Scott Stretches Boundaries
Do you think that Christian aTunde Adjuah will help to bring that back in music—collective inspiration that stems from social issues?
That was one of the things that I thought about heavily when we were making the document. I wanted it to be not only very personal and as sincere as possible in context of how I went about navigating my experience, [but] also the things that I interpret from the world around me. One thing that was more important than that was to be able to show the next generation of musicians that it’s OK for you to be unique and sincere. I’m on the cover of the album dressed in the regalia of the Black Indians from New Orleans. People who don’t know about that culture see it, and they’ll ask, “What are you dressed up in a fluffy costume for?” I’ll explain that this is a 400-year-old culture that was based on an acculturation of diasporic West Africans and Southeast Louisiana Native Americans, who decided that they were going to get together and fight the oppressor.
In Boston, I was heading to a gig and passing [by] a conservatory where a lot of the students recognized me. This teacher came up to me and told me that he was very upset that I wrote a song called “Ku Klux Police Department (K.K.P.D.)” and that I should seriously think about my song titles and the way they affect people. I asked him if he had written a letter to the Klan to tell them that he was very upset that they had lynched people for over 200 years. The look on this man’s face—he was mortified. You’re going to attack me for illuminating an injustice that happened to me and you’re not doing shit to make sure that it doesn’t happen to other people? If the person you want to take the problem out on is myself, then as far as I’m concerned, you’re a coward.
Christian aTunde Adjuah is a hybrid of not only jazz and traditional New Orleans music, but also hip-hop, rock and other contemporary influences. How did you achieve your overall sound?
It was a very long process—five or six years. We’ve been in a band together working on different things, growing as a unit and really trying to build stretch music. If you think of jazz at the turn of the last century as really the world’s first global fusion music—in those terms—it took West African harmony and rhythm and it mixed those things with the diaspora as well as European harmony or Native American rhythms. There are a lot of elements that went into making jazz what it is. As a little boy, I read documents on Louis Armstrong or [drummer] Baby Dodds saying that the rhythms they used to create—what they called “spooky” rhythms—came out of Congo Square, listening to the blacks and the Indians share rhythm. In science, when something expands or implodes into space, it gets so wide that it ends of up having to close in on itself, and it creates a vacuum for other things to fit. Musically, that’s what we’re doing. The last 100 years has been 100 years of fusing all these different sounds. What we’re trying to do with stretch music is create a musical conduit where you can take all of these contexts and genres, mash them up together and put them into one place as a new means of being able to communicate musically. It’s still jazz, [but] we’re stretching it to fit everything that it created and fit other musical vernaculars that have nothing to do with it into a context to where we can build something new.
How did you to discover the name “aTunde Adjuah”? And over the course of making this album, do you feel that you’ve become “Christian aTunde Adjuah”?
The names don’t have meanings. I picked names that were places for a reason—because I wanted to create my own meanings for my names, and I don’t know what that is yet. I’m still in the process where I’m liberating myself from the canon of something that I don’t really dig so hard. Since changing the name, I’ve received death threats. I literally had someone write me a message the other day that I’m supposed to accept the fact that I’m a nigger and take on the white man’s name because that’s my place. I’d be lying if I said on a general level that stuff doesn’t bother me, but on a macrocosmic level, I could give two shits about that. At the end of the day, Scott will always be my name because that’s the name that my fathers have accepted for themselves. It just happens not to be the one that I want to pass onto my children, and it’s not one that I accept for myself. It’s something that was assigned to me, and I’m man enough to look it in the eyes and say, “I accept the fact that you were assigned to me. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything about it.” It’s not just the things you get from extracurricular sources but also the things that you get from friends and people you’ve known for years. Sometimes they have very belittling ideas about that stuff. I’ve learned just to be able to put one foot in front of the other, keep on path and continue to do my work.
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