HomeUncategorizedGeorgia Anne Muldrow’s Beats for Returning Outside

Georgia Anne Muldrow’s Beats for Returning Outside

The Los Angeles-based artist Georgia Anne Muldrow is constantly warping the familiar until it resembles something new. The singer, songwriter, rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist is a prolific creator who dabbles in jazz, R. & B., hip-hop, and funk, pushing her music to the furthest reaches of genre boundaries and then liberally crossing territorial lines. Since her début, in 2006, she has released twenty-one albums, and rarely will the next sound anything like the one that preceded it. Her range is vast and her taste is diverse; the tracks she makes can swing in temperament dramatically, even within a single project. Now, having said everything that she is capable of, musically, she is allowing instincts to guide her.

Muldrow’s creative constellation hints at a wide-ranging skill set. Her parents were musicians within a flourishing L.A. community, and Alice Coltrane was a family friend. Muldrow moved to New York City to study jazz, as a voice student at the New School, but she found the instruction rigid and dropped out to explore electronic music, becoming a mentee of Don Preston, the keyboardist for Frank Zappa and the music director for Meredith Monk. Muldrow found the process of working with computers far more intuitive and liberating than formal jazz indoctrination. “The allure of technology and sound design and sound creation with computers was my experience as a composer of being listened to,” she told the Times. By the late two-thousands, Muldrow had worked with artists across rap, jazz, soul, and R. & B., including a turn with the neo-soul sage Erykah Badu, coining the phrase “stay woke.”

As an electronic-music practitioner versed in the ways of hip-hop, Muldrow has been a fixture on the L.A. beat scene, which is defined by a community of producers who make production-focussed, electronics-led tracks and is demarcated by its relationships to spaces: record stores, club nights, labels, and locally based Internet radio. Although the music that Muldrow makes has grown more eclectic (she is also prone to songs that are more vocals-based), she is one of the scene’s foundational players. In the mid-two-thousands, Sketchbook, a L.A. beat night started by the d.j. and producer Kutmah, became an experimental venue where she played CD mixes alongside such defining artists as Daedelus, Dibiase, Teebs, the late Ras G, and Flying Lotus. In 2018, Muldrow released the future-soul album “Overload,” on Lotus’s esteemed Brainfeeder label, and she remains an influence on scions of the beat scene, such as Linafornia.

The beat scene put emphasis on ambience, the way that production functions in a live space. After Sketchbook fizzled out, a new weekly event arose: the influential Low End Theory club night, which ran at the Airliner until 2018. A sound once defined by hardware and laptops began to merge with other instrumentalist movements. “The beat scene being the center of gravity, at least in LA, being at Low End Theory, these guys start coming through,” a co-founder of the club night, Daddy Kev, said in 2017. “All of a sudden, it’s not just FlyLo with his laptop anymore, it’s FlyLo and [bassist] Thunder[cat], that’s one show. Then the next time he plays it’s FlyLo, Thunder, and Ronald Bruner, Jr. The next thing you know we’re booking Kamasi [Washington] down there.” Muldrow exists at the scene’s intersection of rap, jazz, and digitized MIDI-created sounds, woven together in improvisational performance. Her 2020 album, “Mama, You Can Bet!,” released under the moniker Jyoti, which was given to her by Alice Coltrane, was an introspective jazz release that centered on lineage—Muldrow’s place along the continuum of female musicians and her connection to her mother. It was a project fit for the self-reflection of an imposed quarantine. But, after being cooped up, the wide-open beckons. Her new album, “Vweto III,” the third installment in an instrumental series, is fidgety and animated, as if longing to escape confinement and vibrate toward something.

The last year has pushed music inside, but it seems like there is an unfurling coming. Muldrow’s new album is part of such a transition. It is like static running along power lines, awakening them. “ ‘Vweto III’ is intended for movement,” Muldrow wrote in a short note on her Bandcamp page. “It’s to be played when you birth yourself back outside after a long introspective period to get the things you need.” In the Times interview, she spoke of the album’s instrumental tracks as a sort of call to others, saying, “They’re like D.I.Y. songs that people can have for themselves. I want to see the sisters rapping up a storm.” The themes of returning to the open air and collaboration gel with a post-pandemic society in which we are all attempting to rëestablish contact.

“Vweto” is a word that means “gravity” in the Congolese Kikongo language, and though Muldrow’s previous music has often dealt with matters of urgent importance—with a particular interest in the paths toward Black liberation—the gravity here is a physical force: the internal pull of the grooves. These tracks aren’t designed to detonate and diffuse across a dance floor, but there is the unshakeable impulse to move to them, to feel the way they respond to the shifting textures of the outdoors, to absorb them as a city passes and comes into focus. The music is casually kinetic: it exists in the classic beat-music tradition of turning something computerized into atmosphere.

Muldrow’s creations feel so organic that it’s difficult to tell which parts are digital and which are actual instruments. The idea that computers can listen and respond, like any instrument, is key to how Muldrow puts her Afrofuturist music in conversation with the past—and her ability to contort the shape of those recognizable sounds is essential to her art. (“Get a MIDI controller and you feel like you can play anything,” she once said.) She works on most of her compositions herself, formulating and playing and plugging in sounds to assemble rich cuts that carefully unfold themselves as they get further along. With song titles such as “Old Jack Swing,” “Throwback Baps,” and “Boom Bap Is My Homegirl,” the album invokes a deep love for classic hip-hop, along with the soul and funk traditions from which the genre has always borrowed heavily. This transference makes “Vweto III” a perfect gateway through which to appreciate the old in a refreshing new context. In its most vibrant moments, the album feels like venturing out, arms outstretched, releasing the tautness of a body left idle for too long.

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