Chances are, Kamasi Washington is your favorite musician’s favorite musician. The American saxophonist – who first picked up the instrument aged 13 – has worked with John Legend, Ibeyi and Run the Jewels and he was involved with both of Kendrick Lamar’s last two albums, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN.
His own 2015 album The Epic was nearly three hours long, and showed off his talents to the fullest. And now, two years later, Kamasi is back with his new EP Harmony of Difference. We are delighted to be offering a first listen of Desire, the first track of the six-song suite which makes up the EP.
The sixth piece is a shared experience. I hope that the metaphor works and it makes people think about what that reality is
“I wanted to do something that celebrates the differences that we have amongst each other,” Kamasi says. “We always look at it as a burden, but it’s really a blessing.
“Harmony of Difference is a six-song suite – the first part is five songs in a row and part six is us playing the five songs at the same time.”
By weaving together elements from one track into another, each part feels distinct but built on the same shared foundation – together they form a beautiful harmonious whole.
“You hear these pieces and like them and enjoy them as individuals, but then they come together. The sixth piece is a shared experience. I hope that the metaphor works and it makes people think about what that reality is,” Kamasi says.
The EP forms part of an ambitious project Kamasi created for this year’s Whitney Biennial. He worked with filmmaker AG Rojas to capture the message of the music on film, a gorgeous, serene video for the sixth track of the EP, Truth. Next to that, Kamasi’s sister Amani produced six paintings accompanying the suite, which are now used as the album’s visuals.
“I’m hoping the visual side of it brings to life the idea. To see people from different cultures interacting with each other and to see the beauty of it,” Kamasi says.
Read on to hear his thoughts on fashion, identity and the joys of keeping things in the family...
Kamasi on collaborating with filmmaker AG Rojas
AG did a beautiful job and it’s really amazing seeing it go from idea to treatment to reality. Writing music can be a solitary experience, in your room or in your space by yourself. It’s just you and your creative imagination. This is working with a whole team.Watch Truth here
Kamasi on working with his family
Pops has been touring with me and Amani has been creating images. It’s cool to have talented people around you. I always loved painting and visual arts and drawing, but I don’t have the gift for it, so I kind of live vicariously through my sister. I came up with these ideas and she’s cool enough to make the things I wish I could create. She came up with this amazing series of paintings.
My mom doesn’t get to go on the road with us but she’s always behind me, she’s always been supportive and been there for me so it’s cool for her to be a part of it too.
Kamasi on scoring for Hollywood
I’m a big fan of soundtracks and it’s a great way to collaborate. It’s about bringing what you have, but also realising that a dream is not solely yours. That’s always fun – it brings something out of you. I find new depths to my music and new things in myself doing that.
Kamasi on his creative process
As a composer, it’s about having different voices. For example, I’ve definitely been using the strings and choir more. It adds to the flavour. Composing is like being a chef and all of a sudden someone gives you some black pepper. You don’t want to put black pepper on everything, but you have that option now. It’s hard to come back from that because there are so many options and so many colors, which is why my plans keep expanding. It makes my music so expansive.
Kamasi on finding his musical voice
The Epic was a representation of who I was and who we were in 2015. I’ve grown, and my whole musical family has grown since then, so this album reflects where we are now.
I’ve become much more comfortable with who I am. Travelling and playing my own music has forced me to look in the mirror musically every day. It’s made my understanding of who I am much more clear; my expression is much more clear. I’m much more in tune now.
Kamasi on patience
I am much more patient than I realised. I’ve learned how to roll with the punches. To understand the bigger picture. You can’t let any obstacle stop you from being where you want to be. I’ve always been a bit introspective anyway, looking inward more than outward, but I’ve learned. My protective shell is pretty strong now. My energy shield is at 100%.
Kamasi on his ambitions
My dream is always the same – it’s to always make music. I am living the dream. I have other things that I want to do like finish my graphic novel, or make more films – movies I see in my head. But I am living what I want to do; I’m living in my creativity and don’t have to be bound by any restrictions.
Kamasi on his style
I’ve been dressing like this since about 2007 or 2008. It was happenstance. I was in downtown Inglewood heading to the Inglewood Swap Meet to get some Nike Cortez. And this Senegalese tailor saw me and said, “You should come down to my shop, I can make you something.” He’d seen me play. That was the beginning of it. The first shirt he made for me was on the cover of The Epic.
I got connected into this network of African tailors. I always loved African culture, I’ve always loved my place in African culture, it’s important to me, but I never had an “in” on the fashion side.
It clicked with me. It made me feel good to be connected to my culture. I also like the fabric, I like the styles. They suit me in a way that no other clothes do. I never had a style that felt like mine. I used to wear a lot of suits, I had a fedora hat. It never really felt like me until I found this.
When you express creativity through clothing, it’s hard to go back and just buy a shirt. Every time I want a new shirt, I imagine it in my head and I can get it made. ■