Designing the Future Funk: Kawsaki's music looks to the past to explore an imagined aftertime

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kawsaki

Time is a flat circle.

Kwame Sakyi Jr. is a man out of time. 

Or rather, his musical alter ego, Kawsaki, is a composer out of time.

Or maybe Kwame Sakyi and Kawsaki are right on time.

That's the thing about modern music that draws deeply from the past: what at first sounds retro gets reclaimed as futuristic.

Or an imagined future.

Or an alternate contemporary reality.

Retrowave evaporates into vaporwave and shapeshifts into future funk.

All of this to same Kwame "Kawsaki" Sakyi Jr. makes contemporary retrowave that looks forward to future funk misted with vaporwave to create a sound that encompasses the past 45 years of synthesizer music.

And he's a master at doing it.

But for Sakyi, an Ann Arbor native in his late 30s who now calls Detroit home, a different genre of music first turned him onto retro styles.

The Triumphant Resurrection of Nickie P

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Nickie P

When Nickie P is on the mic, she commands a room.

The hip-hop artist also known as Nicole Price Smith stalks the stage with supreme confidence, projecting joy as she rips through speedy rhymes with the confidence of a Formula 1 car hugging the pavement.

But when she was younger, the 36-year-old Smith wanted to belt out tunes, not rap them.

"When I first started performing, I wanted to be a pop singer," she said in an email interview. "I took vocal lessons as a kid and studied genres like Italian opera and Broadway, which is what they had me perform at local music events. But at the time, I really wanted to be a big pop singer like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, who were very popular at the time."

It was her brother and Seven Chakraz bandmate Kevin, aka Esque, who shifted Smith's attention to hip-hop.

"He would pull me in his room and play me tracks by Wu-Tang Clan, KRS-One, Mobb Deep, early Eminem, and the like," Smith said. "From there I started listening to artists such as Bahamadia, Lil Kim, Jean Gray, and Lauren Hill ... [whose] vocal stylings paired with her colossal rhyme style is unforgettable and it has driven me for many years. More recently, I have really been influenced by artists like Atmosphere, Sa-Roc, and Brother Ali on the Rhymesayers record label."

Like Hill, Smith blends her rapping and singing talents into a compelling whole on a new EP, The Collective ThoughtThe record was a long-time coming, too: It's been five years since Smith's last single, "Soma," which was more of a soulful singer-songwriter tune, and eight years since her album, the rap-based The Triumphant Rise & Tragic Existence of Sick Nick.

The answer to why there's been big a gap between releases is layered and complicated.

Friday Five: Suburbo, Kat Steih, Virga, Carson C Lee, Dr. Pete Larson and His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the Friday Five releases on March 26, 2021

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features indie-rock by Suburbo, Kat Steih, and Virga, ambient hip-hop by Carson C Lee, and African psych-rock jams by Dr. Pete Larson and His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band.

 

Friday Five: Akropolis Reed Quintet, Same Eyes, The Kelseys, Athletic Mic League, King Micah the Infamous & Guilty Simpson

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five album and singles cover art for 03-19-21

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features contemporary classical chamber music by Akropolis Reed Quintet, synth-pop from Same Eyes, folk-pop by The Kelseys, and hip-hop by Athletic Mic League as well as King Micah the Infamous featuring Guilty Simpson.

In the Mix: Charles Manier (Tadd Mullinex), Akshay Chacko, Witcharella, Charles Trees, Shigeto

MUSIC

In the Mix, March 15, 2021

An occasional series collecting mixes and compilations featuring musicians, DJs, and labels associated with Washtenaw County.

The edition includes Charles Manier (Tadd Mullinix), Akshay Chacko, Witcharella, Charles Trees, and Shigeto.

University of Michigan's annual Prison Creative Arts Project goes online for the 25th edition

VISUAL ART

Alvin Smith's painting Pointless Acquisitions

Alvin Smith, Pointless Acquisitions, from the 25th Prison Creative Arts Project exhibition.

For more than two decades, the University of Michigan's annual Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) has showcased the creative work of incarcerated people with an annual exhibition. The 25th edition of PCAP runs March 16-31, but it will be entirely online. While the pandemic forced PCAP to the virtual space, it's been on the organization's to-do list for a while.

“I hope that our artists are gratified to know that their work will be seen far beyond the gallery in Ann Arbor this year,” said Nora Krinitsky, director of PCAP, in a story published by U-M's Michigan News. “In that way, even though this is an unusual year, we’re able to serve PCAP’s mission of connecting people impacted by the justice system with those in the free world more than ever before.” 

Gallery viewers will be able to purchase the art via phone, and the artists receive 100% of the net sales revenue. PCAP associate director Vanessa Mayesky told Michigan News:

Friday Five: Kaleigh Wilder, Ki5, Hannah Baiardi, Emily Roll, Fred Thomas/Idle Ray

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 03-12-21 album covers

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features free jazz from Kaleigh Wilder, pop by Ki5, jazz-pop courtesy Hannah Baiardi, spoken word by Emily Roll, and indie-rock from Fred Thomas/Idle Ray.

 

Friday Five: Oduor Nyagweno, Doogatron, Bubak, Tyrus Archer, con.

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 03-05-2021 album covers

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features Kenyan nyatiti music by Oduor Nyagweno from Dagoretti Records, techno from Doogatron, metal from Bubak, hip-hop from Tyrus Archer, and R&B electronica by con.

 

Transformative Sounds: Ann Arbor's Emilie Lin was a PhD psychologist who left that career to pursue her love of piano

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Emilie Lin

Emilie Lin has been a pianist her whole life. She began as a youngster in Taiwan, continued studying when she moved to the U.S. as a teenager, and eventually achieved a master's degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan, which gave her a full scholarship. In fact, Lin was a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at U-M when she decided to leave that role in order to refocus on her life as a pianist.

But despite devoting her life to music, Lin had never released an album.

Then, in less than 365 days, the Ann Arbor artist released two: 2020's Transforming and 2021's Love Endures.

"I never thought of making an album in the past until my oldest son moved to a different state to start his business in January 2020," Lin said in an email interview. "With more freedom to pursue my own goals, I became curious about my ability to compose beyond educational piano music. I was thinking how it would be so cool if I could be like Yiruma, whose 'River Flows in You' captured my husband's heart to make him stop by my studio and asked me whose music it is when I was playing it years ago. That was the first time he ever liked a piece I played well enough to ask who the composer is. I've played classical music almost all the time, a genre of music that does little for him, so I thought it's probably time for me to compose and play more contemporary classical music."

Friday Five: Sean Curtis Patrick, Jienan Yuan, Youth Novel, Weekend Hours, The Kelseys

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Friday Five 02-26-2021

Friday Five is where we highlight music by Washtenaw County-associated artists.

This week feature archival works from electronic artist Sean Curtis Patrick, piano miniatures from Jienan Yuan, screamo from Youth Novel, and polished pop from Weekend Hours and The Kelseys.