Friday, February 9, 2018

An Interview with Alexander Jarman

    (Photograph by Olivia Obineme)

Baltimore Kissa Society co-founder, Cardinal Space gallery curator, vinyl DJ, visual artist -- Alexander Jarman is a man of many hats. We spoke to him about his passion for music and art, a dedication that is having quite an impact on Charm City.

You're the founder of The Baltimore Kissa Society, can you tell us about that organization?

Alexander: I started the Kissa (pronounced "key-sah") about two years ago as a way to connect people that were into vinyl records and jazz music. Once a month we get together for a listening party. And it's just like it sounds: we sit and listen, as in actually shut the hell up and communally listen, to an hour's worth of jazz records. The venue and the presenter change out each time, so it always stays fresh and idiosyncratic. I had only lived in Baltimore about a year when we started doing the listening parties, and was eager to connect more with the incredible jazz community that exists here. But the great thing is that we attract both the jazz experts and people who really don't know much about jazz but are curious and want more exposure to it. We also keep a blog about jazz album art at 

Please share your current favorite top 5 vinyl records, and give us a quick reason why each has made it into the short list?

(1) Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference (2017) Brainfeeder Records
This is an impressive piece of conceptual art, and it also happens to sound incredible. It debuted as an installation at the Whitney Biennial last year—not bad for a jazz album in the 21st century.

(2) FKJ, French Kiwi Juice (2017) Roche Musique
FKJ has always seemed to be one of the stars of this French house music label, but on this album he gets to stretch out and explore funk and jazz melodies too, he really seems to be carving out an individual voice for his music here.

(3) Gwen Guthrie, Gwen Guthrie (1982) Island Records
A back-up singer for so many famous acts, Guthrie finally got her own solo record deal in 1982. She would go on to become "The First Lady of Paradise Garage" and work with Larry Levan, but it all started with this record. You can just let this one play all the way through!

(4) LTD, Togetherness (1978), A&M Records
Found this one in a coffee shop in North Carolina (where LTD is from originally) and the owner was so passionate about their music he convinced me to buy this and two other albums by the group. It's a classic disco and R&B mix of dance tracks and sexy grooves. The album art alone will get you in the mood.

(5) Steely Dan, Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), ABC Records
Our last Kissa party covered the jazz influence on Steely Dan, something I really hadn't thought about too much before, but is undoubtedly there if you listen for it. On this album, lead singer David Palmer is gone and the group really starts to solidify around Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's sound. 

Having moved to Baltimore a few years ago, we're curious about what your impression of this city is?  How does it compare to other cities you've lived in with respect to music and art? 

Alexander: I moved here from San Diego, which has three times the population of Baltimore, but only a third of the art and culture you get in Charm City. The independent art spaces here are incredible and we didn't have that piece of the puzzle in SoCal. The fact that this place has such incredible jazz history and so many cool venues is actually why I started the Kissa, and I am so humbled by the way Baltimore shows up for art events! 

What is Cardinal space? Can you tell us what you have been showing there, and can you give us a sneak peak of what's coming up in the future?

Alexander: Cardinal is gallery, venue, and studio complex on North Avenue. I started the space with my partner Ariel Cowen and we can't make up our minds what type of place we are, in the best way possible: we had a show of artists' lists; a site-specific installation composed of building materials; and a show about artists using vinyl records and turntables in their work. Next up, we'll have rock-and-roll photography no one has ever seen before, since the artist is printing his negatives from the 1970s for the first time. We also have a great show about Baltimore's monuments opening early summer that I am incredibly eager to host with artist Ada Pinkston.

We're curious to know more about your background and inspirations. Please tell us a little bit about your formative years - in regards to what or whom has influenced you / played a role in your development in the arts?  

Alexander: I think those closest to me are sometimes exhausted by the way I hop from project to project, but the only thing that has ever been constant in my life is art and culture. I have never ever been interested in anything more than art, in all its many forms, since I can remember. And its worth noting that the whole time I was growing up my mom was a Programs Manager for a non-profit fighting bias and bigotry in Cincinnati. So here I am all these years later, and I am a Programs Manager for an arts non-profit. Which is to say, I am deeply passionate about getting people turned on to art, music, poetry, dance, film, you name it. So I do that for a living at a museum and I do it in my free time with DJing, running an art space, and throwing listening parties. 

We love that you're always having a good time when we see you out at events, what in your opinion are the key ingredients to a good party?

Alexander: Number one of course is good music. Sometimes people can't quite put their finger on why they like a place so much, and often I think it's the soundtrack. I always think overhead lighting should be a last resort, a few nice plants should be a priority, and that you can't walk into a party without at least one good joke or story that you're ready to tell. Oh yeah, and don't be afraid to dance. 
What kind of musical vibe can we expect for your DJ sets at The Elephant?

Alexander: You'll definitely hear some jazzy house tracks as well as some funk and R&B gems of the 1970s. And I usually manage to sneak a few minutes of jazz into the mix as well.  

Anything else you'd like to share?

Alexander: In this current moment of political shouting, I am trying to think more like John Cage, who offered, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry, as I need it."  

Lovenotes, a weekly party Upstairs @ The Elephant featuring DJs Alexander Jarman and Discuji happens every Saturday at 9:00pm. The address is 924 N. Charles St. in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon district. Join the event:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

An Interview with DJ Pope

DJ Pope of Poji Records is one of Baltimore's most legendary producers. He has released on seminal imprints such as Casual, Black Vinyl, and King Street, to name a few. Not to mention running an FM radio show since the late 1980's that evolved into one of the great educational resources for dance music culture in Charm City. Whenever people in the international music community talk about the great history that Baltimore has in house music, Pope and Oji are sure to be spoken of. We chatted with the veteran artist about his past and upcoming projects.

Q: Thanks for talking with us today Pope. We used to listen to you on the radio growing up in Baltimore, can you tell us about your long running radio show on WEAA 88.9 Morgan State Radio?

A: Well I started the show back in 1987. It was then called "Back On The Block" and it aired every Saturday from 12 AM till 5 AM in the morning. After receiving many accolades, I was awarded the prime time slot on Saturday evening from 7 PM until 12 midnight. The show was then renamed "The Underground Experience" and as they say the rest is history.

Q: You've released a number of great productions in the last few years. Can you give us the story of a couple of them, in particular "Ma Ma Warned Me" and your remix of "Dance The Night Away" ?

A: "Ma Ma Warned Me" was a collaboration between myself and a French singer/songwriter by the name of Jocelyn Mathieu, whom I had met some years back when I played at a club in France called Djoon. I had sent him a couple of tracks that I had been working on, and to my surprise he liked both of them - one of them just happened to be  "Ma Ma Warned Me" -- "Dance The Night Away" was a tune that my label partner Dj Oji originally produced with Carolyn Victorian. I liked the song so much that I did a remix of it and it blew up on the charts on Traxsource. It became a top 10 release as well as becoming one of the top Soulful House Tunes of 2017 on Traxsource.

Q: Not surprising considering we've played your remix of Dance The Night Away pretty regularly on this end, those voice sounding strings are tight. You work with a number of local musicians and percussionists such as Kevin Pinder the conga player known for his work with Lafayette Gilchrist, can you talk a little bit about those experiences with integrating live musicians?

A: Well I have always liked incorporating live musicians into my projects. Kevin Pinder & Lafayette Gilchrist were a blessing to work with because Kevin understands that House Music doesn't make money RIGHT NOW, like how EDM or Rap music does. So, he was able to relate that to Lafayette who is a world renown piano player. I have a crew of musicians that I can call on when I need that live sound. Ollie Wright Keyboard Player, Charles Dockins Keyboard Player, Rufus Roundtree Trumbone Player, Rick Watts Bass Player, Irv Madden Bass Player, Will Spence Sax Player, Karlos Brickhouse Electric/acoustic Guitar.

Q: Where have you been playing recently on your travels? 

A: I just recently played some gigs in Chicago, Washington DC, and some dates are coming together in Europe as we speak.
Q: What is your favorite house track of all time from another producer in Baltimore? 

A: Belita Woods & Leroy Burgess "The Best of Me" Basmentboys Records 2003

Q: What new music and projects do you have coming up in 2018 ?

A: I have new music coming with Sheree Hicks titled "To Be With" Tasha LaRae "Clarity" Marc Evans " Simply Everything" Dana Weaver full length Album titled "I Will Arise" Una full length Album titled "In My House" Una titled "Soul Underground" mixed by B.I.T.S just to name a few.

Q: Super exciting! You have been very busy. We are huge fans of Sheree Hicks, can't wait to hear that one! Your son is a talented DJ who has performed at some great gigs around town. What more do you think can be done to reach out to young people his age and bring them into an appreciation for the music culture we work with?

A: Each One Teach One....Just like someone did for you and I

Q: What role do you think music plays in the lives of young people in this city? Do we have an opportunity to create more peace and understanding, addressing some of the misguided youth through this music we dedicate ourselves to? Please give us your thoughts?

A: Music is a healer especially when it comes from a good space and mind. Positivity begets Positivity - House Music roots are from Love and Unity if we have more of this in the mainstream, the world would be a better place.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

A: I can be followed here:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

An Interview with DJ Biskit

For over 40 years Brian Hardy has held it down in Baltimore, earning him the title of the city’s hardest working DJ. Multiple residencies, a weekly internet radio show, and having co-founded one of the nation’s best outdoor house music festivals are just some of the reasons why he is just as relevant today as ever.

Hi Biskit, thanks for talking with us. Where are you from originally?

Born in Washington, DC and raised on the eastern shore until I was 4, then lived in Baltimore ever since. I grew up in Woodlawn for 3 years -- then moved to Northwood from the 3rd grade on. Living in Northwood really shaped my love for music from elementary school to college. I lived through the birth of Hip-Hop and House Music. Growing up in Northwood, being a young DJ, you had to play all genres. It really shaped my creativity.

Who are some of your favorite music producers today?
DJ Spen, Thommy Davis, Louie Vega, MAW, Karizma, Teddy Douglas, Black Coffee, Culoe De Song, AtJazz, Manoo, Beloved, Jihad Muhammad, Mark Francis, MKTL, Dennis Ferrer, Quentin Harris, Josh Milan, POJI. 

It’s great to see so many names from Baltimore on that list. Topping a close second with your performance at Light City, your set at the 2016 Collective Minds Festival was one of our favorite performances to date, can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with that event?

I am the co-founder of Collective Minds and was the president for the first 6 years. I am still involved because once Collective Minds, always Collective Minds.

Is there one classic record that never leaves your DJ bag? 

With the digital revolution, I can take them all! LOL

Having DJed across a few decades gives you a pretty unique view of this city’s dance music history. How do you see the scene in Baltimore in this current generation of house music as opposed to previous generations?  

House Music in Baltimore is still pretty much as underground as house music was back in the day in the rest of the US. Although back then it had radio and major label support. Today, It's mostly pushed by a handful of DJ's and groups in Baltimore. 

You currently have a weekly internet radio show on HandzOnRadio, can you tell us about that program and how long you’ve been doing it? 

I have been doing the Friday Good Vibrations show for 14 years. I was one of the first DJs to get a weekly show with HandzOnRadio. Still love to play. I have accumulated a lot of fans around the world because of it. Grateful to DJ Chuck for his vision.  (Every Friday on 2:30pm-4:30pm)

If you were asked to curate a lineup of any 3 headliners to perform with at a large festival, which artists would you most like to share the stage with?  

The Deepah Ones (Spen & Karizma), Louie Vega and Black Coffee

Where do you shop for / find / buy music?  

I get a lot of music sent to me from producers and labels but I purchase music from a few online shops: Traxsource, Beatport, and Bandcamp.

How do you see the art of DJing evolving in this day and age, what do you think that the youth DJ culture could benefit from learning from your years of experience behind the decks?  Any words of wisdom?  

With all the digital programs out there, it’s very easy to become a DJ. But if you don't do it because you love music, then you will not go very far! 

Any other news or comments you'd like to add?

Check me out at Elevation every first Friday @ The Cellar 1071 Maiden Choice lane.  Every Saturday @ Identity Ultra Lounge with the live broadcast on Magic 95.9 11pm-1am. Every Friday on 2:30pm-4:30pm 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Fabio Ape reflects on his first full length

From the depths of Brazil arrives the Cifras Impressionantes album courtesy of the enigmatic live electronic artist Fabio Ape, who is just 25 years old. Throughout the 13 tracks we see an array of machines combine for a symphony of feelings, with endless layers of native and analog percussion, varied jazz inspired instrumentation, and warm, bent synthesizers. The work is by far his most accomplished yet, taking the listener on a journey through a South American dreamworld with influences ranging from Brian Eno to Nicolas Jaar. Using google translator to speak to us in English, he reflects about the story behind his latest work:

"This album was a mixture of productions and arrangements since 2015, with what I have been collecting during these years, with friends, partnerships, personal recordings, with part of concerts and presentations recorded as I presented myself in this period as well. Part of it was made in Florianopolis in the period in morei the 2014 to 2017 place inspired me a lot because it is a place with many natural landscapes, beaches, trails, waterfalls, people from all over the world and being directly involved in the musical production taking time I could do Something more worked. I started a composition course in 2016 that helped me with some more solid ideas regarding arrangement and musical creation, by the free music school in florianopolis, in this period I had the free time to create as well. I looked for motivation in something that contains references that has meaning for my musical formation."

Listen to Fabio Ape's "When Are The Others" from the forthcoming album here:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New EP from The Meteors Project on the way

Swimming with Astronauts is the latest EP produced by the emerging Egyptian duo known as The Meteors Project. The group's melodic electronica first caught the attention of Baltimore based Life On Planets during this year's Sandbox Festival, where their spaced-out broken beats were heard echoing off the Red Sea tides as the sun went down. Inspired by everything from early prog-rock, to trip hop and amalgamations of neo-classical and techno, their collaboration is a reflection of existential themes and questions. Creating movement through solid grooves supported by complex layers of polyphony and harmony, every installment is an exploration of oneself and its relationship to the big blue ball floating in the sky. Set for release in November, the 3 track EP is the 41st in the Better on Foot series.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

JAW features on 'Gamblers'

dOP singer/songwriter JAW's latest collaboration titled Gamblers is out next month:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

N'Dinga Gaba, Atjazz, Black Coffee to play South Africa

South African festival Spring Fiesta has announced a new phase of headliners for 2016, including DJ sets from N'Dinga Gaba, Atjazz, Black Coffee, and more.

Held at the Johannesburg 'Wild Waters' complex, the event has become an institution in recent years, where in 2015 Osunlade, Culoe De Song, and Lars Behrenroth were among the acts performing.

The announcement comes on the heels of a series of hot releases from the Baltimore based N'Dinga Gaba, both on his own Global Diplomacy label and other imprints. For more information, follow N'Dinga Gaba on facebook to receive the latest updates on tour and release info:

N'Dinga Gaba (Official Fanpage) 
Soul Candi Records (South Africa)
Global Diplomacy ~ Unity Through Sound