Revelling into the sounds of the past with Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington embodies a catalyst force for jazz. While some might say that jazz is a style of the past, what with new and unique genres emerging at every corner, Kamasi revels in the sounds of the past. His latest 172 minute long project, ‘The Epic,’ pays homage to the fathers of jazz fusion, setting us on course for a beautifully perpetual voyage of the unknown. Kamasi has worked with the likes of Flying Lotus and Thundercat, as well as working his god-like sax riffs into Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Kamasi is set to hit Australian shores at this years’ Soulfest alongside Ms Lauryn Hill, Dwele, and Talib Kweli with a sideshow at The Basement in Sydney.

We chat to Kamasi Washington about the changing identity of jazz, the influence of jazz in hip hop, and what we can expect from his shows in Australia. Ayla Dhyani writes.

You’re in the middle of a worldwide tour at the moment, how has it been so far?

Yeah, really cool. Most of the shows have been sold out and I’m really enjoying playing live music in different places. I’ve been in Los Angeles for so long and it’s just been great to just get out there.

You’re latest project ‘The Epic’ is a 172 minute production, what was the significance of creating such a lengthy record?

To be honest, I didn’t necessarily set out to make a record that big. When I went out to make the record for Brainfeeder, my immediate thought was that I have this collective of musicians that I’ve been working with since I was a kid. We’ve been cultivating a sound for so long, and I really just wanted to try and capture that sound. I started calling together a whole lot of musicians to basically just book a session with them. They all wanted to put a lot into it and record their own version of the sound we had. So we ended up locking ourselves up in the studio for a whole month and because of that we ended up with this crazy amount of music. We ended up with eight different projects, 190 songs, three terabytes of music, and in the end we came to it with 42 tracks, which is huge.

You also worked with Kendrick on To Pimp A Butterfly, how do you feel that jazz influences the style of hip hop?

Yeah, I think jazz and hip hop have always been intertwined. A Tribe Called Quest, and a lot of the West Coast sounds would incorporate a lot of funk into their music. Funk is really just an extension of jazz. Even the whole approach to playing is coming from the same place. The way that hip hop repurposes music with samples, jazz did the same thing with standards, taking Broadway show-tunes and repurposing them. With Kendrick, I think he embraced that style probably more so than any other artist since A Tribe Called Quest, and his audience has embraced it more than any other audience has. The audience is aware of the musicians as well, because they embrace the connection that he has in his music.

What’s your opinion on the climate of jazz today?

I think jazz has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. For some reason around the late 70’s and early 80’s, it became music of the past. Before then, like every other genre, the music was represented by what was happening in the present. And in that, two things happened. One thing was within the audiences, in that anyone who didn’t consider themselves an “historian of culture,” felt alienated from the music. Then the musicians started to become alienated from the people and felt that they had to start making music from the past. I think there has always been great jazz musicians that people would have really related to and really connected with but they didn’t get pushed to the forefront over the past 20 to 25 years. It’s taking other genres of music for people to embrace jazz and treat it as their own to bring people to a place where they feel connected to the music again.

You’ll be playing at The Basement in Sydney as well, what can we expect from the show?

The way we play is different every time. It will be as much of a surprise for me as it will be for you. But you can expect something exciting and something cool. Every time we play, it’s a fresh new thing. On this tour so far, it’s changed every night, and that’s really fun. We’ve had something different with the people in every place that we’ve played, and everyone seems to have a really good energy. Sydney is such a cool place. I’m sure it’ll be really fun. You guys know how to have a good time. 

What stimulates your soul?

Lots of things stimulate my soul. I guess relationships with people more so than anything else. I’ve travelled a lot of places, and I’m a pretty adventurous person. I like meeting people and getting into interesting scenarios with them. I would say that my interaction with people stimulates my soul most.

Catch Kamasi Washington at the following dates:

Soulfest Sideshow | 22nd Oct | The Basement | Tix

SoulFest | 24th Oct | Sydney | Tix

SoulFest | 25th Oct | Melbourne | Tix

SoulFest | 26th Oct | New Zealand | Tix