Matana Roberts is an internationally celebrated composer, performer, band leader, saxophonist, sound experimentalist, and mixed-media practitioner.
Working across many contexts and mediums, including improvisation, music composition, visual art, dance, poetry, and theatre, Roberts is perhaps best known for their acclaimed Coin Coin project - a multi-chapter work of 'panoramic sound quilting' mixed media performance work, that aims to expose the mystical roots and intuitive traditions of American creative expression, while maintaining a deep and substantive engagement with narrative, history, community and political expression within sonic structures.
The ongoing twelve-part Coin Coin series began with Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (2011), which was named “one of the most conceptually ambitious, sonically captivating, emotionally raw musical odysseys of the decade..” by Tiny Mixtapes, whilst The Wire deemed Matana “a major talent”. SPIN Magazine described this first chapter as “Deeply spiritual, sadistically dissonant, evocative as any novel." The album’s story begins the Coin Coin cycle in 1742, the birth year of freed slave entrepreneur Marie Thérèse Metoyer, whose nickname, “Coin Coin” (also a nickname given to Matana by their grandfather) gives us the title of what NPR called “consistently rewarding music”.
Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile is woven together from verbatim conversations Matana had with their grandmother. It features the talents of tenor Jeremiah Abiah, pianist Shoko Nagai, trumpeter Jason Palmer, double bassist Thomson Kneeland, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. In the wake of its release, Pitchfork deemed Matana “one of the most exciting new spirits in contemporary music,” and LA Times called Matana, “a unique, shape-shifting compositional voice”. Coin Coin Chapter Three: river run thee took a different path, with Roberts electing to perform solo, and making heavy use of electronics for the first time. A Closer Listen called it “a quilt of conviction, a tapestry of interlocking genres and a musical masterpiece,” whilst Pitchfork was enthralled, claiming that “Roberts isn’t just a storyteller, musician, ethnographer, historian, bandleader, arranger, improviser, or activist. [They] play all of those roles, yes; collectively, they power one of the most provocative ongoing bodies of work by any American musician”.
Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis was released in 2019, predominantly telling the story of a girl whose parents were killed by the Klu Klux Klan. NPR summed up Matana as a “multidisciplinary visionary”, Stereogum called the album “a staggering work of art,”, and The Quietus concluded that “one can only assume that when the 12-album cycle is completed, it will be regarded as a singular masterpiece of twenty-first century sonic and narrative art.”