ALFA MIST RELEASES A NEW ALBUM “VARIABLES”
Where am I going? How did I get here? Asks Alfa Mist in his album “ Variables,” a project compiled of ten songs, uncategorizable, since each one is particular in its own way. A sort of ode to being back on the road and playing gigs around the world. An album that is meant to be listened to as a story written by a musical poet. Once again, the artist transmits all of his essences and delivers them impeccably. You will hear jazz in its purest form and freedom (Cycles, The Gist & Variables), hip-hop/rap (Borderline & 4th Feb), graceful melodies (Aged Eyes feat Kaya Thomas-Dyke), African influences (Apho & Genda). The work evolves like a wave, where it starts and crashes back into another ultra-rapid ensemble of instruments and expression (Foreword & BC), giving you the space for interpretation and making you feel like ”What just happened?”.
On a rare sunny day in Amsterdam, the calm, composed, and extremely humble Alfa Mist spoke to me about his new work and the understanding of what it is to be an established musician in todays world. The first time I heard his music was back in 2017 while I was living in Miami, and I would repeat the album “ Antiphon” while driving to college every morning. It was an honor for me to be sitting in front of him and do this interview.
Joiah: East London born and raised, your music roots itself from boom bap and hip-hop, eventually combining it with jazz. Your inspirations are artists like Thelonious Monk. You’ve worked both in big bands and collaborated with renowned artists and rappers in the industry. Who/what introduced you to music in the first place, and can you tell us about how you got into music creation?
Alfa: Music has always been a personal thing for me. No one was around when I used to create music. Same as when I was looking for samples for hip-hop music, I was always by myself, and I found all these different types of music, jazz, and things like that. I couldn’t understand what was happening, I wanted to understand it, but there was no one around to ask because I do this myself. I decided to learn and listen to it to see if I could pick things out, and obviously, you can only get them at once, and then you get better at figuring things out. I was also watching a bunch of YouTube tutorials here and there. So, although I have yet to teach myself, I learned a lot on the Internet. You know, there’s a lot of music out there. There are a lot of videos out there.
Joiah: An ocean of information.
Alfa: Exactly. So the information today came from somewhere other than my head. So when I say I taught myself, that means the Internet led me, and I just went to learn from the information out there. So that’s why I used to discover music I liked and decided to know things I like, no matter how difficult. But then, if I learned something complicated that my hands can’t play with, my hands are better in the end, you know? It’s just learning things you like, no matter how difficult they sound.
Joiah: As well as adding the amount of practice, especially with piano, like, the more you like, you stretch your finger, and you try to like to get different notes, the different octaves and different combinations, the better.
Alfa: And the more is going to sink in, in general, what you’re doing, but there’ll be times where you can’t do something that fast or you can’t reach that note. So you have to practice to be able to do that to be able to learn the song you like. So yeah, everything is just a daily task.
Joiah: Let’s say that when you started sampling hip-hop, it led your ear to evolve, right? Because in hip-hop, you have jazz chords, etc.
Alfa: Correct, and that made it so much easier because there’s so much music sampled in hip hop, and hip hop is like a way to be exposed to many different genres because many producers there will borrow from other styles of music. So you’re listening to everything by listening to hip hop, so it was much easier for my ears to get used to liking different kinds of things, and because of that, this research made my ears a bit better and more elastic. It trained me even if I didn’t think I was training.
Joiah: You also worked with bands. Coming from a hip-hop background and approaching music more individually, you went to collaborating with entire ensembles of musicians. How was the shift in that, and how is it to coordinate each by one?
Alfa: My favorite band is The Roots, and they’re halfway between live performance and hip-hop music. So I listened to their discography, and funny enough, I’ve never seen them live, only on the Internet. My manager has seen him like seven times!
Joiah: So you heard all his concert stories from him (we laugh).
Alfa: Exactly! I’ve seen them on YouTube. That’s what I’m saying about the Internet. That’s where I’ve seen all these. So you see all these people live, and then you’re like, okay, it’s possible to play with instruments, and that’s what we do. So the Roots and artists like Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, etc. became even more possible because they started playing J Dilla and similar things in a live setting. I kept seeing all these possibilities, then told myself I would make the music I wanted, and if that turned out to be hip-hop is fine anyway because I knew, by looking around, that a band could play hip-hop. So I won’t have any restrictions on what I make; you’ll be okay with when a band gets involved. It will be okay because every style can be played.
Joiah: I ask because a lot of times when you’re trying to jam, it can be complicated at the beginning, especially regarding music theory, etc.
Alfa: I can’t say I don’t know any music theory. I know music theory; I just can’t read or write music. Because a lot of the time when I’m writing music, I don’t need the notation to communicate with my band. I can send them beats and be that this is your part to learn, and they can do so because they have good ears. Yeah. So they learned that, and then we can talk about things if we’re in the room. I’ll see how it goes. If I wrote the song, I know what’s going on in the music, and then I won’t be able to write it on paper and give them something to read. So music forces you to learn. It just doesn’t come from anywhere. It comes from somewhere. But you have to get up and search for yourself.
Joiah: Your new album, “Variables,” is dropping on the 21st of April, making it your 5th already. This work is connected to your journey as a musician and highlights the fact of having arrived this far while some of your peers didn’t and the joy of returning to performing gigs. You go in different musical directions from song one to ten, not maintaining a constant flow but embracing many.
Alfa: There’s more energy that I had from the live shows that I put into writing Variables, and also, the ten tracks sum up what I’m interested in. I’m interested in a wide range of music. So you can go from an actual song with jazz roots in it, and then you can go to a piece with just guitar and vocals or another song with strings, another with hip hop rapping on it, and things like that. So all these things, but I put them all in Variables, where I could have gotten down in ten different ways. So I could have done a whole album like one of these tracks, but I put them all in one album. And that’s what the Variables are: possibilities.
Joiah: Yes! It’s eclectic, indeed. It’s not just like you’re going in one direction is telling a story of different feelings and flows in a way. You start with a fast pace percussive jazz/fusion song (Foreword), to rap (Borderline), shifting to being more melodic and soft (Aged Eyes feat. Kaya Thomas -Dyke), celebrating your African roots (Apho) and finish with another high energy rhythmic song (4th of February & BC). One of the songs that captivated me, in particular, is “Borderline” because I love how you juxtapose the lyrics and play with them: “Everyday trauma normalized – you get family support, I support mine – When I’m bored, I’m borderline”.
Alfa: I like hip-hop that speaks. I like raps where people have messages for you, but I understand that if you put a message in every song, people will think you’re some political rapper, and nobody wants to be preached at. So I like to rap, once or twice, to say what I think, and then it doesn’t seem like it’s too much. I’m just saying, talking about my experience and things like that. So Borderline is a song that does that. But there could be a whole album of borderline that sounds like I’m just shouting at you for the entire album. But in this case, there’s only one track. It’s like, you get to see my perspective. But you don’t feel like I’m overwhelming you with my view. You know, some days I’d wake up, and I feel like how I felt on that song, but other days, I feel like I’m in jazz mode. I want to hear instrumental music.
Joiah: In previous interviews, you’ve stated that your approach to music creation can be described as ” free-style”, can you please elaborate more on that?
Alfa: Yeah. Oh, it’s just I want to represent myself and who I am, and I’m not always in the same mood every day, you know, so the album is just what I am altogether, but one of the one tracks on there is maybe how I feel and one day. So you have to put everything in there because no human being is like one way all the time in another way. They always have everyone’s balanced, you know, everyone has a range of things they think, so I just put that in the music.
Joiah: The single “Apho” video shows beautiful visuals of colors dancing with each other: shades of blue and purple, a little tint of yellow splashing here and there, and images blending with the overall picturesque canvas. Is there a particular reason why these colors pop out and why there are on the cover of your album? I ask because music could be relatable with color as it can with a person’s mood.
Alfa: Yes, indeed. Kaya Thomas did the album artwork. She did the theme on blu rays, and after that, we sent the artwork and some texts to an Australian videographer ; we said to make some animation based on this artwork. So he used the themes and the colors, then made the full visuals for the entire album. She made the artwork freely. Kaya doesn’t paint like that. Usually, we’d make an arrangement on a table and she’ll copy and paint it. But I told her, for this album, to paint something just blindly. It can be anything, and then I’ll make meaning from it based on what I think it means. So I saw outer space underwater sort of free figures, I saw all these things that I saw based on the painting, so I wrote everything down that I saw. Then we sent it to sport in Australia, and the videographer kept it true to the artwork. The blue suits this album’s sound, whether that’s my brain making it fit, because it’s, you know, or whether it just works because you don’t know the power of music and visuals, so I can’t say that. I am trying to figure out what it’s doing.
You can practice being creative. You get better at doing it as long as you keep doing it. If you stop it is much harder to start again. It’s like working out in the gym. If people stop working out, they’ll lose everything for a bit and the muscle gains they made. It’s the same with music.
Joiah: You describe music being an extension of yourself ? So my question to you is that since music is such a prominent, important part of you, how is it to maintain a certain level of continuity and, you know, level of creative flow in your life daily?
Alfa: You can practice being creative. You get better at doing it as long as you keep doing it. If you stop it is much harder to start again. It’s like working out in the gym. If people stop working out, they’ll lose everything for a bit and the muscle gains they made. It’s the same with music. I create whenever I can or make something in my mind, even if not every time is going to be good. Most of it’s going to be bad. Most of it’s going to be bad. But practicing creating stuff makes you better at creating; otherwise, you can get lost and blocked. But if you see it as if I’m practicing, this can be bad. And it’s okay for today as long as I keep doing it. You accept that. So I document files on everything I’ve made on my laptop, and every time I’m at home, I make something. It’s just constant, and that keeps you in this creative mode. So no matter what, you can create something that lasts five seconds, but at least you’ve done something today. You try only you try to bring something into existence that didn’t exist yesterday. So that’s enough for today, even if you’re not feeling it, but some days you feel it. You might make half an hour’s worth of music because you feel that way. But the process is the same; you just made something that didn’t exist before. You just gotta keep that up.
Joiah: You have an exciting world tour ahead this year! What are some of your expectations?
Alfa: Yeah, I’m excited to go everywhere with this album because sometimes you don’t get to play your new projects, and you feel like it’s a bit of a waste that you haven’t been able to play this album in this place. I’m also returning to Australia and Japan, which I last visited in 2019. So there’ll be two albums I’ve never played in those places since then, so it will be good!
I’m looking forward to that and ending the tour in the UK.
Joiah: Going back to the album again, what is different compared to the previous album, or previous works, you’ve done?
Alfa: You know, I figured maybe it’s the way I’ve made the music, but most of our music reflects who I am at that time. If I’ve grown as a person, the album should have evolved from the last album. I want to explore different things on different albums, so right now, the only difference really is that the previous one was to regret not regretting, but always being scared that everything you have could disappear. That was the point of the last album, never feeling safe or stable. This album reflects this stability, where the question is: why are you stable? Why and what made you like this? How much luck did you have? How hard did you work? And if you made different decisions, would I have been somewhere else? Because if I know to keep being stable, I know the recipe for stability and being in a secure space. By understanding this, you’ll be able to maintain it. That’s Variables, infinite possibilities. You could have been somewhere else and could have been doing something else. For example, I could have been an accountant, so why am I right here?
How did I get in this way? Because you will be working side by side with people doing and putting in the same amount of effort as you put in the same amount of, but just things happen that some people are doing way better than me, for example. Still, I never look at the people doing better because there are extra factors as to why. I look at myself; I’m not looking at people doing worse. So why am I doing this exactly?
Joiah: And there are also people that don’t do anything and somehow are there.
Alfa: That’s the thing! People working harder than me are nowhere close to doing the stuff I’m doing. There’ll be people that hardly work, and I’m working twice, three times, four times more, as hard as who they’re not, you know, they’re just, you know, millionaires and stuff, you know, so they’re so it’s funny how life works. I’m interested in how the world isn’t a very forgiving place. Society doesn’t care about your hard work but how things happen. You have to be ready to make the most of any luck that comes your way. So I focus on doing what I want to do because then I won’t regret anything. If something goes wrong, at least I did what I wanted. So if the world reacted badly to that, then at least I know I can blame myself. I don’t want there to be anyone else to blame, basically, apart from myself.
Joiah: Thank you for that. What you expressed also sums up how you put out your music, right? Because it’s beautiful that you maintain the roots and preserve the art and craft of jazz and hip hop, making them current and modern. From a listener’s standpoint, it’s very refreshing to hear, and that’s why all of your supporters out there find it amazing.
Alfa: Thank you very much for the kind words!
Joiah: Thank you for your time with us. We hope you have a fantastic tour and much success on this new album!
Talent: Alfa Mist
Music editor: Joiah Luminosa