Mourning [A] BLKstar
2021 Emerging Artist – Music
Mourning [A] BLKstar (Emerging Artist – Music) Mourning [A] BLKstar – a collective of musicians, writers, and multimedia artists – emerged into the world six years ago when poet/musician and owner of the Cleveland bookstore Guide to Kulchur RA Washington invited a group of vocalist friends to Paul Mac’s studio.
“LaToya [Kent] was there, and she sang and was fantastic, and then Fiq (Rafiq or RA) handed me a sheet of paper with lyrics and said, ‘Okay, just let me know when you’re ready,’” recalls James Longs. “I thought, ‘Okay, I can handle this’ and sang the song. Then he came back with sheets of paper, and before you know it, a majority of the first album was written and recorded live. It was pretty fascinating. This is in the moment. This is instant art.”
Another of the group’s vocalists, Kyle Kidd (pron. they/them), was there, too, just checking the happening event out. RA heard them humming to themself in the corner and asked what they were singing. When Kyle responded that it didn’t matter, he pressed them to sing it and soon after welcomed them to the band. Being the fiery maverick that Kyle is, they responded, “I haven’t agreed to be in the band!” they say with a rollicking laugh. “Long story short, we had a very successful show, and the rest is history!”
Along the way, Mourning [A] BLKstar (M[A]B) rounded out their sound with several other musicians: Dante Foley (drums), Theresa May (trumpet), Pete Saudek (guitar/keys), William Washington (trombone), and RA Washington (samplers/bass). The intergenerational collection of musicians range in age from twenties to fifties.
Since 2016, they have received critical acclaim for their five recordings and had the opportunity to share bills and tour in support of some of this generation's most amazing musical outfits including US Girls, Oshun, Algiers, Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio/Ice Balloons), and the legendary Doom Gospel pioneers, ONO.
In 2019, M[A]B performed at The Kennedy Center in the nation's capital and received “WOW Moment” praise at the South By Southwest Music Festival from NPR. Don Giovanni Records released their fourth full-length album, Reckoning to rave reviews. The Wire Magazine's Neil Kulkarni said this about the collective's work - "It is, impossibly, even better than Garner and one of the finest albums of 2019 thus far, from a band whose importance is fast becoming evident."
In 2020, M[A]B released a double album entitled, The Cycle which garnered the collective massive praise from NPR All Songs Considered, AFROPUNK, and The Wire Magazine. To date, it is their most successful release. Their catalogue now numbers more than 70 songs. They have also collaborated with the Cleveland Museum of Art and Adult Swim, late-night programming on the Cartoon Network.
“The collaboration provides this feeling of alchemy with each person bringing their energy to the space when we collaborate, and we have many unique configurations with all of us putting our pieces into the big pot like a stew,” says LaToya. “Our live shows are so magical and beautiful and kinetic, and we can feel the synergy between each person on stage, and that’s what creates great energy between us and our audience.”
The eclectic collective’s following continues to grow, but they have had dedicated fans since their foundation, like Shae London. She was there the night RA generated M[A]B, has all of the recordings and has seen most of their live performances. “Their sound wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before, and now I feel like part of the family, too,” she says. “The way different sounds come together so beautifully in their music is also a draw for me.”
Although the pandemic-forced break caused them to cancel two major tours that would have elevated them to even larger-audience venues, there were benefits, too. This fall, the collective will release a film, The M[A]B Residencies, that they were able to shoot during the hiatus.
“To have the respect we share within the group is a humbling and amazing experience, because you have to keep up and be open and honest, and you can’t drag your artistic ego with you,” James reveals. “Because of that, a lot of great things have happened musically that would not have happened otherwise.”
“We’re just eight people who walked off the street and decided to write songs, and it turned into something,” Kyle concludes. “For young people, you can be in Cleveland and find success without having to go someplace else. Success for me is the joy of being present with a group of people that I trust and have a genuine relationship with. I love that we could pull ourselves together to win the Cleveland Arts Prize, too!”