First Look Friday: Ian Kamau Builds Bridges + Premieres "Heading Home" f. Georgia Anne Muldrow
Today so many young people with upward mobility have labeled themselves a “creative” that the word–and the notion of what it means to create something–is in danger of being lost in a shuffle of commerce, social media and trends. But to truly be creative, to find fulfillment, challenge and peace in self-expression will never lose its power, and although it’s easier now than ever to get caught up in the style of the moment, some young artists are still tapping into the timeless captivation that creativity begets.
One such artist is Canadian Ian Kamau, a Toronto-based MC and musician whose talent is erasure. Kamau’s output defies easy classification and obliterates the boundaries between what it is to make music, write poetry, craft images and foster change. In a new interview with Okayplayer, Kamau spoke passionately about his need to both make things and overcome limitations; the resulting conversation became a kind of meditation on artistry in our digital age, more concerned with broad concepts than the fine details of how to rhyme. Inspired by painters, filmmakers, visits to Africa and life in Toronto, Kamau’s long explanations are warmly encouraging for anyone sick of the never-ending chatter. Donning his MC cap, Kamau also just dropped “Heading Home,” a brand new track composed of jazz-tinged piano, tribal African-style drumming and a gritty hip-hop backbeat. It’s a sprawling piece, one that Okayplayer is very pleased to premiere in this First Look. Read on to learn about Ian Kamau in his own words and hear what concentrated creativity sounds like. Bonus: also in store is a video that tells the tale of Kamau’s beginnings.
OKP: Please introduce yourself to the people–who is this Ian Kamau?
IK: I’m an artist, a creative; I make things. I was born and raised in Toronto. My parents are both documentary filmmakers, the first in Canada, so I was born into a community of artists.
OKP: As an artist with fingers in multiple media (music /poetry/ visual arts etc) how do you balance the different modes of expression? Do you ever develop ideas from one and end up with another?
IK: I’ve always been a creator. The process of making things is probably my only true joy outside of my connections with people. I don’t see forms of art as different, they are a continuum, connected and related to each other. The same process inherent in design is the process inherent in music and writing. Most of my art is essentially collage, with production you pull sounds together, with writing you blend words, film is the same, with design it is visual elements like photography, illustration and text. It’s just like making a meal for someone, you have ingredients and you fuse them together, the way that you combine them is your creativity, your expression. It’s all essentially the same process, it’s just a question of what your favorite ingredients are. My cousin Roger is a well-known chef, he’s a good example of that. My ideas are always wandering between different media, and right now I’m interested in self actualization and place-making, how to make ourselves whole through creative processes; I have a long way to go.
OKP: How do you balance your creativity with other kinds of work?
I don’t know; life is a balancing act. One of my best friends is an artist, Danilo McDowell-McCallum, he’s a painter and a designer; he lives by a kind of code that has to do with balance. Art is one of the only things that humans actually leave behind, but we have to pay rent too, and depending on the kind of art you make it can be more or less difficult to follow that path and still make a living; I think we all experience that imbalance. What I enjoy is making things though, so I’ve tried to direct the majority of my life towards that. I have a degree in design and most of my work has been in the arts directly or indirectly. I used to do community work–it was all arts-based programs but I became disenchanted with the institution around it. Design is expression too, even if it isn’t always my expression. Life is not about extremes, it is shades of grey, and the trick is how to balance your desires and your responsibilities, yourself and your relationships. I haven’t always been great at that; I’m still sorting it out.
OKP: Do you have a favorite artist (in any medium) to which you can point as an influence in the music you create?
IK: I enjoy watching free people, people that have few boundaries or have the strength to wrestle with their limitations. The person that sticks out in my mind the most at this moment is Philip Glass. I say Philip Glass because he had a vision and he never compromised it, he adapted it and evolved it and had to come at it in many different ways, but it was always him; I appreciate that, he’s also a fascinating human being. I’m also really interested in people like Leonardo Davinci and Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Stefan Sagmeister or even Thom Yorke because they do so many different things at such a high level. My desire is to have the support system to be able to express my creativity and collaborate with people consistently on that level, and Toronto is a tough place to do that in. But I guess making that a reality is difficult anywhere.
OKP: Are you documenting the process of building your career in any particular way, given your parents’ careers and the influence they had upon you? Can you share any examples (especially anything tangible)?
IK: In the last two years I visited a few countries in Africa. Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda, I took a camera and shot a lot of film…
>>>Click through to page 2 to watch video on Ian Kamau’s artistic process