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Play It Forward: Angel Bat Dawid Knows How To Deliver Emotion Through Song

Apr 5, 2021
Originally published on April 6, 2021 5:16 pm

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Devonté Hynes – the English singer-songwriter, producer, director and genre-spanning creative force behind Blood Orange – spoke about experimental jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid's atmospheric track "London."

"It's so beautiful. I feel like it melds all the things I love together. The tone of the clarinet is really unreal to me and the runs are so imaginative and free and loose — but then, there's a structure to it. And there's a rhythmic feeling to it. This classicism, but this loose freeness and jazz freeness, with warm tones that still feel like you're listening to it outside," Hynes said, before addressing Dawid directly: "I just want to express my gratitude and thanks for creating such wonderful, beautiful and inspiring music, and for being someone who I look up to, as a composer, as an artist, as a human."

Hynes' praise made Dawid cry. "Such full emotions – for real, my heart is so full," Dawid tells NPR. "When I wrote 'London,' I was so full of joy because I went there for my birthday and all my friends were there and I was in an Airbnb and they had a piano in the house and I'm like, 'I'm going to write a song about being in London.' I had that sitting on my phone for so long. I never showed it to anybody, I just would listen to it from time to time so I could always get that same feeling," Dawid said. "To hear someone from London and someone as respected as [Hynes] say that and that he felt that same thing that I had felt and he listened to it, I'm just so full of emotions and so full of gratitude. It's incredible how music is and how powerful it is. You just never know. That was on my phone for like the longest!"

The jazz clarinetist spoke to NPR's Ari Shapiro about capturing emotions in sound, Chicago's influence on her music and an artist she's grateful for, Grammy Award-winning funk singer-songwriter George Clinton. Listen in the audio player above and read on for highlights of the conversation.


On being patient with her musical journey

"That's what my whole message is to the world. Just do music as often as you can! Like drinking water and eating food, you should be doing music all the time. You don't have to learn the clarinet or the piano, you can just do it in your home. I've always done music my whole life. All the obstacles and trials and patience have been leading up to this point. I knew music I wanted to do when I was four years old: My dad took us to go see Amadeus and the music blasted from that film effected me. Mozart's complexities and harmonies; in order to understand all those things it takes discipline and it takes study. Lifelong discipline and study. And it takes trials and errors – and I've had a lot of trials and errors."

On Chicago helping her sonic evolution

"It was Mozart's clarinet concerto that made me really want to play the clarinet. Being in Chicago, being around musicians that were experimenting, especially Black musicians. They explored freeness. Being around them, going to jam sessions in the city, I learned how to do that too. It was the perfect blend, like the extra sauce I needed in my musicianship because I was missing something. That's why things didn't pop off for me earlier in my life, in my music career. 'Cause I was missing that key element, but that key element had to come at a specific time, space and place in order for it to be right. There's a lot of patience that you have to have as a musician. "

YouTube

On Blackness being central to her music

"Music and my identity are the same thing. I am the music and I just so happen to be a Black woman who identifies strongly with my Black heritage. There's no like, let me stop being Black. I'm always Black. And with Black comes a lot of complexities. When I do music, that's not going to turn off. So that chant, "The Black family is the strongest institution in the world," I believe in affirmations! If we collectively, as a planet, globally, start speaking that, what's going to happen? The Black family's going to be strong."

YouTube

On an artist she's thankful for: George Clinton

"First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day, probably, of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic and Parliament. He was a hero of my father. The music is so good. George Clinton always did his own thing and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most. George Clinton was the ultimate arranger, producer, know how to put things together, all the elements, you know, it's so triumphant. ["Let Me Be"] gets me so hype. George Clinton, I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our life time. Thank you, George Clinton!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're back with another episode of Play It Forward, where artists tell us about their music and the music that inspires them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANGEL BAT DAWID'S "LONDON")

SHAPIRO: Last time we spoke with Devonte Hynes, the genre-spanning creative force behind Blood Orange. He told us why he's inspired by the free jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid. She plays piano and clarinet on this track, "London."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DEVONTE HYNES: Oh, it's so beautiful. It feels like it melts all the things I love - this, like, classicism but this, like, loose freeness and jazz freeness. I just want to express my gratitude and thanks for creating such wonderful, beautiful and inspiring music and for just being someone who I look up to as a composer, as an artist, as a human. So yeah, I really just want to give thanks.

SHAPIRO: And Angel Bat Dawid joins us now.

Welcome to Play It Forward.

ANGEL BAT DAWID: Hi. Oh, my goodness. I'm so emotional right now.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Well, tell us about how you react to that sentiment from Dev Hynes.

BAT DAWID: (Crying) Such full emotions - like, for real, like, my heart is just so full, you know? 'Cause, like, when I wrote "London," I was so full of joy because I went there for my birthday, and all my friends were there. And I was in an Airbnb, and they had a piano in the house. And I'm like, I'm going to write a song about being in London. And I had that sitting on my phone just for so long. I never showed anybody it. I just would listen to it from time to time so that I could always get that same feeling. And just to hear someone from London and someone as respected as him say that in that he felt that same thing that I had felt and he listened to it, I'm just so full of emotion and so full of gratitude. It's incredible how music is and how powerful it is. You just never know. You just never know. That was on my phone for, like, the longest.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) I was just thinking about that - the gift a musician has to be able to capture an emotion in sound. And then so much time later, someone else hears that sound, and the emotion is transmitted that you felt sitting at that piano at that Airbnb all that time ago.

BAT DAWID: Isn't that powerful? That's what my whole message is to the world. Like, just do music as often as you can.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BAT DAWID: Like drinking water and eating food, like, you should be doing music all the time. You don't have to learn the clarinet or piano. You can just do it in your home. Look how powerful that was.

SHAPIRO: OK. You're saying that, but you only devoted yourself full-time to music in your mid-30s, right?

BAT DAWID: Well, I've always done music my whole life...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BAT DAWID: ...You know, all my whole life. I think, like, all the obstacles and trials and patience have been leading up to this point. I knew music and I wanted to do it when I was 4 years old (ph). My dad took us to go see "Amadeus," and the music that blasted from that film affected me. Like...

SHAPIRO: The music of Mozart.

BAT DAWID: Yes, it was Mozart because the complexities and harmonies and stuff. In order to understand all those things, it takes discipline, and it takes study - lifelong discipline and study. And it takes trials and error, and I've had a lot of trials and errors (laughter).

SHAPIRO: It's so interesting that you talk about Mozart because Dev Hynes mentioned the balance between your classicism and your loose freeness and your improvisation.

BAT DAWID: Yeah. It was Mozart's "Clarinet Concerto" that made me really want to play the clarinet

SHAPIRO: Just so people can get the reference, let's hear just a bit of that Mozart "Clarinet Concerto."

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART'S "CLARINET CONCERTO")

SHAPIRO: So how do you evolve from that kind of very formal classical music to the free jazz improvisation that you're so known for today?

BAT DAWID: That is called Chicago...

(LAUGHTER)

BAT DAWID: ...All right? So being in Chicago, being around musicians that were experimenting, especially Black musicians, they explored freeness. And being around them, going to jam sessions in the city, I learned how to do that, too. And it was like the perfect blend. It was like the extra sauce I needed in my musicianship because I was missing something. And that is why things didn't pop off for me earlier in my life, in my music career, because I was missing that key element. But that key element had to come at a specific time, space and place in order for it to be right, so there's a lot of patience that you have to have as a musician.

SHAPIRO: I know that Blackness is essential to your music. You have a song called "Black Family," where you chant, the Black family is the strongest institution in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK FAMILY")

BAT DAWID: (Chanting) Black, black, (trilling) black, black.

SHAPIRO: Can you talk about why this is so important to all of the music that you make?

BAT DAWID: Well, the music and my identity are the same thing. I am the music. And I just so happen to be a Black woman who identifies strongly with my Black heritage. There's no like, let me stop being Black. I'm always Black, and with Black comes a lot of complexities. And so when I do music, that's not going to turn off. So that chant, the Black family is the strongest institution in the world - I believe in affirmations. If we collectively, as a planet globally, start speaking that, what's going to happen? The Black family is going to be strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK FAMILY")

BAT DAWID: (Chanting) The Black family is the strongest institution in the world.

SHAPIRO: Well, Angel Bat Dawid, it is your turn to Play It Forward. So tell us about a powerful musician who you would like us to go to next - somebody who inspires you, somebody who you're thankful for.

BAT DAWID: The incredible George Clinton.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WANT THE FUNK")

GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) Ow, we want the funk, give up the funk. Ow, we need the funk. We gotta have that funk.

SHAPIRO: All right, why did you choose him?

BAT DAWID: OK. First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day probably of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic, Parliament - our road trips, everything. He was a hero of my father.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

BAT DAWID: You know, the music is just so good. You know, like, George Clinton always did his own thing, and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, give us a track of his that you turn to when you just need a little pick-me-up, one that you go to again and again.

BAT DAWID: Oh, my goodness - "Let Me Be."

(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENT SONG, "LET ME BE")

BAT DAWID: Oh, that's it. Woo (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF PARLIAMENT SONG, "LET ME BE")

SHAPIRO: Angel, what are you hearing as you listen to this? What's this doing for you?

BAT DAWID: Everything - y'all should see me up in here. I'm pantomiming all the words (ph).

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BAT DAWID: George Clinton - he was just the ultimate arranger, producer - know how to put things together, all the elements. You know, it's so triumphant. That song gets me so hype.

SHAPIRO: Well, we're going to go to George Clinton next, so what would you like to say to him?

BAT DAWID: Well, George Clinton, I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. Like, I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime. Thank you, George Clinton.

SHAPIRO: Angel Bat Dawid - her latest album with her band The Brothahood is called "Live."

What a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

BAT DAWID: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And we are going to go to George Clinton, the architect of Parliament-Funkadelic, in the next episode of Play It Forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET ME BE")

CLINTON: (Singing) In a chair by the window... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.