JonoJono Is Making Transcendent Art
Despite the rising visibility in media, Black artists have often been hidden in and on the alternative scene. There is still, among some, a belief that certain genres sit outside the realm of sounds Black musicians should make. Black rockers, punks and indie sensations are the community that Afropunk was founded for. The specific insistence and intention to create in this space is not only a form of resistance but an ownership of spaces we helped create and do exist in. One such artist is JonoJono.
Their latest release, Consciousness shifts between melancholic crooning and explosive lyrics that carry listeners on his journey with him. It’s easy to hear JonoJono’s influences on the track but it’s also clear that JonoJono is forging his own path and ultimately coming into his own. I had a chat with JonoJono about his latest single, the relationship between Blues and alt spaces and what it means to create transcendent art.
Consciousness has just been released, how are you feeling?
Happy that I released my 1st original material for the year of 2023.
Consciousness was written during the pandemic. What’s your experience been like from conception to execution?
Well…for that time of writing the song and playing it, I was in the process of working on my project “in a toxic world” which was released in 2021. I was in a stuck mental place like everyone else at the time and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to grip reality of my emotions or drive. I felt like I lost touch of who I was and why I do what I do because all I had was 4 walls surrounding me and alcohol to help the day go by, and with that said – paranoia formed and spiritual stress came from it. I kept numbing those emotions and losing consciousness to survive to the next day. Some can say it was depression, but I say it was a catalyst to the rawness power of this project.
Last year, you mentioned your journey from the church to alternative spaces. I particularly love the description of making Blues in a louder, heavier way. There’s still this perception of what Black music is vs what white music is. How has it been navigating this in your career?
There’s a stigma that needs to be broken on what skin color made what. It’s obvious that blues is the blueprint to all genres that everyone loves today, spanning from hip hop, metal, R&B, country, house/EDM, etc….Blues is the epitome of feeling and raw expression when there wasn’t anything else to use. For me, I stay to facts and history with my performances and influences and make it a point to educate any demographic that objectifies my craft and evoke conversations like these that aren’t inflammatory to let others understand why they do the type of sound their spirits link to. You can’t run away from the impact of black artists because 80% of music (outside of international/cultural genres) that is thought of by any race doing anything mainstream today, will indeed name drop a black artist at some point in time. That fact alone gives me peace and won’t allow me to waver in my sound.
Word on the street is, you want to produce art that transcends genre. You’ve also said ‘music shouldn’t have a label as long as he’s authentic.’ So I guess, what does this look like to you?
There’s a term that I learned when falling in love with the Early Bay Area thrash metal scene and it’s called a “poser”. A “poser” is someone that uses glitz and glamour, or smoke and mirrors to get their push in the game. In present day time, that could equate to someone who goes for a genre that doesn’t fit them, or maybe an R&B artist that releases a vocally strong and demanding song, but in reality it’s all constructed and auto tuned, or they’re terrible performers but they have all the bells and whistles on stage to hide that fact that they can’t sing live or play like on the released record. Ever since one of my favorite bands like Metallica and peer artists at the time highlighted the disgust of being a “poser” it made me look into myself to make sure I carry this flag to not be that in anything I do. So when I sing, The mic is on. When I play, It’s me playing…when I write and produce on these topics in the sonic spaces of R&B or grunge or metal…that’s just how I feel at the time and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that emotional illustration & there’s nothing forced when I’m doing it. It’s who I purely am, I’m not “posing” for a particular demographic. I make music as my therapy and it gets me through life, not for the approval of others. It’s that mentality that opens the door to make something new and unheard of. We can look back and refer to the greats that innovated sound before us decades ago.
Artist Spotlight: ELI
One of the metrics of a great artist is their ability to reinvent themselves through sound. It’s a fine balance between establishing self while also exploring the diversity and capability of musical intonation. ELI is one such artist. So early on in her career, her sound traverses multiple planes, transporting listeners through a series of experiences. Her most recent show is testament to that. Amidst an intimate gathering in South London, Eli took to stage and across 30 minutes, explored the span of alt genres.
Fresh off her most recent track, Too Much, Eli is establishing herself as an artist to remember. Rooted in community, an ELI performance is like being in the warm embrace of long separated friends, engaged by the excitement of catching up on the intricacies of small stories. There is a depth in Eli’s vocals that captivates her listeners, a reminder that music is a fluid thing. Too Much feels like an adventure, a genre fluid track that refuses to be one thing. I Rule is much softer, leaning heavily into its accompanying instruments. On guitar, Eli let’s loose with powerful guitar riffs. On drums, Mike embodies the rockstar feel of the track and Greg leans into the soothing synths of the track.
Alt music is not new. Afropunk is rooted in the resistance and community of the Black punk. While there has been a shift in perception and the mainstream, Black alternative artists are still finding their way. Alt is an amalgamation, as ELI says. She is indie, she is Afro pop, she is soulful. ELI is a unique blend of the musical experiences that reflect her heritage and environment as a London based, Nigerian, Ivorian singer, song-writer and producer. All these experiences and sounds are cultivated in her musical journey and all roads have led to this point.
This year ELI would like to build more of a community. Find more of the communion that was lost in the pandemic while being a reflection to and of people that look like her. As an alt artist, ELI is breaking the rules of sound and creating something familiar yet entirely new. This is the world of ELI and there’s so much more to come.
Somadina Is Here
If we’re talking star power, we’re talking Somadina. In November 2022, Somadina dropped her latest project, Heart of The Heavenly Undeniable (she likes long names). Despite releasing music across the past few years – early fans will recognize previous tracks such as ihy and lay low – singles SUPERSOMA and Rolling Loud indicated that something new was coming. On SUPERSOMA, Somadina establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with ‘I know nobody can talk to me because I’m very bigger’. And on Rolling Loud affirms her star power ‘Look how bitch shine like wow’. For the past 2 years, she has been setting the stage for her entrance and finally; Somadina is here.
At 22, Somadina is rich in life experiences and she’s only getting started. Born in Port Harcourt and firmly rooted in Lagos, her sound traverses her life in past environments including the Netherlands and London. Ultimately, it all comes down to the music that started it all. ‘My dad had a very deep love of music and the legends, so I was brought up in quite a musical space.’ This is evident in Heart of the Heavenly Undeniable (HOTHU). An incredible body of work, it seamlessly blends genres of punk, dance, psychedelic rock and more with the richness of Nigerian culture and history. The EP is incredibly versatile and fun. It shifts and twists becoming multiple things at once, testament to her belief that ‘music is a playground. It’s the place where I get to be my inner child, where I literally get to play.’ This youthfulness is evident when we speak. Somadina is smiley, bubbly and confident. To me, it reads as a surety of self and yet, ‘Going in, I was just like I don’t know what the fuck I want to make.’ Despite this, Heart of the Heavenly Undeniable showcases an unshakable belief in self and the freedom of trying new things. ‘The things that we think are our weaknesses are actually our superpowers. That’s where the growth really comes from.’ Welcome to Somadina’s world.
For two years, Somadina explored the sound of HOTHU. In experimenting and researching influences, she pulled on artists from her childhood to make new discoveries about the versatility of sound. Because of this, Somadina is able to express herself across genres. ‘Everyone tells you you’re supposed to have a sound. My sound is my voice.’ She recalls listening to Bongos Ikwue’s Cock Crow at Dawn. The works of William Onyeabor and other musicians she learnt more about when she moved back to Nigeria as a pre teen all play their role in making the project what it is. The ability to incorporate the past with the present lends itself to its features. The balance of accompanying voices like Zamir, the Cavemen, Chi Virgo and L0la, serve as talents that contribute to unearthing more of Somadina. ‘I wanted it to sound like Somadina featuring Somadina. I wanted it to just be like multiple variations of myself.’ This multiplicity of self means HOTHU is incapable of being one thing because it’s everything. Opening track Time 2 Time is alluring, an almost siren song capturing listeners and drawing us in. The shift in tempo encourages movement and provides an insight into the expanse of the project before mellowing out into the psychedelic feel that accompanies Y I Want U. We joke about the playlists HOTHU tracks should feature on. Sounds of chaos (Everybody Bleeds), music to let loose to (Dirty Line), sounds of discovery (Small Paradise), the sound of rebellion (Imagine Giving a Fvck) and ultimately, songs you should not be sober to (Crzy Girl).
The incredible feat of the EP is derived from her relationship with Nigeria. Its production and the features stem from Nigerian producers, artists and song-writers she worked with. Nigeria and the move back have been instrumental in developing her sound. ‘I’ve always loved music but this country is the place that brought out rhythm … it helped me come to terms with my identity when I was little.’ It makes sense then, that HOTHU embodies an exploration of sound and visual expression, ultimately paying homage to Nigerian culture. If you listen carefully ‘the Cavemen are playing drums, there are these little intonations of African culture. I felt the music elevate, we had more soul.’ But it doesn’t stop there.
Over the past few years, the Y2K aesthetic has taken charge in the mainstream. Nigeria holds a special place in the moment, as the rise of more Alté (alternative) artists has also championed the otherness in and of the arts and creativity. Nollywood has made a massive comeback in terms of newer visuals and the unearthed archives of past movies. Accounts like Nolly Babes are doing their part to keep this alive. HOTHU recognizes the role of early 2000s fashion in Nigerian culture. ‘I really like the fashion behind Nollywood… I’ve always wanted to incorporate it into the music in as much as I have a history of being in a different country, I like being inspired by that country as well’
So what’s next? What do you do, when at 22, you’ve dropped an excellent project, performed at a star studded festival, headlined 2 of your own shows (including a sold out second date), and attended a Sony music writing camp rubbing shoulders with producers, song writers and artists? Simple, you casually mention your next project. ‘I try my best to exist in reality… the people that love me, I take it, I accept love, I move in with it. But it’s a process and I’ve dropped this project, I’m looking forward to making the next.’
uk singer farai pops open some “punk champagne”
Fuck that pink champagne— we want the punk champagne.
This rad new track from Farai “Bukowski-Bouquet” is a defiant kiss off to the “poor rich girls” and “poor rich boys” all “drowning in First World problems.” The Zimbabwe-born, London-based singer/rapper mixes post-punk, grime, and hip-hop for a sound that’s simultaneously ferocious and jubilant — which is fitting for an artist whose name literally means “joy” in Shona. Joined on the project by producer TONE, with whom she bonded over their shared pan-African heritage (he’s Afro-Guyanese and Welsh), Farai creates a cocktail of punk directness and flourishes of soulful warmth. “It’s time for the bright young things to rise,” she sings early in the song. Damn right. It’s time for y’all to rise.
ganser’s “pastel” is a shot of pure post-punk ice
Building from a tenuous groove to a full on jagged freakout, the lates single from Chicago post-punk quartet Ganser is a killer. Singer and bassist Alicia Gaines’ vocals are sharpened icicles, all biting sarcasm and cold-eyed cast-off, while Charlie Landsman’s guitar sounds exploding shrapnel. The band is as tight and focused as ever, constantly threatening to veer into pure noise but never losing that driving, insistent pulse. Winter is coming, and “Pastel” is exactly the kind of shot of sonic freeze that you need to face the cold cold world.
samurai shotgun’s white supremacy clapback
Rise up for what’s right!
Every new release from Tampa’s Samurai Shotgun is like a mini revolution. Their latest single, “Eye See Red,” is a powder keg of punk rock and hip-hop. Frontman Mateo shreds the notion of civility with a call to “clap back tenfold” at white supremacy. DJ Qeys continues to bring some of the best scratch work to ever share the stage with a distorted guitar, while the rhythm section keeps it anchored. “Eye See Red” is practically a manifesto. This is the shit you march in the streets shouting.
If you missed Samurai Shotgun at this weekend’s AFROPUNK Fest in Atlanta, here’s where you can see them next.
shirley tetteh’s nardeydey mixes alt-pop and post-punk
Even among all the young talents on the rise from London’s incredible new jazz scene, Shirley Tetteh stands out as a true don. She is a guitarist of high renown, and a key member of the spiritual-jazz big-band Maisha and the all-star, all-women’s ensemble, Nejira. But on “Speedial,” her first single under the name Nardeydey, Tetteh also reveals herself a fabulous alternative pop singer-songwriter.
Though Tetteh says “Speedial” is under the influence of jazz progressives like Ornette Coleman and Kurt Rosenweinkel, it could not be easier on the ears if it tried. Over an inviting mix of rolling percussion, and a guitar riff detuned and jagged enough to be classified post-punk yet melodic enough to be full of Afro-pop sweetness, Tetteh addresses a partner not sitting in front of her: “I wish I had you on the speedial/just press a button and your person appears,” she sings as matter-of-factly as you like, intimating a complex modern relationship.
Yet by the time we reach the chorus, and Tetteh’s voice ascends to a strong insistent falsetto, and the vibe has become more passionate and elemental. “So I’ll sing to thunder/dance my rain/I will sleep with the fire,” she sings — before returning to her phone, “don’t wait for me.”
It’s a masterful turn-of-perspective, one that the songwriter and singer pulls off with comfort. And it makes us very excited to hear more. With all the other stuff Shirley Tetteh has got going on — both Maisha and Nejira also have albums scheduled for 2018 — it’s fascinating to wonder what the rest of the Nardeydey project will sound like.
blxpltn’s “no english” is a call to action
If you don’t know by now, BLXPLTN is straight-up one of the fiercest punk bands out there in 2018. Their razor-edged social commentary and high energy performances are a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. It’s been two years since the duo’s prophetic album, New York Fascist Week, and the time has only sharpened their resolve.
TaSzlin, Javelin and Jeremy’s latest single and video, the focused and ferocious “No English,” takes aim at the language of colonialism. Shots of a man fleeing ICE jut through, as the band is seen tearing up the song in a dark field. It’s a visceral and powerful call to action, not to mention one of the best songs the Austin punks have put out over the course of their five-year run.
premiere: river spirit’s unclassifiable “fall”
“Genres? Where we’re going we don’t need genres.”
Hailing from Detroit, a city where musical movements are born on the regular, River Spirit cross lines no-one else had even noticed were intersecting. Their new single “Me I Fall” bares traces of jazz-punk, Oakland Afropop, math-rock, and a little classic R&B for good measure. Jagged riffs vie for space with Vanessa Reynolds’s plaintive, expansive melodies. It’s haunting one moment, riveting the next. Basically, it’s a lot of awesomeness packed into a little over two minutes.
River Spirit (photo: Tricia Talley)
“Me I Fall” is the title track to the band’s forthcoming full length. The record has been years in the works. The band tells us that “the album explores what it means to fall apart and what can be created when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to unravel; spaces of transition, the feeling of being submerged, literally and metaphorically.”
River Spirit, ‘Me I Fall,’ image by Hillary Illyssa
Me I Fall is due out January 25th. That’s a ways out, but helpfully we’ve calculated that you can listen to “Me I Fall” roughly 69,617 times between now and then. You’ll want to.
afropunk mixtape #045 goes hard for summer’s end
It’s been one hell of a summer; record-breaking heat waves, the death of a Queen, But it’s also been a summer full of boundary-pushing music and radical movements. Oh and the epic AFROPUNK Festival in Brooklyn. This month’s mixtape is a celebration of liberation, featuring new music from Black Pantera, Roses Gabor, Bobby Sessions, and more. Play it loud and be as free as you wanna be.
01. Thutmose and NoMBe – Run Wild
02. Bobby Sessions – Unchained! (feat. Zyah)
03. Denzel Curry – Black Metal Terrorist
04. Danny Denial – Crises
05. Monster on the Horizon – Mr. Scary
06. Interlude: James Baldwin
07. Cedric Burnside – We Made It
08. Gabrielle Sey – Break My Silence
09. Pleasure Venom – These Days
10. Interlude: Aretha Franklin (1968)
11. Tika – Get Up
12. Roses Gabor – Illusions (feat. Sampha)
13. H.E.R. – Lost Souls
14. Nickel&Rose – Americana
15. Jacob Banks – Chainsmoking
16. Black Pantera – Punk Rock N*gga Roll
Cover photo by Mel D. Cole shot at AFROPUNK Brooklyn