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Theo Croker: It's Just Black Music

Keith Henry Brown By

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AAJ: What are the general themes and thoughts behind Star People Nation— even what the title means?

TC: It's about a sense of community. A platform for artists of different disciplines. There was a visual artist involved. There was a photographer involved. They're all super-creative people. The artwork all has messages in it; things that are represented that anyone can relate to: parenthood, upbringing. An everyday ritual of blackness is kind of a theme. So the music itself reflects all that. It's meant to evoke a conversation and my expression of that specific topic. On the other hand, Star People Nation—star people are people who came down from a serious beat galaxy, commuted from the stars and retreated back into the ocean. This group who came here and elevated our awareness.

AAJ: Changing the subject a bit—on the current music scene, what do you think of the musicianship we're hearing these days in pop music? There seem to be less and less actual musicians who play instruments on a professional level. Folks seem to be mostly making beats and working with loops and samples.

TC: I do find it interesting that people are selling millions of downloads that have little to no musical ability. I don't know if that's a new thing— doesn't seem like it. I mean, my generation didn't create that. Somewhere along the line, it became more about image and the actions of an artist rather than their actual artistry. That to me is confusing, but it's my subjective opinion because I've been a committed, serious musician all my life. I hear music in a certain way.

AAJ: Do you think in a way this is how it's always been? There was plenty of bad music in the '70s, '60s '50s, '40s, '30s.

TC: It's not just musicianship. We all know about The Beatles and what shitty musicians they were. But they still made some beautiful music. They did the work. I don't know how much these folks out here are doing the work. Like I don't know if Drake does the work. How much are these icons contributing to the musical culture that's giving them their fame? Music has just become a platform to become famous. People don't even pick their own music anymore. They select play lists and these songs that are designed to get in your ear. It's really a reflection of our society. When I travel to other countries, Europe and Asia, they just listen to the music. They have their pop music, but it's not this dominant force that tells them what to drink & eat, how to dress. I've been to places in Germany and France and the whole town comes just to see you play—not just perform the latest pop song. They come to hear music.

AAJ: These days pop is just another piece of media that entertains you for a few minutes. Nothing to think deeply about.

TC: With my band—and I'm really enjoying what we're doing right now —it's all so organic. It's bliss when folks are really listening. We just did a gig at the Jazz Standard And the audiences were really great. People were listening, and enjoying the show. Sometimes they even put down their phones!

Painting by Keith Henry Brown
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