Laura Bustillos Jaquez


video premiere: a billi free, “flourish”

July 19, 2019
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“Loose” and “comfortable” are the first words that spring to mind to describe the music on singer A. Billi Free’s upcoming full-length I Luma. Hers is a sonically and stylistically broad-minded ease — with vocal melodies but also sharp phrasing; with electronics and drum machine abstractions yet an undeniable yearning for traditional song-form — and that meticulously easy feeling becomes Billi’s pieces, which are like some cherished and comfortable clothes she looks great in, but which also happen to be fabulously designed.  You want a genre description? Future soul, for sure. But genre feels somehow cheap and restrictive for music that already feels so lived-in yet so fresh.

“Flourish,” the first single, which also features the great Chicago clarinetist/composer/sage Angel Bat Dawid, is a perfect case-in-point. It is a positivist hymnal dedicated to possibility, with Billi’s lead vocal striding over Angel’s horn and a choral layer of voices (impeccably mixed by musical co-conspirator, Chris Kramer). It is a gorgeous bit of vocal jazz vibes — yet the staccato broken beat over which all this action takes place, moves us into an entirely different kind of club, where East African percussion instruments and drum machines quietly spar. And Scott Iulianelli’s animated video reinforces this classic-yet-modern energy.

To celebrate AFROPUNK’s premiere of “Flourish,” we asked Billi to fill us in on how she got here, and where she’s taking us:

Can you tell us a little bit about where you hail from and your musical background?

I represent the American Southwest and Midwest. I was raised in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, with early exposure to funk, gospel, chamber music, and musical theater. During university, I began my performance career in Chicago, providing vocals for various hip-hop and world music outfits. I’ve spent the last decade bouncing between southern New Mexico and west Texas, fusing both the city and the desert into my sound using the vehicles of hip-hop, electronic and soul music.

Talk a little bit about how I Luma came about as a project. What separates it from your previous work?

This was all supposed to be a one-off record as a follow up to the “Liquid Tongues,” release I guest-featured on for Tensei’s Constellate album. I already had a batch of beats from them and received more to choose from, pretty much all of them upbeat jams at 90 BPM and above. I started to write and record to the ones I was feeling, and sent them off. There seemed to be a match with more than one track so we decided to just keep making. Tensei built more on the music after the vocals were down and sent them back to me for any additional ideas, adlibs, etc.; we went back and forth like that a lot. Somewhere along the line, Tensei sent the demos to Tokyo Dawn Records and they approached me about releasing this project. It started out as a 7-track EP but we were still creating songs. It then morphed into the full-length situation it is today. I Luma has an electronic pop and alternative R&B sensibility that I have experimented with but never committed to in my previous works as I lean towards a more alt hip-hop vibe and Tensei towards jazz/hip-hop fusion. I believe both Tensei and I really buckled down in our respective areas as the sound was familiar but not quite what we were used to playing around with; them with the composition and me making my purpose clear in the writing and delivery while displaying my creativity and range.

Talk a little bit about “Flourish” and its animated video. What is the song about? Who was the animator and how does the visual fit the song for you?

“Flourish” is a wish to continually discover and improve, personally and collectively, with the blessings of our guides and an innate power that is our birthright. Scott Iulianelli of Analog Prints Productions is the animator. I really dug the visuals he did for The Lasso’s “Heaven” video and decided to pitch his work for the I Luma project. The music is definitely a hand-clappin’/foot-stompin’ bop; but, to me, it also elicits a feeling of calmness, well-being and confidence that Scotty translated well into the visuals. Bright colors, sun after a rainy day and blooming flowers; like a long hang in the park with friends talking about y’all’s hopes and visions.

A Billi Free’s I Luma drops in mid-August on Tokyo Dawn