Angel Bat Dawid
‘The Oracle’ is the solo debut album of Chicago-based avant-garde soul jazz clarinetist, pianist and singer Angel Bat Dawid.
“Music isn’t just entertainment, it’s INNERattainment for me”
Is that you on the cover of the album?
Yes, that is me on the cover. It was my baptism picture. I was about 6 years old. I have quite a serious look on my face, because I was very serious about not going to hell. My father had showed me a comic book with all these really graphic pictures of hell and he said in order to avoid hell you gotta get baptized. I signed up right away. The picture was taken by my Grandfather Alvin Jerome (A.J.) Elmore Sr. who was the Pastor of the church you see me in …Oakland Baptist Church in Louisville Ky where I am originally from. My father A.J. Elmore Jr. who is also minister was the one who baptized me. Oakland had this big water basin behind the pulpit filled with water with a big picture of Black Jesus standing over it, and we had to wear all white. I remember being a little afraid that I might drown or something, but my Father safely dunked me under and I came up out of the water feeling very relieved. My Mother than took me to the back chambers of the church and helped me out of my wet clothes. I remember asking her “So am I going to Heaven Now???” over and over again, and she assured me I would. I chose this picture, because it says a lot about who I am and what the Oracle is about. I still feel the same way 33 years later, I don’t want to live in hell, which is what I think the world is now. My definition of hell is basically a place where one is uncomfortable. And the world is quite an uncomfortable place for Black people. The boy sitting next to me was also getting baptized that day too. We all grew up together, his parents grew up with my Father and served in the church. That’s the beauty of the Small Black Church, it’s usually made up of a few families who have been going there for years. My Father grew up at Oakland, and I’m sure my Grandpa baptized him there as well.
Why did you record ‘The Oracle’ on your phone?
‘The Oracle’ was not put together in a traditional sense. I wasn’t trying to make an album at all. The songs on ‘The Oracle’ are actually a collection of songs that I had been recording on my phone over the course of a few years. Scottie McNiece, co-founder of Chicago Label International Anthem is my good friend and fellow musician. We play in a band together and I knew his label was popping hard with Jaimie Branch, Makaya Mckraven, Ben Lamar Gay just to name a few (we all know each other in Chicago, the community here is rich) but I never solicited my music to him, because he’s my friend first and foremost and I’m not friends with him because of his successful label, Scottie is my brother and a great person and awesome drummer.
“Since my youth I have always recorded myself.”
So I had been doing a lot of gigs around Chicago, and Scottie came to one of my sets. He was really diggin what I was doing, and said that he would love to do an album with me. I was floored really because I didn’t expect that at all. Him and his partner Dave Allen gave me so much freedom to be myself and asked me how I wanted to go about things. Did I want to record something new…or did I already have some music? I told them I had some songs that I’ve been recording on my phone for some time. He said send them over. I was quite nervous because it was my phone, and didn’t want anyone to judge me about it. I sent him some songs anyway and a few days later they asked me to meet up. We went to this beautiful park and sat in the grass with a few beers and they said they loved the songs that I sent and were gonna keep them as it is and just master them. To my utter surprise and delight.
But since my youth I have always recorded myself. My father always had tape recorders because as a preachers he would always be taping himself for his sermons. So I started to tape myself very young. When I was learning clarinet my practice room was the bathroom in our house, and I use to tape all my practices sessions to listen back to myself. This practice of self recording is something that I’ve always done. During the early part of the century I got heavily into hip-hop production and there were many computer software programs coming out making it easier and easier to have a home studio. I never really had the bread to get all the really expensive equipment, but I slowly began to build a little studio in my apartment in my early 20s. I would compose a lot of music, and because I didn’t feel like waiting to get a band together or even have a community of people who really understood my music, I just began to make beats and rap, sing, or play clarinet over them myself. I learned a lot about mixing and mastering from using all those programs. And I loved it.
When I started to explore more Jazz and improvisational musical ideas I just incorporated all those different aspects of my self. I enjoy production, recording, mixing and arranging just as much as I enjoyed performing. Fast forward now technology has advanced to the point that you don’t need to even be at your computer to get a decent recording. There are hundreds of free multitrack recording software programs that are just as good if not better than the recording software programs 20 years ago. Once you know the interface of these programs they all work the same. No one’s really gonna know if you’re using Audacity or Protools in all honesty. I just think it was a natural progression for me to use my phone. It’s convenient and quick especially if I get the inspiration I could record right away. Like “Black Family”, I recorded that after work when I was working at a record store. I have a practice where I challenge myself to play music everyday, and sometimes I would get out of work late and my boss would let me stay at the store after hours and practice. So I just recorded it all there. Some of the songs I also recorded for when I had a show with ensemble members who could not read music but had exceptional ears. I knew if I recorded all the parts they could hear it and know the new song. “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black” was one of those. Then others like “Capetown”, which I recorded in South Africa, was just my Iphone memo recorder. There was no mixing or anything, that was just a straight up raw take. “London” I recorded in London at the Airbnb I was staying at. I was so thrilled that they had a piano. Recording on my phone was very convenient and the technology was really dope.
“When I play music I trance out quite often.”
‘The Oracle’ is released as a tape.
It actually wasn’t my decision to put ‘The Oracle’ on tape, it was the suggestion of International Anthem. And I thought that was perfect, because I have such a deep connection to tape. Like I said I been recording myself my whole life and the first recordings were all on cassette. I was that person who was not trying to convert to CDs. All my first albums that I bought were tape, and I would make tons of mix tapes off the radio because as a kid you never have money, and my folks were strict so I couldn’t just blast Pac and Biggie in the house. But there was the radio so I could always tape the songs of there. I also used to sneak in my dad’s CD collection and record all them to tape before he found out anything was missing. Anyway, I just loved the idea of being on cassette.
You moved to Chicago a couple of years ago, but where are you originally from?
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia. My Mother is from a small town called Macon very close to Atlanta and my Dad was going to school at Moorhouse College. They met, fell in love, graduated, got married and started a family. My Dad is from Louisville Ky, and so we moved back to Louisville because my Father was attending Seminary there. When he was done with school, my parents wanted to be missionaries and moved us to Kenya. We lived there 4 years and came back to Louisville but my parents decided they didn’t want to go back to Kenya. This adjustment to American life was very difficult for me and those adolescent years were pretty rough. Music became such an important healing tool for me. I started to study music very seriously around that time. And started to get really good and got accepted in this Youth Performing Arts School my freshman year of High School. I really loved it because I was finally around so many young creative artists, and was finding my tribe. I was starting to feel settled. But my family had another mission agency they wanted to work with because they desired to go overseas again. The agency was all the way in Chicago. So we moved to Chicago area in my teens. I wasn’t very happy, being 15 and having to be the “new girl” again was wearing me out… I was very upset.
We lived right outside of Chicago in a small suburb called Lynwood. The High School I transferred to did have a great music program and I was involved with the Marching Band, Symphonic Band State band contests, orchestras, chorus drama etc… I just was happier when I was creative and knew making music was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I graduated from High School I majored in Music with Clarinet Emphasis. I really wanted to be an orchestra. My older Sister was accepted at a small Christian school in downtown Chicago called Moody Bible Institute. So I just decided to go there too, their music department seemed decent and they had no tuition and perks for Missionary Kids. They had a great music department, but the hardships of such a strict school, my spiritual beliefs changing and my relationship with my parents got a little weird and then I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, was a lot of pressure that had me kicked out of school, and kicked out my parents house too. So I just moved out, got my own place and started working. Music was always still around, but as a young woman in her 20s my focus was always trying to make rent and get my health and finances together. Working was cool and I finally was getting better jobs that were paying me well, but I still had this yearning for music. That’s a big reason I started building a little studio in my apartment. After work I would just be in my room composing playing and making beats etc. And it just wasn’t enough. I began to realize that I had to leave all this so called “grown up” life and do what I love to do..Be a musician full time. And that’s just what I did. In 2014 I made the leap of faith to pursue music full time. And that is when I discovered the amazing Chicago Free Jazz Scene. I just started saying yes to all the things I use to say no to because of work. Chicago is so rich with so many wonderful shows and things, I just started going to everything I could. Jam sessions, performances, having jam sessions at my house. I was getting back into my visual arts. And meeting so many new people. I discovered the AACM and I always loved Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders because of my Dad. But I was always intimidated with Jazz, I played piano in a Jazz band in High School, but I always struggled with improvisation. The Chicago free jazz scene opened me up so much because of the freedom to express myself. As a classically trained musician I could read and write music easily, so my biggest challenge was learning how to take the page away and play. I got that freedom going to Jam Sessions. I made it a point to go to all the ones in the city I knew about. Yeah, I was afraid, but I knew that it would make me better, and it did!
Because this is for a magazine called ‘It’s Psychedelic Baby’: do you see your music as psychedelic?
Hell yeah, my music is Psychedelic! My Father does not play any instruments, but he is my biggest musical influence because of his love of music. And all the music he loves is mostly Psychedelic music of the 60s and 70s… he has everything from Funkadelic to Yes, Jimi Hendrix, and lots of Jazz. I think Psychedelic has everything to do with going into altered states of dimensions and exploring those realms. When I play music I trance out quite often. Something will even take over my body. And that’s another reason I record, because after a performance I’m not sure what happens sometimes. These altered states are fascinating and places I like to explore. Music isn’t just entertainment, it’s INNERattainment for me. I studied a rich little book by the Great Yusef Lateef called ‘Method How to Perform Autophysiopsychic Music’. That’s the kind of music I play… and it’s most definitely Psychedelic!
– Joeri Bruyninckx
International Anthem Official Website