LEFLI’s very first featured artist is saxophonist, producer and DJ FKAjazz. FKAjazz built the foundation of his artistry as a jazz saxophonist in New Orleans where he studied and performed with prominent musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Aaron Neivlle and Jason Marsalis. Afterwards, FKAjazz chose New York as his base to produce and perform his original music – a mix of Jazz, Funk, R&B and Hip Hop – with an array of talented artists while touring the world. In 2017, FKAjazz released his debut album, Stereotype Threat, generating raving reviews. Since then, he has been consistently releasing groundbreaking music including his latest release, From Where We Start featuring vocalist Brooke D.
LEFLI: Your music deeply reverberates the listener’s heart with revitalizing vibes, engendering a sense of expansiveness and endless imagination. How do you create such music?
FKAjazz: In 2016 I decided to rebrand myself and the music I wanted to focus on. Starting a new chapter in my career was a difficult decision but was a natural progression as my music and vision had evolved to the point that I needed to move on. Creating my debut album, Stereotype Threat was a surprisingly effortless experience. Because I began to fully understand who I was as an artist, unafraid of being my full self, I was unswayed by how people would judge or react to my music or me as a whole. Once the shackles of doubt and fear disappeared, it became easy to simply depict my daily experience of life in beats & compositions. At this point, there is no need for me to think about technical aspects of making music. They are just tools for storytelling, from the inner core of my life from which the music emanates. As an artist, I seek inwardly to connect with other people on a deeper level through my music. Music is a universal language to tell the story of the interconnectedness of life and is a powerful means to rejuvenate the human spirit.
LEFLI: It sounds like music is a spiritual experience as much as a physical one. When we think about it, it is truly incredible to see how the origin of Jazz, Blues and R&B are all from marginalized communities seeking to encourage and connect with each other. When we look at different cultures, without risking over-generalization, do you feel the genuine gift of Africa and its diasporas to the world is spiritual enrichment through music?
FKAjazz: The history of Black American Music and music of African descent is also the history of exploitation. When Jazz started in Black communities and later spread throughout the world it became so popular that it was seen as a money-making opportunity by the advantaged and capitalized. In recent years, even though there are some successful Black American musicians, stereotypes against Black musicians run rampant.
There is a man-made split between the heritage of someone growing up in a certain social construct and his or her specific gift. Of course, our experiences create our differences and many times experiences are unfairly conditioned by the color of your skin. In a world of “others” and continuously “othering” people, our shared experiences are diminished and divisions become intensified. There is deep yearning to be whole, to be accepted and to be connected. Music, I mean good music, plays an important role in restoring the human spirit. The mission of conscious musicians & artists is to unleash the positive potential of music which can cultivate a full humanity and healthy society.
LEFLI: When you look at the commercialized music industry, often the music that sells well does not create a positive effect on humanity, does it?
FKAjazz: No doubt there is a lot of anti-value creation in the industry. Proliferation of feckless enjoyable music – “cheap music” wears out social fabric that connects us all gradually, perpetuating many social ills. One major issue is discrepancies between good music and lyrics placed on top of it. It propagates unhealthy, stereotypical narratives. Quite often the underlying music may be good but the lyrics do not match the initial values of the composer or producer. The sad truth is that uplifting music is usually not well received in the industry. On one hand, there are people following easy and naïve music; on the other hand, the industry does not invest in good artists or the barometer of good is twisted. The industry creates a lot of misguided individuals. There are also many examples of musicians who after achieving a great level of success lose their internal battles and perish.
LEFLI: What is your hope towards the music industry of the future?
FKAjazz: A more decentralized way of producing music and marketing music is a good development thanks to technology. There are increasingly more & more conscious listeners. Just as more people have started to eat healthier food because they are learning how it affects their body, I think people will start to realize the impact music has on their mental health. My goal as an artist is to create music that is timeless and has lasting value in the ecosystem. The content and intention behind my music is very important.
LEFLI: What grounds you as an artist? Do you have any musicians you look up to who serve as a good role model?
FKAjazz: Yes I have many musicians that inspire me with their work and it is important to have a mentor in one’s career. Life is multifaceted though and all the interconnected aspects of life create the ultimate experience of being alive. I am very fortunate to have a life mentor, not just a mentor in music but in how I want to live as a human being. That is what grounds me. He is Daisaku Ikeda who lived through the tremendous difficulties of post-war Japan and built an organization to work for the happiness of people through peace, education and culture. The way he lives his life is exemplary of how I can be myself and manifest the best version of myself – not getting carried away by intermediate success or defeated by various hardships. Because of him, instead of pursuing my own egoistic success, I ask, “how can I contribute to the wellbeing of people through realizing my dreams?” I still continue learning from him. It is such a privilege and is extremely rare to find a mentor in life who also shapes who you are as an artist.