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Abdu Ali and Dan Deacon Spark and Howl on "Liberate Yaself"

We spoke with the Baltimore underground heroes about their new track and the collaborative process.

by Alex Robert Ross
Feb 15 2017, 4:42pm

Abdu Ali and Dan Deacon attack from different angles, but they're tearing towards the same location. They're both luminaries of the Baltimore independent scene, they both create immersive, experimental music, and they're both trying to fuck with your mind in one way or another.

When we profiled Ali back in 2014, he said that his music "is for the forgotten, the overlooked people, places, things and environments," beginning with his Baltimore and fanning out from there. It was a thread that he kept up through last year's stunning, confounding MONGO, a "black self-care mixtape" according to the artist. You should listen to the whole thing, from the inky and atonal "Take Me To Da Wata" through the alarmingly pretty and soulful "Sirens." The essay that accompanied the piece made it clear that he was responding to the pain in his city in the wake of Freddie Gray's death at the hands of the police, and doing so with "a fire inside" stoked by "my mother's hand, my lineage, my ancestors. the voodoo. the music. the music keeps me alive. the drums, the beat, and voices, (that cant ever be mimicked)."

His new collaboration with Deacon, "Liberate Yaself," premiering on Noisey today, takes that fire and sets it to a rash of torches. Ali drawls over Deacon's sludge-thick introduction before snapping to attention: "Stay in the darkness / Take from the Light / Never give them your life / Fight, Fight Fight." Soon, it's a clatter of Deacon's snares, hi-hats, and hallucinations, Ali spitting over it all with a call for independence: "Give me what's mine." By the end, it's given way to resolution: Deacon's sounds are borderline symphonic, wandering piano arpeggios, with Ali falling back into reverie, resolving that "I'ma rage / I'ma rage / I'ma rage."

"I imagine on some Sense 8 shit," Ali wrote in a statement to Noisey, "my people who feel like me, my cluster listening to this song as they are in their darkest moments, which are not rare, moments that happen casually everyday, all day, and with this song they conjure the strength to not only survive but to conquer and to shit on the daily shades of life that spits on our existence. I walk in the shadow in the valleys of death...yet I am still a boss bitch, the boss bitch at that. Liberate Yaself ."

We followed up to ask Ali and Deacon about the track in more detail. Listen to "Liberate Yaself" below and check out Ali's European tour dates at the bottom of this page.

Noisey: So, I know that you have both been in the same circles for a little while. When did you start working together in earnest? And what was the process like, getting this track together?
Abdu Ali: I feel like it was quite natural from the start of when we first played a show together in Baltimore at Kahlon. I think it was 2015. But I knew our vibes would be good together based on  the energy of our live acts. Our live sets are both visceral and crowd engaging, creating rememberable spiritual moments for our audiences. But every since our first show together, I knew we would work together soon. We literally just got together and starting plain around with sounds and synths and shit and the song just started flowing. Very organic.  

Dan Deacon: Both of our shows are about bringing bringing a conscious positivity out of the people in the room so i think it was natural we start to work on some tracks together and try to take our different approaches and merge them. we start with Abdu coming over to my studio and just hanging out with an arp2600 and making a patch of sounds we liked, then chopping it up. once we had that i started working on the other voices while Abdu started up on the lyrics. it was a really natural collaboration.

How do you adjust yourselves to working in collaboration? Abdu, do your lyrics respond to Dan's sounds; Dan, were you trying to create something that would reflect Abdu's lyricism?
Ali: When you just want to make good ass music, shit flows. We were synced. Seeing Dan live really helps me think about what lyrics and vocal afflictions would work best with his music. Dan's beats induces a lot of adrenaline in me and gets me raging hell hard but at the same time he creates moments in his songs for a softer approach to weave into the mix. I feel like we both are sporadic beings, it's easy for us to follow another. I also think we respect each other, so there was no need for either of us to adjust. I think we both want to create music that uplifts and empowers people, so our goals are in line for a good flow.

Deacon: I'm so used to working alone but Abdu is so focused in the studio that it felt like a long term working relationship right off the bat. we would take long breaks and just hang out at the kitchen and talk then go back and the music would love just like a conversation. i like to use the voice as a synth as much as possible so i tried to take Abdu's words and make some pulses out of them. a lot of the content in section a of the song are chopped up vocal takes.

Abdu, Explicit rage was present on MONGO (I'm thinking of a track like "Tears Of A Black Mova" in particular). Are rage and liberation now inseparable for you? Have they always been?
Ali: I feel like you need to rage to liberate yaself. As black and queer body living in this world, trying to cause an internal and external revolution would be hard to do it passively. Rage is also not always very vivid and aggressive, it can come out silently and swift depending on what you're trying to do. Like just walking out flamboyantly being who you are as you are which is not the majority is raging, because it takes a lot courage to do so. So I think it's more like you must rage in order to find liberation.

You're both active in the art/independent scene in Baltimore and you both played the benefit for the Bell Foundry last December. How has the city and the community responded to the threat that warehouse venues and art spaces have faced in the last few months?
Ali: I think as we always do there is a lot of solidarity that's happening in the city but sadly it's not much we can do until we seize our own power by owning our own creative spaces, venues, and housing. I think right now a lot of people are organizing to do so but that shit take a lot time and will. But for me I think representing as black and queer from Baltimore will help a lot of people like me feel hopeful and that is also just as powerful as having space to be an artist. I feel like me touring in Europe is not just a story of a music hustler but an example of black perseverance and determination to say fuck you to the oppression.

Deacon: Baltimore always rises up in the wake of tragedy. everyday i feel like the city gets simultaneously more connected, less segregated and more inclusive.

Abdu Ali European tour dates:

Lead photo by Cassandra Mullinix / What Weekly. "Liberate Yaself" artwork by Mohammed Fayez.

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