Edna Holifield


kamasi washington belongs to the universe and us

August 27, 2019
69 Picks

He belongs to us. One of my favorite things about Kamasi Washington’s music and presence, is that he feels like he belongs to us in such a specific way that you can feel him keeping his grip on our collective imagination when he plays. His albums are celestial events, yet they feel as terrestrial and familiar as a family reunion or the smell of collard greens. His music exists where an experimental John Coltrane and a rapturous Al Green have met to make celestial magic. This exchange of energies was not simply something we get to witness when he and his band perform, it was, in the moment, something that belonged to us.

Kamasi Washington’s set hypnotized the audience. This is partly due to Washington’s undeniable talent, but also the very nature of jazz music, which is to say Black music, and its ability to channel our magic and power into brass instruments and soundscapes unknown to ears before we dreamt them. Kamasi Washington is part alien gift and part home remedy. We have no choice but to be entranced by his talent.

This is, however, not quite about Washington’s mesmerizing AFROPUNK performance as it is about belonging. This is more about how when you see a Black man on stage with as much cosmic power, divine intention, and talent as Kamasi Washington perform, you begin to wonder if this overwhelming feeling of awe is shared with the artist themselves in any way. Especially when you are just one of many in a sea of admirers. Our collective admiration feels like a bunch of people who missed the Big Bang and figured witnessing Washington perform would be a close second to witnessing how universes are made.

However, it was at the conclusion of my time at AFROPUNK when the universe we inhabit answered my questions about Kamasi Washington and belonging. High from performances and copious amounts of weed, I saw a man with an afro and long robe stepping preparing to go into a cab. I couldn’t see his face and I asked my friends, “Is that Kamasi? Is that Kamasi?”

I wanted it to be Kamasi Washington, but my spirit needed for it be him.

Looking at the man and hoping that he would turn his head, so I could affirm the question my spirit birthed during Washington’s performance made room for what could be one of the biggest disappointments I could ever experience. If it was not Washington, was my intuition a lie? Did divine timing not see me as good enough to get this affirmation? Or was I just high?

I saw the man with the afro pick up an instrument case and one of my friends decided my fate for me as they screamed, “Kamasi!” and the man turned around to reveal his face. It was Kamasi Washington. We told him that we loved him and he put his hands in prayer position with a smile and told us that he loved us too. It was then that I understood that not only did Kamasi Washington belong to us — but we belonged to him, too.