New Sound 003 \\ Angel Bat Dawid: “Chicago makes me feel myself”

4th March 2019

Chicago’s Angel Bat Dawid has spent several years honing her style with some of the city’s most wellknown exports – think AACM member Roscoe Mitchell, alongside relative newcomers like Jaimie Branch and Ben Lamar Gay. Having developed her craft as a clarinettist, she also creatively takes control of her debut album, ‘The Oracle’. Bar the drums on track ‘Cape Town’ – which is handled by Asher Simiso Gamedze – Angel is the musical talent behind every instrument and vocal part. She even recorded and mixed the record herself, making this a very personal debut record. 

Lead by influences that straddle between jazz and avant-garde, theatrical and even operatic – Angel wrote and starred in her own cosmic opera in 2018, ‘Song Of Solomon‘ – there is a theme that elevates Angel’s touch. It’s a spirituality that is deeply sincere and true to her personality. 

We talk to Angel Bat Dawid about the record, out now on International Anthem, and what she’s learnt from performing with Chicago elders. 

\\ You recorded a great deal of music for the record on your cell phone. Given you are quite a spiritual person, how did this medium of working with an everyday piece of technology resonate with you?
I have always since I began playing music recorded myself. It’s extremely serendipitous to put this album out on cassette. I lived in Africa from the age of 7-12. So I used to record songs to cassette and send them to my Grandparents back in the States and things like that. And when I was studying clarinet in my youth my practice room was the bathroom in our house cause the acoustics were so tight, and I used to record myself all the time. 
So with the Oracle I would compose a ton of stuff and wanted to hear if it sounds right. I wasn’t gonna wait to get folks together, or book studio time, I could just DIY it. That’s really why I started to record. I really didn’t think that anyone would hear any of these songs accept for a reference so folks in the different ensembles I perform in could hear my new compositions. In fact with the opera I did, I got recordings of me singing the whole thing, too. 
To me it’s only a natural progression to use whatever modern device is available to suit your musical needs. At one point in time all these instruments we play were new technology. Mozart, Bach and all of them would be having synths and all kinds of recording devices if they had access to them back then, I’m sure.
\\ Nodding to tracks ‘London’ and ‘Cape Town’, the energy of cities appears to have an impact on you. Could you describe for us how those cities inspired you?
London just had a vibe. I could feel the antiquity of the city. And I could feel the vibezz of millions of different ethnicities and races and religions and spiritualities. So of course I knew the musical soup was gonna be delectable and exquisitely tasty. I felt I was sitting at the welcome table of great soundzz from all over the world… a buffet of amazing sonic revelations… I went home feeling fed full and ready to create!
\\ You’ve worked with some of the most prolific and progressive musicians in Chicago; from Roscoe Mitchell to contemporaries like Ben Lamar Gay. In the spirit of always developing, what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt from your collaborators?
Whooo…OK, Roscoe Mitchell… playing with him was surreal. I kinda got super emotional and caught up that I forgot to stop playing and let him solo – whoops – but during the duet he took me to many different levels. He’s a master technician and it wasn’t easy to keep up. So check it he’s playing a saporano sax which is already high – but he’s not playing in the horns register; he’s in another register just killin’ it, so I had to do the same with my horn. It was a muthafukin’ wild ass ride oooowwweee…sooo fun. But very, very serious work. Before I met him in person I would ask Junius Paul – bassist for The Art Ensemble of Chicago – what words I could glean from this master. Junius told me that these cats would play music everyday – everyday! Now I practice a lot but I knew if I’m gonna call myself a musician I’d have to be that dedicated. So that’s what I do and it’s greatly increased my abilities.
Now, Ben Lamar Gay. This brother – I also get emotional talking about him because he’s not just this amazingly talented incredible genius composer and musician – he’s a wonderful person and my good, good friend; always been kind and encouraging to me. I was playing music in the city but no one knew who the fuck I was or cared at times. But Ben was always inviting me to play somewhere or just send a kind word. For real when The Oracle dropped he was the first person to hit me up congratulating me; Homie 2 Homie for life. Now Ben’s Music is like a well oiled machine. He drives his ship with such honesty and realness. Ben Lamar Gay makes music cause he has to and for all the bullshit. He’s so raw and he’s bold and ambitious with his arrangements. He inspires me greatly!!
\\ Tell us about your residency in Chicago and what impact it’s had on this record?
So this residency was divinely sent to me from above. I was just getting out of a very long relationship. Heartbroken, the only thing that was giving me solace through all that was creating music. So practicing at home is cool but I really needed a space just for creating. Listening to my records study and read my books. So I remember my good friend telling me about studio space with this church. I hopped on it, talked to the Priest and in a day I had keys to the building. It was crazily ordained and meant to be. So tying into what I was saying about Roscoe Mitchell practicing everyday; I now had a place to do that. It’s called The Loft – but we low key just call it ‘the Mansion’. Something about saying ‘I’m going to the Mansion today’ feels divine. I’m up there pretty much everyday. Folks come through and we jam – so many healing times too. The People of St Thomas Episcopal Church really are doing the work, letting us just be up in their parish house for the sole purpose of creating. See this is the real black community what you’ve heard about. Our community do support the arts very, very hard. That’s the rich beauty of Chicago… I feel supported and that plays a big role in feeling confident to be myself and compose and play music freely and sincerely.
\\ Please shine a lot on what’s happening in 2019 for you?
2019 ain’t playing no gamezz. I’m ready to just keep doing more music travel and have fun! Music is just so fun for me and taking me to worlds I never thought I could be in. I’m grateful and I quote my dear friend Najee Searcey; “I’m dreaming in real time..and having a fuckin’ blast!”. 

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