Photo of The Black Opera courtesy of TheBlackOpera.com.
The Black Opera Promotes Creativity, Unity + Defenses Against Trump [Interview]
Photo of The Black Opera courtesy of Doug Coombe.
The freedom of people to express themselves stylistically as well as linguistically has allowed an influx of ideas and perspectives to have a stake in building and sustaining our generation’s Civil Rights Movement. While we could use our differences in religious beliefs, sexual orientations, academic backgrounds and socio-economic statuses to dismiss one another, music is working as a medium. Music is promoting unity, conversation and challenging our thinking. It’s giving our movement a drumbeat to march forward to.
The Black Opera is apart of that sound off, a creative collective co-founded by Michigan natives Jamall Bufford and Magestik Legend. A movement was birthed nearly 18-years-ago when the two met in a Detroit studio. The duo came onto the scene as hidden figures, choosing to hide their identities in order to make the statement: Art is all that matters.
Jamall and Magestik recently released their fourth Album, African America, which is timelier than ever. The album’s verses interrogate our place in America, while covering topics such as gentrification, black masculinity, matriarchy, black family, relationships and black America’s unfavorable relationship with the police. It’s the story of a generation who feels lost and unwelcomed in their place of birth.
Thankfully, the album doesn’t leave us wondering what the solution is. The call to action is clear: build a new home, or mentally relocate. The Black Opera’s co-founders unmask themselves in an interview with Okayplayer, where they share what it means to be a black artist in a Trump's America, discuss their latest album African America and the future of the collective which today includes the voices of those from Nigeria, Uganda, France and the U.S.
Okayplayer: How long were you all working on the African America album?
Jamall Bufford: The writing only took three weeks in July of 2016. But the recording and mixing process took us a while because I was in Michigan and Magestik Legend was in California. We completed it officially in October of 2016.
OKP: You refer to the Black Opera as a campaign. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Magestik Legend: Well, the campaign I guess that’s on the other side that is the business part. The campaign is basically the duration of the African America release. You know we operate as an imprint as a label as The Black Opera, but we are also a collective and a group. So we have a lot of different sides other than the artist side. We have the business side. So when we were planning on dropping the project the campaign starts building up and then you have like the release day singles, this, that and the third.
Depending on the project it could be anywhere from three months to like a year. I think really, I think Rihanna is still pushing singles from her album from last year. Her campaign has been maintained. It depends on the budget with us. We usually drop projects that have a message connected to it. So it’s not just about how popular the album is or how many fans we get or anything or whatever awards we get. It’s more so about getting the music through to as many people as possible. If it pays for our service OK cool, we love money, but we don’t think like we need to sell more if our numbers aren't looking right, you know what I mean?
It’s more so, how can we get this to South Carolina? How can we get this to California? How can we get this to Georgia? Like let’s get it out there. We’ll be pushing this project until March. This was like an end of the year release that dropped on November 11th. So we are going to push this project out until March probably until we stop talking about it.
OKP: Going back, can you tell me how the Black Opera came about?
Photo of The Black Opera courtesy of Doug Coombe.
JB: The beginning of The Black Opera started when we met each other. Which is about probably going on 17 or 18 years ago. That’s when we first started doing shows. [We were already] in the same circles and hanging out in the same scene in Michigan. The actual music making process started probably six years ago here in Michigan.
I’m currently living in Michigan and Magestik Legend is living in California now, but I was working out of a studio here in Michigan that had been shut down and stopped being in business. I needed a space to do some recording, so Magestik has a studio setup at his crib. I started working with him and just eventually we were like let’s try to make some songs. What would happen if we try and put some music together? We didn’t know what it would be called. We made a few songs and kind of sat on them for a little bit until the idea and vision came through. After we made the songs, it kind of came to us way later and we just started working on the music making process first and then as we listened and then started to conceptualize, that’s kind of where the vision for The Black Opera came from.
OKP: What does The Black Opera symbolize or mean?
JB: There is a lot of symbolism, that’s hard. We usually give an answer, but there are a lot of answers. The Black Opera is like a play on words. We represent creativity from different ends. We merge all colors together, all sounds together to make an art piece. If you listen to our music you’ll hear everything from tribal music to boom-bap to trap music to jazz to neo-soul and so forth. We put everything together. To us every genre is like a color in a masterpiece. So that’s what I feel like The Black Opera is today. We are like the sum of all parts. We had solo careers before The Black Opera, but when we started doing it together it was stuff we had never done before. We were trying to get away from typical rap and typical hip-hop [thing]. Being on stage and walking back and forth with the microphone and telling the crowd to get louder, we basically rebelled against our old selves.
OKP: When you all first started was there a void you were trying to fill in the Detroit music scene?
ML: When we were first starting out we weren’t just trying to be from Detroit because that defined a sound that already existed. Since we were able to create ourselves as anonymous when The Black Opera first started our main things were just highlighting the main places within the collective. I’m not saying we weren’t thinking about Detroit, but we just weren’t in the typical mindset of making music that sounded like where we were from. We were just trying to experiment with all different sounds. So we’ve kind of like come back to Detroit now, because of all of the changes that are going on there financially. It’s kind of like just awakening this artistic side and this creative side and put us back into the nucleus.
JB: If we were trying to fill any void, it was in hip-hop in general. We wanted to fill the void of groups and duos. I felt like that was lacking at the time. Like the presence of two very dope MCs rhyming together. Really, our goal was to make something so dope we would make OutKast reunite.
OKP: In many respects “staying woke” has become our generations latest trend. What are your thoughts on this?
JB: To me that just means staying alert and aware like I mentioned before. That should always be the goal and be relevant no matter the generation. But with most things in the social media age and hashtags it may become overused and cliché. I can think of many other things that would be much worse to become cliché though, so it's not all bad if "staying woke" becomes overused.
OKP: What are some ways to defend oneself in Trump's America?
Photo of The Black Opera courtesy of Doug Coombe.
JB: I say be alert and be aware. Be aware, but try not to be afraid. They want to capitalize on our fear. I've tried my best to carry myself this way before this election anyway though. Because I have no idea what goes on in those meetings, these bans and executive orders could be extreme for a reason. They might scale it back and still end up with what they want, who knows? It's like asking for $100 knowing you only want/need $10.
ML: I think it's best for us to continue to stand up for what we believe in and resist what we don't want. The citizens are the leaders of the government. The government is supposed to represent the everyday people who have to live in this country. So I think we should always remember that we have the power to protest, petition, run for office and become active in our communities. All of these actions (and more) can shift our current political climate.
OKP: What are you all doing to cope these days?
ML: We are always creating. Creating is our current therapy. Also creating opens up a channel for us to communicate with our community. As we take everything in that we are affected by, we make a conscious effort to find ways to release. Too much content, especially negative content is harmful to our health. So being able to create and share our thoughts with our fans, family and community is literally a lifesaver.
OKP: You all have essentially started a movement. How do you all plan to continue to mobilize and build?
JB: We just have to stay active with our mission, and we need leaders to continue to help us spread the warning. We will continue to create and do our part, but we need people to use their voice to champion this movement as well.
Watch The Black Opera's new video for "Beautiful City" below, and be sure to circle your calendars for when they come to your town:
Priscilla Ward is a writer whose work has been featured on Health.com, AfroPunk.com, Youngist.org, as well as in Essence and Ammo magazine. She's obsessed with natural hair, bell hooks, sandwiches and really cool art shows. You can find her tweeting about running one moment and being black the next @Macaronifro.