Georgia Anne Muldrow in Straight No Chaser: Space Cadet

  • Amar Patel
  • Straight No Chaser
  • December 01, 2006

At just 22 years of age, single, songwriter and producer Georgia Anne Muldrow has been hailed by ?uestlove as one of the new generation of Native Tongues. Following her collaborations with Sa Ra, Dwight Trible and the portentous Worthnothings EP she has come with a challenging yet more optimistic debut album on Stones Throw, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth. Be prepared to look within and reappraise the "female soul singer."

"Where's the melodic excitement; today? It's just dinnna-dinnna- dinnna... doo-doo-doo ...," quips Georgia Anne Muldrow. 'Right now artists need to show whatever they're feeling inside, but you can't do that with just a few notes from the scale. I got rhythm and I want to help stop a war. There are bombs dropping in Lebanon and there's a whole scale that exists to describe the pain and what's going on in that country."

Early into our lengthy conversation it becomes apparent that this wayward young artist is striving on several different levels to the majority of her contemporaries. Punch her Stones Throw album, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth, into the CD player and prepare to be swept up in a dissonant Ayleresque gospel vortex where you can taste the anguish and pain of those Crescent City inhabitants who suffered first at the freakish hands of nature and then at the idle hands of one man.

The opening track of 'New Orleans' has Georgia exploring her range as "a piano player not pianist" and it combines with her aim of connecting the impact of hurricane Katrina with that whole coast and its the history.

"I'd seen how people were standing on tap of their houses and the President didn't do anything, it was like he was chillin' or something," retorts Georgia Anne who goes on to brand Bush as a "murderer" who simultaneously recruits the urban poor to fight his wars while devising employment initiatives in deprived areas that just so happen to be part of the military industrial complex.

From New Orleans she goes on deal with other issues, from LA's Bloods and Crips to the Sudan, but it's the boundless dynamics of Georgia's music that never fails to engage. Behind the gritty street beats that underpin tracks like 'Frames' and 'Birds' there is, without doubt, a rich background and education that goes some way to explaining the reference points from which she interprets and processes the universe and her place in it.

Questlove recently singled out; Georgia Anne Muldrow ("the De La Soul of the crew"), Sa-Ra ("The Jungle Brothers"), and J Davey ("A Tribe Called Quest") as embodying the 21st century equivalent of a Native Tongues movement, perhaps in terms of what they're doing with hip hop and soul. While flattered, Georgia is neither overwhelmed nor complacent by such comments.

"I think any time black people come together and try to do something they say it's a new thing. For me, Ques is cool for shouting us out like that. He's been very supportive although I'm still waiting on that job! Yes, I've produced songs on Sa-Ra's album (and I'm still waiting on the cheque). I think it's a movement in as much as people are trying to get away from the sampling 'cos they know they got to pay. But there's talented cats all over the land. As far as it being on actual movement though, when I start seeing cheques sent... then I'll agree."

"Before I'd be more hot-headed and think 'where's my money, where's my money?' Now I just pump the brakes and think of what it means to really contribute. When I think about getting paid I see it as a means of energy. When you put out this work and someone chooses you to work with them, not for them, the energy is gonna circulate back to you. Everyone's getting tense right now. The people that can learn to calm down are gonna weather the storm. People murdering each other, cussing each other, that's when you know you got to sing a song. God's gonna put food on the table... find me a new place to stay. I don't have no real place to stay right now but... Hell, I've been here before too."

When it comes to the future, short of being commercially naive, Georgia is very humble and generous about her career, yet thankful that Stones Throw chief Peanut Butter Wolf reached out to help spread her message.

"The big things said about Worthnothings didn't go to my head because I was still broke. I see it as my time of service- like paying my dues. I've seen both my parents pursue their dreams and they always told me, 'It ain't about the 9-5. That's the machine".having musician parents, who were active in the metaphysical jazz community of the Seventies, lends some insight into Georgia's own unique 21st century vision.

"My dad, Ronald Muldrow, is a jazz guitarist in his own right.., for real," she whispers in a soft yet assertive tone. "I was just listening to his music the other night. I take a lot of inspiration from him. Everyone said he invented instruments for Eddie Harris but he invented them for himself. I think Eddie Harris actually made his own... like that digital horn."

As a jazz musician she describes him as "more straight ahead" and reflecting on acquiring her dad's promotional copies of albums like 'Open Air Suite' by Henry Threadgill and Air because "he couldn't stand the music" she declares, "They got some open drums on there... so Twos ready to go."

"My mother, Rickie Byars, a singer with the Pharooh Sanders Ensemble, was the director of the Agape Spiritual Centre, a metaphysical church, a real spiritual community. So, I've learnt musical arrangement from both of my parents. But I've also learnt about the necessity of humility. They're also why I've been kind of rebellious too with both life and music.

Growing up in LA, her hometown was in Pica, Fairfax, and Georgia Anne Muldrow was consistently exposed to a thriving community of talented musicians and artists. While she remembers some musicians stopping by their house it was through the church where she got to be around musicians all the time.

"Practically everyone in the church house band had a studio. These people were crazy producers and had done stuff with Quincy Jones, Motown... Madonna.. all that. Guy Pressley had played with the original Mothers Of Invention and was one of the first cats to play the synthesiser in the world - ever! I learnt to slap the bass at the age of 14. I remember that being the best memory about church."

One member of that community was vocalist Dwight Trible. As part of a spiritual continuum Georgia recently produced the track 'Rise' on Dwight's Ninja Tune debut, Love Is The Answer.

"Dwight Trible is one of my dad's best friends; they've known each other for a long time. It was really a great honour to produce something that he sings an. Uncle Dwight! He started babysitting me when I was little. I remember being in LA and going to little jazz spots in Inglewood, places that aren't even open anymore, and seeing him at Williamsville. When I was little I would imitate him... ha ha; you know, 'Huuuuuuuu...' I'd do the voice and everybody would laugh. It's a special voice but an even more special message."

Like the great man, Georgia exalts rather than sings. She's reaching out to other spirits, transcending the pleasure and pain of restless life.

"I'm striving to build on that restless energy and to improve," she says. "My dad said to me, 'Man, I'd rather you just made horrible music than mediocre stuff'. That was the idea. I went wild with that. I'm only just realising now that it's more about creating a concept, a thing that can live on its own. Whatever you've got to do to get the feeling out and stay true. That's what you gotta do."

Georgia has experienced good times and bad limes, the latter perhaps triggered by her parents' separation when she was seven, and this is what infuses her work with such a cathartic power.

"Of course, every kid goes through their own stress and all that but, shit, I was growing. Kids grow and sometimes there is a whole lot of dirt they got to push up through, bad influences they got to deal with. I wish I could say that I've totally dodged all of them but you know it's human nature to fail.., but also to succeed. It's about balance. That's what 'Skaw the Beast' [on the album] is about. The go ahead song! Skaw the beast with your Love. Just keep on living and persevere. That's the law.

"I was born in 1983 so I got a different way of seeing things. For instance, when I hear Public Enemy I hear the music in it. Most mornings waking up to 'Giant Steps' cos my dad's playing it and then, before long, you know the song. Of course I'd also be getting into Michael Jackson and Prince.., all of that. At school, I'd also be hearing all these mixtures; African study group learning about history one minute, while having X-clan to listen the next.

"My mom and my dad were both abstract thinkers. They weren't going for the colonial okey dokey. They taught me that Africa was the first ancient civilisation. My dad would give me books to read like 'Stolen Legacy', 'Intro to African Civilisation'. I was almost too young to really grasp it. Having books around like that would make you angry and ask, 'How come it's Like this now?' Then, when you start asking a lot of questions, it makes you concerned at the pace things are going. That made me a rebel like both my parents.

'They always kept it true in terms of speaking of the jay of Africa and giving back to it. If I ever had opportunity to do so, I should give back to my people. If that's all they could give me I'd take that. As long as I got an ideology that I can expand upon myself. A lot of people feel disconnected from Africa and that's messed up. I'm not saying Africa as a continent but as an actual event in time. Translating to every human being that lives.

"I've met with prejudice in the past and growing up with that you start to react and rebel - instead of evolve. I've had experiences with police for example. I used to wear baggy pants and have dreads and no one had locks where I Lived. I'd get hassled all the time. C'mon, it's a human being right here. That should cut it. I shouldn't disrespect nobody 'cos they're white and I shouldn't respect nobody just 'cos they are white. It should be because they're a human being.'

When Georgia ran away to Now York in the hope of finding her path, she discovered dark days and her inner demons and moodswings that would later be captured in mesmeric effect an the Worthnothings EP, a CDR with weird sketched artwork that she would peddle to stores and at open mic nights. The standout track 'Hey' contains the line, "Already attempted suicide so that idea's played. "Worthnothings' was more on a self-purging tip," says Georgia. 'A Lot of those things on the EP were going straight from my journal to the mic. I remember when I caught a breath of the melodies for 'Larva' I was at a really low point. I was sad, crying and all that. Then I heard a melody come out of nowhere, then a bassline came out... to arrange itself to do that."

A combination of harsh reality and confusion helped to forge the spirit, faith and vocation of Georgia Anne Muldrow in 2006. Listen to the sweet harmonies of 'Because' laid over another astro-beatscape and you'll hear: Waking up this moment I heard this songbird's every word/Said that love would come with me to begin my day's work/Every day's a blessing if your little heart desires/With your message it's your job to stay inspired.

"With Olesi there are more happy songs 'cos I wanted to hear something happy! I was still having a rough time living. There was a lot of different things going on but it's about expressing everything. It's all to do with it. That's what Trane said: "It all has something to do with it." That's what I'm striving to incorporate. Indeed, Trane famously remarked that: Over all, I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe.., through his music. I think that's one of the greatest things you can do in life.' Georgia certainly personifies that spirit and she employs a devastating array of sounds and influences in composing her pictures - lessons in how to use all your senses.

The harmonies of Georgia's tracks are definitely original and once again her mother's influence comes to bear: "My mom's really into Milton and Djavan, in particular the stuff Milton did with Wayne Shorter [breaking off into a faint rendition of 'Ponta de Areia']. My mom would play 'Native Dancer' all the time plus 'Viver de Amor' (off 1976's Geraes). He influences a lot of the harmonies. Like on 'Nothingness' there's a lot of Milton there. 'Native Dancer' is also where I've got into a lot more of the weird chords."

"The truth about all that, the chords and me just going all over the place, was also from me hearing Duke Ellington. I remember I used to not like him but when I got older I started hearing something. I began to think, 'Oh my god, I can't believe how he's putting this together. The same with hearing Oscar Peterson. More recently hearing stuff like Jay Dee and ATCO made me want to play their stuff on the piano, right off."

J Dilla had a huge influence on Georgia: "When I first heard Fan-tas-tic I thought OK, OK, I have to bring it on that level. I have to do that. I didn't have any equipment, just a little computer with Cool Edit on it. I would take my cds and chop up the drums. I was only like a 14-year-old freshman in high school. That warped my head out.

"Lootpack's Soundpieces: Do Antidote also twisted my brain. When I heard that I thought, this is real. This is what it's supposed to sound like. Also Pete Rock ...BDP... all of that comes together when you're totally into hip hop. Some kids just magnetise towards it.

"When I build a track I usually start with the drums. I have to let the drums talk first, especially with 'Worthnothings'. At the time I was really into polyrhythmic sounds like Senegalese stuff. Even Olesi is like that but it's more me getting into the groove and choppin' up the swing."Georgia Anne Muldrow's Olesi (affirmation) has arrived; surely the latest episode in what promises to be an endless stream: "I'm learning day to day about strength of character and how important it is to maintain that. If you don't then you'll cry. Every day. You ask howl can do this when I'm only 22. Well, it's because I got a lot of it to do! I have to share my experience for the highest cause. That's my only offering right now. I can't put no wells in Nairobi, I can't go to Somalia and steal everybody's guns away or give them money to have a soup kitchen in every house. I wish I could have my Coltrune Community centre in Lemiert Park, Fairfax, but that takes time and endurance. Meanwhile, I've got to stay patient and, you know, work on me! And then share the results of that work for somebody else to be happy."