Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) is a Philadelphia-based artist whose work ranges from “slave ship punk,” free jazz, and “Afrofuturist electronics” to photography, poetry, non-fiction writing, and performance art. Originally from Aberdeen, Maryland, she moved to Philadelphia to study photography. As a musician, Moor Mother leads a number of her own projects and has released a number of her own records. She also collaborates with figures such as Keir Neuringer, Mike Watson, Luke Stewart, Aquiles Navarro, and Tcheser Holmes in the band Irreversible Entanglements, which has recently had two groundbreaking performances. Moor Mother has a new record, Fetish Bones, coming out September 16 on Don Giovanni Records. You may pre-order a copy of her new record here and listen to a sample track here.
Cisco Bradley: What called you to be an artist and a writer?
Moor Mother: Just a love for music as a kid. My parents took me to see a lot of concerts.
CB: How have you employed free jazz in your work as Moor Mother?
MM: Jazz is the best music to sample, it says everything you want to say all the time. It just works–it is essential to what I am doing. I only have so many lyrics or words that I am using, so it helps me expand what I am saying.
CB: What brought you to Philadelphia?
MM: I am originally from Maryland. I came to Philadelphia to study photography. I’m also a visual artist, I do performance art. I am in two art shows coming up.
CB: How does your work in visual art relate to your music?
MM: My photography is street-based. I don’t really study architecture or portraits, really, I focus on street life, especially neighborhoods that are being demolished. I work as a kind of archivist with my photos. The neighborhoods in Philadelphia are rapidly changing, some buildings are barren making it feel like we are living in a desert, so I try to capture that. I have a community space called Community Futures Lab, right around the corner from the most recent housing project towers that were demolished. At the lab, we are trying to bring in artists and have conversations and workshops that involve the community. We are documenting what was there and how things are changing. We also collect oral futures and oral histories. We hold events on different topics, like we had one on Black women femmes, one on mental health, and sometimes they include music, but there is always a discussion. The events are always free, everyone can participate. People can drop by for walk-in workshops, borrow a book, that kind of thing. We are just trying to open the city up.
CB: How has your work been viewed as political?
MM: I just tell the truth. I happen to be a Black woman and I grew up around a majority of Black people in the Washington Park neighborhood of Aberdeen, so just speaking my truth makes it political just because of the systematic oppression that is happening in this country. Even if I am not trying to be political, my story just is political.
CB: You have put out a number of zines. Were you putting those out as a way to publicize your music or to feature your visual art?
MM: They include things like album art and I often include photographs. My poetry zines formed a series called Two Weeks. For two weeks, I would study and research a particular topic and write about it everyday. I covered things like the Ebola crisis, high school football teams, women in prison being killed, innocent bystander kids hit by stray bullets in Philly. I also do a poetry zine every Spring. Then I also have a zine series with my collective Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), which deals a lot with sound, light, quantum physics, the kind of stuff we have been researching.
CB: What is Black Quantum Futurism?
MM: Black Quantum Futurism is a new approach to living and experiencing reality by way of the manipulation of space-time in order to see into possible futures, and/or collapse space-time into a desired future in order to bring about that future’s reality. This vision and practice derives its facets, tenets, and qualities from quantum physics, futurist traditions, and Black/African cultural traditions of consciousness, time, and space. Where these three traditions intersect exists a creative plane that allows for the ability of African-descended people to see “into,” choose, or create the impending future. Under a BQF intersectional time orientation, the past and future are not cut off from the present – both dimensions have influence over the whole of our lives, who we are and who we become at any particular point in space-time.
Through various writing, music, film, visual art, and creative research projects, BQF Collective explores personal, cultural, familial, and communal cycles of experience, and solutions for transforming negative cycles into positive ones using artistic and holistic methods of healing. Our work focuses on recovery, collection, and preservation of communal memories, histories, and stories.
CB: In what ways have you found free jazz to be a conducive medium for your work in Black Quantum Futurism?
MM: I use free jazz more in my Moor Mother project but free jazz to me is the beginning and its expansion. It is the chants on top of foot stomps and hand claps. It is the scripture over top of the choir. Free Jazz is what’s needed to travel. It is the sound of protest, of peace and of sorrow all at the same time. You cannot go to war without a drum, you cannot time travel seek outer and inner dimensions without free jazz. Alice Coltrane music is a liberation technology, Sun Ra music is a liberation technology. That’s why I love Amiri Baraka so much. He put jazz into the poetry because if you need to go to a certain place that is the only way. I use a lot of free jazz in my music because it just expands what I am saying and takes it to a deeper level and it has so many elements to use.
CB: How did Irreversible Entanglements come together as a group and how has the band evolved so far?
MM: Keir and I have worked together performing many times in Philadelphia using many different set ups. Keir is an incredible musician and we enjoy a lot of the same artists like Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. Keir was recently a part of my sonic protest performance, 14 hours. I asked him to be apart of it because of the places our work goes in performances. We have a great artistic relationship, so Keir sent me an email saying lets go into the studio and he had some great players. Keir asked me to bring some poems and whatever synth i wanted to bring and to prepare for 6 hours. One of the players was Luke Steward a musical genius and friend of mine so I knew that whoever the other 2 players drummer Tcheser Holmes and trumpet player Aquiles Navarro were to be able to play along with Keir and Luke they had to be good and to find out they are both amazing musicians. Soon as we all met in the studio to the first few note it all came together for a beautiful recording. We are in the process of thinking about labels to send it to, I would love to have this recording on vinyl. We have played two shows one in Philadelphia and The other in New York. We will play more shows in 2017 but right now are focused on getting the music out.
CB: A key element of Black Quantum Futurism is an intellectual framework that you term, “anthropology of consciousness.” What do you see as the relationship between time, memory, and Black identity in relation to consciousness?
MM: Anthropology of consciousness is a workshop that I created that uses poetry to talk about this relationship. We have a community space in North Philadelphia called Community Futures Lab where we hold many of our workshops. We invite artists to come down and share work as well as take part in our workshops. For more information on how to participate you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or look to afrofuturistaffair.com for research materials.
CB: In Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice, vol. 1, you wrote: “I use sonic noise and tonal memory to act as a compression of all sounds to both agitate negative and positive vibrations, breaking through the cyclical vortex of oppressed Black identity and consciousness in America.” Could you talk more about this process and your personal experience as a practitioner?
MM: That is my own way to things folks should read BQF and also Space – Time Collapse. I suggest folks read Sonic Warfare and Blues People and to study the physics of sound and to define that any way one will. We put out a great project called Asun sunya sifr which is on the moor mother band camp and it comes with a zine and I believe thats on the black quantum futurism band camp that is dedicated to Sun Ra theres a lot of good information in that Ep.
CB: What new projects or recordings do you have on the horizon?
MM: I have a Moor Mother record coming out on September 16 called Fetish Bones (Don Giovanni Records) and I also have a book of poetry coming out under the same title. This is work that was inspired by Mahalia Jackson, chain gang music, people working the railroads I love that, Alice Coltrane and John Coltrane’s cosmic album–that one really inspired me. I also liked to listen to old Blues guys talk about the past. I love free jazz, but what I love even more is to hear the stories of the musicians, like Cecil Taylor, the stories about him are so inspirational. So I just wanted to put that out there about who I’ve been diggin’ on.
CB: When you performed at New Revolution Arts in May, the entire set was really incredible, but the piece that has stuck with me most since is the one that talked about what you referred to as “the race riots from 1866 to the present.” The conception of that piece was amazing.
MM: Yeah, that’s the first track to my new album. The track is titled “Creation Myth.” And the soundscape to that one is just crazy, you are going to really like it! I went back to Dizzy, Duke, animal sounds, you may recognize a bunch of stuff. I wrote that piece for a collective I am a part of called Metropolarity, which is a speculative Sci Fi writing group. We put out zines and that was one of the pieces in the zine.
CB: Thank you.
–Cisco Bradley, July 28, 2016