Georgia Anne Muldrow Finds ‘The Sound Of Mixed Emotions’


Mama, You Can Bet! (SomeOthaShip Connect) is Georgia Anne Muldrow’s third album release under her spiritual name, Jyoti.

(Photo: Pricilla Jimenez)

What recent unlocking prompted this release?

Surely, it was playing on stages more primed for improvised music, with certain ensembles such as The Righteous and Justin Brown’s Nyeusi. Working with Jason Moran was definitely an unlocking, as far as being able to show a different side of my vocal life. Making this a vocal record is kind of a coming out for me. My entry into jazz was creating new structures and interpreting them. Every day, I practice improvising melody, creating structures of harmony, vocally. These are things I’ve invested my life into, but I hadn’t always been able to share with others. It’s always been very intimate. And singing in the quote-unquote jazz format is the closest language to my heart. It’s the language of my soul. When I scat, I’m literally speaking in my language.

Can you discuss the beauty of that microtonal rub within your written and spontaneous melodies?
I want to be a fluid thing. I don’t want to be a fretted instrument, if I don’t have to be. The blues is very microtonal, but it doesn’t get celebrated [here] culturally as it might further East—whether that be West Africa, Northern Africa or East Africa, all throughout Asia. Here, we’re employing the same tools, but the education comes from within. It’s just as refined as learning a musical scale. It might be even finer; the comb has a few more teeth on it. A lot of people don’t ask me about that, they just think I’m singing well out of tune [laughs]. Life is happening outside of A440. I naturally sing outside of it, and it’s taken me a long time to accept that.

There’s a sound of lamentation in your vocals, Lakecia’s saxophone on “Ra’s Noise” and your guitar on “The Cowrie Waltz.” How does that relate to describing the ineffable?

The melody for “Ra’s Noise” came through while I was writing for Jason Moran’s project. There was a self-sparking where all these melodies started coming to my head so fast that I had to use my Voice Memo to get them all down. It’s the sound of mixed emotions; it’s a way to alchemize the pain. It’s a way to turn negative input into beauty. Sun Ra’s approach to harmony was spot on, because it’s part of nature.

Some of my favorite music is when the wind is hitting the wind chimes and I hear the crickets. All that is on the musical scale; those relations to harmony inspire me. I love the way a root note can have many different branches of harmony.

On “Quarrys, Queries,” the sound of running water emerges so clearly from a confluence of nature sounds.
I was so proud of that! To be a rainmaker is one of my greatest accomplishments, synthesizer-wise. It proved to me that this is the right instrument for me. It can be anything it wants to be; it just depends upon who’s using it. I’ve made gunshots, respirators, heart monitors, thunder, but I hadn’t made water. I feel like that was my jazziest act, because there’s a synth solo happening over the harmonies. If you go back and listen to my other records, a lot of the time the “solo” might be the sound design going on.

In a recent interview, you noted systemic racism and inequities that affect you on a daily basis are “really glaring right now.” The interviewer then asked, “You mean as a Black person?” You responded, “As a Black woman, as an artist in America.” What impact do you hope this release will have right now?
My whole life has been to uplift the folks with all the cultural wealth, but gifted with none of the hard power. Black people. The outsiders.

The assaults, you feel them at your fundamental core. The kind of attacks you suffer because of your appearance in the world; the way you sound when you talk; what your hair does in the rain; what your skin does in the sun. All these things being the reason why you’re not enough, when they’re nature’s means of decorating you as the temple of sound you’re meant to become.

Music is my superpower. It’s what I use not only to feel, but to respond. And there’s people that tell my kind of people that we’re overreacting. We keep on: We keep on distilling culture from the heavens to the earth. If somebody really hates me, then I’m too good for them. I’m not gonna sing the songs out of your American songbook, because you hate me. You can be in these different places where they only wanna hear a certain scope of our expression, but they’re not giving no voice to where it comes from. And I don’t have no time entertaining that.

How did that desire to disengage from limited, racist expectations and create music that celebrates its own origins influence the formation of SomeOthaShip Connect?
SomeOthaShip was born out of a sense of rejection we felt dealing with people who would devalue us. It was our response to leaving the plantation model of music. We’ve been told so many times that our music is too intense; the message is too out there; people don’t wanna hear this. What are we supposed to do? This is the way we feel.

It’s like Nina Simone said: You gotta know when to get up from the table, if love’s no longer being served. SomeOthaShip Connect is a table that we set for ourselves. We can choose our own dishes and silverware [laughs].

I’ve been labeled a “political artist,” but the truth is I’m a cultural artist. I seek to uplift the blues. Things that would be thrown away by many people who are reaching for something more “refined,” more “harmonically advanced”—you know, “play the changes.” But the thing that makes the blues so genius is that you can play them over the changes because no matter how many of these superficial changes are going on, we are still presented with the same issues. And that’s what the blues does with harmony. It cuts through. DB

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May 2024
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