Masekela and Tony Allen.
The two music legends exuded true creative and spiritual freedom during their time on this planet and Rejoice captures the blessings they were able to do together before being called home. “Obama Shuffle Strut Blues,” one of the last tunes they made is an exquisite example of their talents in full bloom. A percussive tour de force, “Obama Shuffle” was recorded mostly a decade ago in London at a time when 44 hadn’t been in office too long, but we could sure use him back at the White House ASAP.
9. Ben Williams — “March On”
Ben Williams is one of the most explosive voices in jazz. His politically charged and incisive album, I Am a Man, is emboldened by the emotional heft of the past. “March On,” which features D.C. actor/poet Wes Felton, paints a portrait of an artist and Black man in America in search of answers to help guide him through life. Rich in Black consciousness, this song is a window into what these protesters activated for: to end systemic racism and Black deaths by any means necessary.
10. Yussef Dayes & Alfa Mist — “Love Is the Message” (ft. Mansur Brown)
To give insight to just how superb Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams are as artists, I wanted to close this edition of The Playlist with a statement-making song called, “Love Is The Message,” which features pianist and composer Alfa Mist and guitarist Mansur Brown. The seven and a half minutes is worth the experience as this song is a shimmery and intricate work of art that is controlled display of exquisiteness that doesn’t overstay its welcome.