August 31st 2020 by AD Amorosi
photo by Priscilla Jimenez
Since her thick 2006 debut, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth, singer-composer-player-producer Georgia Anne Muldrow has paged through the catalog of Black music with spirit, speed, and freedom as her guide. Muldrow is jazz, funk, blues, hip-hop, R&B, nu-R&B, space soul, and beyond. You could compare her to early Roberta Flack, latter-day Erykah Badu, or Nina Simone and Amina Claudia Myers at any point in their careersbut youd be wasting Muldrows time. Just groove to Georgia Anne and avoid comparisons.
One wildly mercurial element that allows you entry into the poetic depths of her soul is the free jazzgentle and incendiaryof her albums Ocotea and Denderah. Recorded under the pseudonym Jyoti, a name given to her by free spirit and free jazz giant Alice Coltrane, these albums drift and dart in a fashion connecting her to her own ancestors: Muldrows father is the late jazz guitarist Ronald Muldrow; her mother Rickie Byars-Beckwith co-founded the Sound of Agape and worked with fellow free people Pharoah Sanders and Roland Hanna. Muldrow and her husband, rapper Dudley Perkins, co-founded the SomeOthaShip Connect record label, and have recorded several albums together such as last years Black Love & War under the name G&D.
This year, as Jyoti, shes released Mama, You Can Bet!, what seems like her most fully free album yet, a record that finds the Spirit of Coltrane (both Alice and John) at its loftiest and most prayerful, while managing a few Monk-worthy laughs, several Mingus remixes (Bemoanable Lady Geemix Fonk, Fabus Foo Gemix), a jagged funk edge, and a love of experimental noise and synth soul thats richly undefinable and remarkably concise.
Considering the record label and homemade music which you share with Dudley, tell me what partnership means as a married couple, as business people, and as collaborative artists.
Oh my, its everything. Its being in somebodys world, and somebody being in your world, and having those merge into one world. Theres children being raised and music being made. At this point, its like fish describing waterits been fifteen years. Its the way we get down. I see it as one of my favorite things to do, making music with Dudley. We balance each other out. As far as the label goes, its an incredible feeling to have the ability to be embraced for my creativity and not feel pressure. I dont know where Id be without him.
How did making music with your husband last time out set you up for making this album which also touches on familythis time your mother on, at the very least, the title track?
Its all part of one lifemine. Its me living, experiencing all of my family. Especially now. Before all this COVID stuff, if I wasnt working out of town, I was doing something else. Family creates the atmosphere to make what I make. This segue, though, is happening as life is happeninglike what is going on with my mother and her transference, opening up. I wanted to celebrate that with a song. When your family is always there, its like having an artists favorite still life just being stuff around the house. The catalyst is simple. The situation is complex. Youre still painting an emotional landscape.
Whats your earliest memory of your mom making music?
Oh my god. Being very small, all I can recall is having my ear to her heart, or the times I would have my ears to her back and hearing her talkthe vibration was music to me. Very calming sound. The most calming sound.
When your family is always there, its like having an artists favorite still life just being stuff around the house. The catalyst is simple. The situation is complex. Youre still painting an emotional landscape.
Jyoti stands for light and flame. Do you know why Alice Coltrane saw that in you, enough so to name you that?
When it comes down to what she sees, its like E.T. phoning home. Youre talking about someone who had an extreme awareness of, and connection with, her highest self. She always strived to merge with the greatness and realness of creation. That was her goal. She told me that the name came from the spirit, but I dont even think shed take credit for naming me that, you know? Its the name that came through for me. Its my job to inform what it is. Its my journey to own it.
What is that name Jyoti to you? What does it signify?
The beginning of something beautiful. My life changed then, and that name marked that change. Me going within and figuring out whats in there. Healing myself. Thats whats most importantI think that she would want people to know such light, to have people meditate on who they are, and who theyre not. Im trying to live up to that name with the music Im making under it. Stay open, stay curious. Uncover everyday magic. I think thats why she charged me with that name.
Since this music is so deeply personal, how do you relay it to other musicians? What sort of players do you look for? Im thinking of Lakecia Benjamin, on Ras Noise.
Theres a motif thats there in that song, and that motif is strong; strong enough for her to get what I wanted out of her. I didnt want contemporary jazz coming out of her horn. It comes down to trust, and Im trusting a musician to impart what they can. If I dont trust you, I dont even call you to jam. She came with a complete parade, and a tribute to Sun Ra. She brought all the multi-colored silk scarves. Its a joyful noise.
You made Jyoti records in 2010, 2013, and 2020: could you say if there were any life events that pushed you to speak as or through Jyoti?
Absolutely. On Denderah, I have a song called Theodosia 3:23 and thats my auntie who passed away. On the first one, theres a song titled Turiyas Smile, which was me mourning Alice Coltrane and my father. Ocotea is unique in the sense that its a tribute to free everything, free jazz. A tribute to Alice. Theres a lot of her DNA in there.
This one has spirits who had passed. My mother, too, freed herself from a relationship that was overthats a certain kind of death, too. A song like This Walk talks of a death, the surety of remaining static, then speaking out. If youre not careful, you can become a very scripted person. Not me, I just want to be real. So theres a lot of things that happen to make a Jyoti record. Its the death of your family and friends, a metamorphosis of your character, a change in your heart to dig for deeper truths. Those are the things that bring a Jyoti record forward. Its the songs that I have to makethinking about nothing else, but getting this feeling out.
And musically, are there events and vibes you can speak to?
Well, theres those hard bop rhythms and the harmonics of a Jyoti record, toothat phrasingbut thats just me loving on my dad, too. I was raised with that, thats an ancestral call, an emotional call, an ever-changing call.
Whether through its writing or recording, how do you recognize if somethings Jyoti?
Its the songs that I dont need a click track to start. Its when Im going to the piano with an emotion in my heart that I cant name, and only my fingers can do the talking. Thats when I know its Jyoti. Its when Im coming with the most vulnerable Im praying. Its my subconscious mind. Im making music as if my life depended on it. FL
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