javonntte’s “drumma” is detroit hi-tech soul mastery
By Piotr Orlov
June 18, 2019
Two of the truly beautiful things about dance music culture from Detroit are its inherent Blackness and its constant regeneration. To appreciate the D’s historic house and techno, which has influenced the entire planet at this point, involves not only an engaging P-Funk and Motown, but the jazz scene that developed in the Midwestern city after the Great Migration. It’s all connected. That’s the lineage that Javonntte’s new jazzpianodance EP clearly invokes; and that “Drumma,” a classic slice of house AFROPUNK is proud to premiere, lusciously demonstrates.
Though Javonntte (born: Brian Garrett) has been around the city’s music community for almost two decades — working on records not only by producers like Blake Baxter, Mike Grant and Malik Alston, but also on Aretha Franklin’s self-released 2011 album, A Woman Falling Out of Love — it’s only been over the past couple of years that he’s released a stream of incredible singles and EPs to establish his own reputation. In the best tradition of Detroit, Javonntte is a multi-instrumentalist and a vocalist who disregards genre for the hi-tech soul tradition that is his birthright. We asked him a few questions about that tradition and his place in it. Keep watching his space.
A lot of the best house music from Detroit lives outside of what would be strictly called genre. You play a lot of different instruments. Can you talk a little bit about your own musical background and how it shows up in your music?
I started out playing drums in middle school. Times were hard back then in my area, so I would just dive into the music — stage band and marching band as well. At times I would escape to my sister Sabrina’s room to listen to her record collection. From Jeff Love to Kenny Loggins. That had a massive influence on me musically. Then I started learning keyboards guitar and dance after my mother passed in 1993. I drifted a little. The music gave me the biggest high and it woke me up from a seven-year depression after my mother’s death. From there on I started cranking out tunes, from house to hip-hop. The music reflects my life’s my ups and downs. Finally, at the end of that cycle, I met Kai Alce who changed my life. It was a major blessing. He took time out to show me and teach me. I released these words on his label NDATL Records. The rest is history
The music on jazzpianodance not only invokes jazz by title, but in texture as well. Can you talk a little bit about the connections between improvisational music and the programmed music of house 12″s as you see it?
Improvisation is something from the soul. It’s pure feeling, not thinking. You hear a groove and you just flow with it, don’t question it, just play and see what happens. The free will of creativity. Programmed music is something more thought-out and structured. Both are great — one is just thought and the other feeling.
When you name a record “Drumma,” are you thinking of any specific drummers, or are you just invoking vibe and feel?
Naming the record ‘Drumma’ makes me think of certain drummers from the D like Gabe Gonzalez, one of Detroit’s dopest drummers. I say Gabe because he isvery very versatile from one style to the next. He is my favorite drummer and a great friend as well. He also played for George Clinton. This [single] is a reflection of that and yes, I also involve the vibe as it becomes as one with the beat. The drum is the heart of the music.
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