Akua Allrich: Washington Rising
AAJ: Beyond the artistic conviction displayed, you also showed a lot of personal connection to the song. You said that your parents were very engaged in civil rights and music played a role in the movement. Do you feel you are carrying on that tradition?
AA: I do. I was raised that to be an artist is a large responsibility. Artists can be so self-absorbed. But at the end of the day, as an artist, you are speaking for people. You are speaking to people. You can't just throw shit out there and say "take it"; you have to give people something they relate to, that they are going through, so people can taste it.
AAJ: A lot of people, especially as they delve into more esoteric forms, seem to promote a division between art and politics.
AA: I think that is a cop-out. Honestly. It's fear that they won't be more popular because it's true that if you are outspoken you may cut off some folks. I'm not a starving artist. That was always my aimnot to be a starving artist so I can say what I want when I want to say it. You heard interviews with Nina Simone where she was constantly speaking up. But I heard one later interview where she said, "If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have recorded 'Mississippi God Damn' because it killed my career." As true as that is, I would hate to feel that way about my music. I am hustling to do other things as well so I can say what I want. If it is successful great, if not, I am still OK.
AAJ: It sounds like you were raised in DC, where politics is what we breathe.
AA: Exactly. This is the center of it. The injustices [laughs].
AAJ: Right now the country is going through a volatile period, and at the same time Washington, DC, is changing dramatically, going through a bit of a renaissance. What's your perspective on what's going on here and around the country?
AA: I don't even [want] to watch the news. I don't want to hear it because I get so pissed off. But I think that people are becoming more honest about where they have stood for a long time. I would rather confront blatant racism and division than not really know where you stand...it feels like to me people are figuring out where they stand.
Now, with the music in DC, it's amazing what is happening.
AAJ: DC is such a historic town for jazz and it produces many of today's great jazz artists. There is more and more music in the city, but as a community and as a touring destination, DC is continually overlooked.
AA: It's trueand it has been forever. I'm constantly thinking about go-go as an art. Once you go a little past Virginia, no one knows what you are talking about. That, in and of itself, is very indicative of where DC has been for years. Nobody notices DC
AAJ; Why do you think that is?
AA: I don't know! I think it does go back to the politics of DC. Since its inception, this is a place where people take and nobody gives. At every level of politics and society, DC has been that place. DC doesn't have tolls. Why doesn't DC have tolls? Nobody lives in DC, everybody drives in to DC, but no one has to pay for it. We pay taxes, but we are not a state. At so many different levels it's ignored. People say it's just the capital. It's just the capital! Everywhere else is "real," but not DC
AAJ: But over the past years the music here has been growing. It has been expanding. More people are coming and there are more indigenous voices that choose to stay here. As a native, would you agree?
AA: Yes, recently in particular, DC has developed in a major way. Not just jazz. Jazz, R&B, everything. It has become a major place to play. It was always New York, Philly, and sometimes you'd throw DC in there. I don't know what happened, but it's a bustling little metropolis now. Which is great.
AAJ: There are also more local venues that really appreciate the music.
AA: Yes, that's been great. To have the small venues. So instead of fighting to get the big, big shows, and not being able to fill them, we have some smaller places and for a vocalist in particular, that is where you get to hone your craft. It's pretty great. It's weird. It wasn't like that in college. Then, for a jazz musician is was like, "why are you doing this?" But now, cats can get a gig any day of the week. I think it's awesome. It's definitely a different place.
AAJ: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Or is that an unfair question?
AA: I think it is probably unfair but I'm going to try. I would like to do some kind of tour. I would like the music from my album to be exposed to different audiences. I'd like to take it to different continents. Take it all over America. But I would also like to record another one. I have a million songs. I want to do standards, just jazz standards. I want the music to have its own life.
Akua Allrich, A Peace of Mine (Self Produced, 2010)
All Photos: Courtesy of Akua Allrich