interview: modern renaissance man keno mapp talks muses, angelo moore and… love!

April 8, 2011

Keno Mapp has created a slamming CD, “Heart Touch” that encompasses Funk, Rock, R & B, and Soul with some of the top musicians of today. Screaming guitars, ripping horns, drums that can’t be beat and incredible vocals! Keno Mapp is the author of the critically acclaimed Inspirational poetry book, “Senseless Murder”, as well as a cast member with The Vau de Vire Society and The Punany Poets, airing on HBO TV, BET TV and other TV stations Internationally. He is also the co-owner, with Angelo Moore of Fishbone, of Mooremapp Records.

Interview by Camille Collins

With your many endeavors as a musician, activist, poet and record company co-owner, you define the modern Renaissance man. How old were you when you first realized you were an artist?

I was 7 years old, the first time I stayed up all night with my big brother. We were playing in our room and he showed me how to draw from a Snoopy book. I remember being completely amazed and stayed up the whole night drawing. From there I started to discover Art history, falling in love with Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Botticelli, etc… My mother sent me to every art school that she could and I ended up making my living as a kid with my drawing skills. (…) Music is something that I was raised on through my family. My Great Grandma who will be 104 years old this May was one of the first African American Opera singers and she still sings at church till this day. My Grandmother also always has done Opera. She was with the London Symphony for 5years as well as sung in Pachino, Sicily for years were her maestro resides. (…) All of my Aunties do Gospel so growing up, I always have been around it and the music lives within my blood through and through. (…) It moves my spirit more than anything in my life today and I recognize the gift that lives within every beat. (…) My words are merely reminders that we do know the right way, that we can get through whatever we may be facing, that we still can love, that we can share, be thankful, that we can help and are so blessed. (…) I just believe it’s our true human nature and it’s beautiful. So I write…

Which muse calls first, music or writing? Or is it a simultaneous process?

It depends on the day. Sometimes it simply comes out as a beat that moves my body from the inside out and I have to reach for my recorder and capture the rhythms and other times I may see something and it makes such a impression that I have to pull out my pen and pad to write. So many different feelings from full on confidence, able to fly to the child that has not learned to walk yet and would surly die if no mother was around to take care. All these different feels that surge from me, I have learned to capture them in the moment for if I did not, they will surely drift away and I would never remember them again. I sleep with pad, pen and recorder and will wake myself up and put it down when it comes. Sometimes when I wake up the next day, I find some pretty amazing things that I captured from sleep writing. 🙂

Where are you from?

I was born on a full Moon in San Leandro, California, raised in Oakland. Always left, always returned. When I was 5 years old, I lived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a year, selling candy apples and pineapple slices on the beach. We then moved back to Oakland and when I was 10 years old we moved to Philadelphia, where my mom’s roots are, and lived there for another year. The land of brotherly love, another hard street that gave me a whole new understanding of east coast, west coast differences and warmth of both sides. Beautiful dirty streets which helped define the word “RESPECT” for me as a young man. Back to Oakland again, then off to Hawaii to live with grandma where I learned the meaning of Aloha (LOVE) and how I was to remember to always carry it with me in my Heart, wherever I may go… Then back to Oakland. After high school I pierced my ear and moved to Madrid, Spain and then, Nice, France for 5 years. Back again to Oakland and then on to Malmo, Sweden for a year and then, back to Hawaii. Whew, oh, and then I moved to Berlin, Germany where I lived for 3 years, which was like a Smorgasbord of art! It’s really amazing and beautiful our earth. So I’m from everywhere yet I’m back in Oakland for now.

You’ve been quoted as saying “everything I do is love,” and the name of your band is Heart Touch/Keno Mapp. While there is a lot of raw, rock energy in your music, your sentiments seem to be softened by love and a conscious desire to bring something positive to the world through your art. Where does this consciousness come from?

Yes, with my band “Heart Touch” we attempt to show others this fact by Rocking it out! I KNOW IT’S NOT COOL for some but it’s my favorite feeling and what I believe deserves the most attention, LOVE. I believe it is the only solid truth that really matters for us all. I think that everyone can easily see just how our planet is moving and everyone can feel that we all have a huge, individual part to play with these changes. Some shrug it off as nothing and some may fight it within, wondering what exactly is going on. (…) It’s easy to get mad, discard others, fight, retaliate, etc… (…) yet inside, we also know that we all would rather be Loved. (…) Most have quit, been hurt, vowed never to Love again because their hearts have been broken. (…) This is a lie. No one prefers to live without Love, we have just fooled ourselves to think we can but we can’t. (…) So I guess from my heart and mind, I know that I am love and you are love too and I’m happy to fully rock it out and share this true message through my art.

Do you think it is cliché to discuss the harshness and misogyny found in some rap lyrics? And not just misogyny, but a whole lot of negativity and needless cursing too. Is that conversation still relevant or should we just let it go? It’s almost impossible to come across someone trying to infuse love and beauty in to what they do, and not wonder why more artists don’t strive to do the same.

Well, since I have a Rock Band and am surrounded by loud guitars, I don’t get to hear a lot of the newer Rap. I’m a Grand Master Flash, Curtis Blow, Eric b & Rakim, Digga Bo, De La Soul type when it comes to Rap and I don’t remember a lot of cursing dropping around it. The issues that are hard and real have always found a place to be heard through Rap. Expressing oneself while standing on top of a soap box with beats behind real issues that you could dance to while bringing in change, that was the bomb! As Artists we grow passionate for what we wish to express. Yet as artists, we all have a responsibility to inject a positive into the earth as much as we can even with our great passions. (…) Unfortunately media giants prefer to push the negative more to the forefront than the positive. Glamorizing it by airing it 2-4-7 to make sure it gets buried deep in people’s heads. (…) I guess it’s just not popular infusing love and beauty into the entertainment world. (…) If mass media started pushing
the positive into the mainstream more, our earth will have a better chance to heal in every way and other artist will begin to do the same. So we pray…

On your album, also called “Heart Touch,” you collaborate with an amazing roster of musicians. Everyone from Angelo Moore to others who’ve jammed with Pink Floyd, White Snake and Journey. How did you come to know all these folks, and how would you describe the sound you’ve achieved by pulling together such a diversely experienced group of people?

I can happily say that all of these great artists that have come to share their crafts with me, are all my good friends. It’s amazing yet over the years I have simply met other artists along the way that share the same passion as I do and have been honored to contribute to my project. (…) Everyone that has graciously come recognizes that their energies also play a major part with leading the way for more of this type of message/music to be put out. Ira Black mainly plays in a heavy Metal group yet his heart is bigger then a house. Atma Anur, Durga McBroom, Uriah Duffy, B’nai Rebelfront, Juan Richardson, Kevin Carnes, Angelo Moore, Rob Beaton, Victoria Theodore, Azalove, Joe Chiccarelli, Douglas Polhamius and others all have the biggest hearts and are always on the ready to support me in my efforts to promote this clear message. And they all love to ROCK so it’s been a match made in heaven on Earth. (…) With this kind of love around making music, you simply can’t go wrong.

While you clearly have your own distinct sound, I caught a sort of Prince-esque vibe in listening to the song “Hearts Beat Red.” Is that a fair comparison? How do you feel about people comparing your sound to that of other musicians?

I cannot hear that in “Hearts Beat Red” yet I did cover a Prince song called “America” on the Cd. I just had to rock it out mainly because the message is right in our face today and Prince is just so funky! It was a great accomplishment to receive the “ok” call from Universal. (…) I know I must have looked crazy jumping up and down on Ashby Street in Berkeley but hey, it’s Prince!!!! I have to say that Prince is The Artist and you can compare me to him anytime you like yet he is in a magical world of his own with regards to the quality of music he creates and performs. Simply amazing…!

Tell us about Mooremapp Records Inc. How do you know when you’ve come across a band or an artist you just know you’ve got to sign? Which artists on your label have you the most hype right now?

Well, Angelo and I formed the label mainly so that other artists would not have to go through anything ill surrounding their projects like Fishbone experienced. We are sort of a label for the artist (…) After years of hearing music, you just sort of know when you hear a hit. It’s like putting a 2 year old child in a room with carpet, turning on some James Brown and standing back to watch. No child, black, brown, red, yellow or other color could ever stand still once that beat pops their bottoms.(…) You may have great artists yet they may still be soul searching and not ready for all that comes with the business. The commitment must be there just as strong and even stronger than the good music. We don’t want anyone to get eaten up on our watch, under our label and when the limos roll in and bright lights, it changes people that are not locked into the big picture of it all.
Angelo concentrates more on the sound and artistry (…) He has such a unique and polished ear from his time in the business as well as because of his own performance skills, that his opinion is a one of a kind that deems the utmost respect. (…) I’m very proud of everyone and excited for all that everyone is doing. Check em at and see for yourself.

Your book of poetry, “Senseless Murder” was recently translated into Japanese. Tell us about the book and the translation process.

“Senseless Murder” actually came about from me just writing on a daily basis to myself. I never intended for it to be released into the mainstream until one day while in Berlin, Germany my friend suggested that I share it. (…) Yet as a man, it seems with that title, that we are put in a place of forever being hard, and to share feelings is frowned down upon or mistook as weak, so you find that a lot of men don’t necessarily express these softer feelings yet they live with them. (…) It causes a built up frustration and a lot of men are left with their concerns locked in, unable to express themselves from fear of what our society may think. I choose to be naked to the world and express my true feelings without trying to make it into something someone else may feel I should express as a man. (…)
My Japanese friend Aluna has spent the last year translating the manuscript into Japanese and from what I am told, it was a very hard process especially because there are so many words that do not exist in the Japanese language and with the poetic form (…) The beauty in the Japanese language sways more towards a positive side so I am really excited about the translation and am currently looking for publishers in Japan to make
it available there rather then self publishing it as I have with the English version here. I also have a children’s book with illustrations that I did myself named “Windter” and it will be released this month! It is a fable, teaching children the important lesson of caring for the Earth by protecting the wind, river and land. I was featured on KQED TV many years ago and it’s beautiful! I can’t wait to hold the finished copy in my hands.

Not everyone is familiar with the A.I.D.S activist group you are a part of. Who are the Punany Poets and how did you come to be involved in the group? How did the HBO documentary come into being?

Wow, The Punany Poets is an amazing group of beautiful artists that have come together to talk with mainly couples about the importance of communication between partners. It’s clear that a lot of people do not remain together because they are not HONEST with each other, or even themselves with regards to sex and what they want out of a relationship. There is a huge taboo in America that says SEX is a bad thing that should be hidden and covered up. This type of mentality has caused so many problems over time here, unhealthy problems that have lead to the spread of diseases (…) The Punany Poets merely brings it out and talks about these issues in a sexy, cabaret style with dancers, good soulful beats and sensual poetry. Sex Education Theater made for getting people to get real about what they truly desired and to respect their bodies along with their partners. The HBO segment was only supposed to air one time but it has been so popular that they have not stopped airing it and it is now even on HBO on Demand. I still wish that they put my name next to the picture of my body so that people knew it was me. Now days a lot of people look at me and say, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Lol, it’s funny yet I have not performed with the Poets in a while now and have been working more closely with The Vau de Vire Society which is another amazing group of artist out of the Bay Area. Check us out at and be ready to be amazed!

How many musical instruments do you play?

My voice, words, ears and heart are my instruments. I guess after being around it so long, I have developed an inner feeling for sounds and the ability to call it when it’s there or not. As for words, I speak from my true heart so that’s natural and with my voice I bring it all together, with love. These natural gifts are my instruments that I play and I hope that you and everyone else can feel the love. I’m reminded in the best ways to do my individual part as we all share this beautiful Earth, with love and remember always, with love…!