Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Ka'a Davis 13 questions

Lukas Rolland Photography

On Ka'a Davis emerges from New York's downtown scene as a versatile musician having collaborated with avant gardists, jazzers and rockers alike. Davis took an interest in the guitar during his early teens. During his years as a High School student, he began to seriously study the classical guitar and offered his first public recitals and solo concerts while at the same time gigging with a popular soul revue band. After one year as a music major student at the Cleveland State University, at the age of 19 Davis was accepted for training as a concertise of the classical guitar at the Hochschule fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, as a student of Luise Walker. After 2 years, Davis moved to New York and turned his musical attention to jazz, newly composed and experimental and free impovisation.

During the early 80's Davis he plays guitar as a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Don Ayler Septet and with Charles 'Bobo' Shaw's Human Arts Ensemble... Davis helped to forge afro-punk by recording with Snuky Tate. Davis worked with reggae bands Moja Nya, produced by Bob Marley bandmate Al Anderson and with Highly I, a group that included 'Moonie' Pusey of Steel Pulse, Ras Tschaka Tonge and poetess Faybienne Miranda..

Highly I. 'Moonie', Tschaka, Faybienne and Russell. Photo  Archive Highly I

With avante-gardists, Davis joined with Sun Ra Arkestra alumni altoist Khusenaton Shu Amon together with drummer Phillip Wilson to form the Esoteric Arte Ensemble of Sun Ra. Davis also guitared in The Future which included saxist-clarinettist Sabir Mateen and multi-reedist Daniel Carter and with composer and multi-instrumentalist Tom'chess in Chess' Bombpop ensemble which produced 8 releases for his FootJumbo label. Add in Davis' work with Mahjoun! recorded on Worldly Vibe, a Gnawa fusion group. In 2006, Davis formed Cartoon Satellite together with mult-instrumentalist Nick Gianni and drummer Dalius Naujo. There are 7 releases from this project.

Photo Tyler Laurence Gamble 

With the release of Seeds of Djuke (LiveWiredMusic) and Djoukoujou! featuring the "Saxcrobatic Fanatic" Luther Thomas (Tzadik), both from 2009, critics described Davis as "a seductive musical genius" ..."a renowned eccentric"...."a creative personality that is his and his alone". John Zorn comments, "Another world never imagined possible from the mystical figure On Ka'a Davis...raw, wild and untainted!" Davis' music has been described as "spellbinding"..." inside the jazz tradition and outside it"..."an astonishing music that raises the ante on Ra's concepts"..."articulating the free, funky spirit of Ornette Coleman". blogged, "Davis found an essence beyond genre...movement and rhythm that defies genre while defining it...intriguing rhythms lay under Davis' searing guitar." In 2010, Davis debuted with his Famous Original Djuke Music Players in Europe.

Sant'Arresi with Juini Booth

Davis has also contributed to two documentary projects subjecting the iconic visitant Sun Ra. The Black Classical Sun Ra Project by Gregory Coates, and the Sun Ra Repatriation Project by Kapwani Kiwanga were both released in 2010, a permanent 'sight-sound' installation in Paris.
"The Sun Ra Repatriation Project offers an artistic gesture which seeks the return of Sun Ra to his place of origin: Saturn. Musician and jazz composer, died in 1993, Sun Ra said to come from Saturn and advocates an "Astro-black" philosophy in which he affirms his extraterrestrial origin. Inspired by the mythology of Sun Ra, the Sun Ra Repatriation Project creates an interplanetary communication system. "

DJ Greg Caz @ nublu, NYC

Davis has done some conduction practices of his own having directed The Sun Ra Impossible Space Circus, a big band playing Ra's charts with Arkestra alumni members, as well as concerts with Tom'chess' extended ensembles. Davis also presented an original big band during a residency at The Stone in New York.

Aside from his own projects, Davis also plays with Nick Gianni's Evolution and with drummer Lamy Istrefi Jr's Musical Minds Orchestra. Davis has been the subject of 3 documentaries. "Djuke with On Ka'a" (2014) by French documentary film maker Thomas Carillon is a feature length film and has been released online. "Junction" by Younma Aoukar showed in 2009 at the Monaco Film Festival, and "On Ka'a Davis of the EV Movement" by Tando Ntunja which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

"On Ka'a Davis of the EV Movement" by Tando Ntunja

Davis has produced over 30 releases for On Mu Music (ASCAP), which represents a broad sprectrum of original work. Davis' last 2 recordings were engineered by the legendary Robert Honablue, most notably of 'Bitches Brew' fame. Featured artists have included pianist Matthew Shipp, saxophonists Luther Thomas, Sabir Mateen, Andrew Lamb, vocalists Marie Afonso (Zap Mama), Kadiatou Sibi and Tess Marsalis, trumpeter 'Electric' Meg Montgomery, drummers Jojo Kuo (Fela Kuti) and Dalius Naujo, bassists Francis Mbappe (Herbie Hancock), RaDu Ben Judah (Sun Ra).and with jazz legend Juini Booth (Tony Williams).

"On Ka'a Davis of the EV Movement" by Tando Ntunja

What do you recall about your playing learning process?

I was trained as a concert artist, so I had formal studies for that demand...reading, playing techniques, memorizing pieces...practicing to perform mistake-less and having to have a convincing feel for it. It's the most contrast of how the rest of the world offers music. I was doing this in High School and at the same time gigging in a soul revue band where we learned the tunes we did by playing the records over and over to get the chord changes. When I was in Vienna, I was playing a piece for my professor, Luise Walker. She pointed out that I had made a mistake for which I challenged her on. She clapped her hands and pointed her finger at me saying, "Don't test me! I know!" and my guitar almost jumped out of my lap. I knew from then on the proper regard for a master concertise.

 On Ka'a Davis with the Famous Original Djuke Music Players

I have an excellent library of study books, almost too much information because of the various learning approaches and points of view to consider. After all, music is about musing. I went to Barry Harris' classes. But nothing becomes real from studies until you put them to use. Until you really understand for yourself what is going on. As with everything else, your experience is the best teacher for you. Jazz dues are rough. I was bold beginning to play this music because I ventured out into it naively. I would make the jam sessions in the clubs only to get a lot of "Lay out!" yelled at me, sometimes too much for a night. But a kind of magic happens by simply being tenacious. In the end, getting your playing together is not just about what you play but more of what you listen to. The experience of listening far out weighs that of playing. Any kind of music or, for that matter, any kind of sounds will offer inspiration. I have found that you learn to teach yourself, which is the real secret of finding your sound...mad props to all the self-taught musicians!

What quality do you admire most in an musician?

An artist is a responder to our societies. A musician should arrive at the temperment of what it is to be an artist. Some musicians are content only as being a musician, however that could be. All of the truly great musicians are great artist. Musicians who are artist have a very wide peripheral of the culture of art and they personify it. These are the ones who become true masters and accomplished stars because they carry the traits of an awakened artist. You can see it in how they appear, their poise of meditation, but most importantly, they realize that doing art is perhaps the most difficult thing to do and they understand each one's degree of dedication to it.

LES +8 bit space-time+continuum+soundtrack ~ a real-time On Ka'a Davis and Vin S. Invention one.

What’s the difference between a good player and a bad one? 

I consider that there are 2 kinds of players. The fixed player is an excellent executioner...the creative player may be not as orthodox, but is always reaching and taking chances. The best players have both qualities. But moreover, music has to be about expressing soul. It's harder for the excellent executioner to be convincing as having a soulful presence. Bad players don't really exist. By me, anyone who dedicates themselves to learning an instrument is a player who should never be judged. When they begin to shine, we get to know how well they are playing. Becoming a good player is all about not quitting. Some jazz players still carry the dated commenting as to 'who can't play'. This is nothing more than abusive and demeaning characterizing and it can ruin a player's reputation. It's an attitude that has been passed down as to how to size up another player. I know I got a lot of this, and maybe behind my back still do. I still haven't figured out if its because that's what some musicians actually do think or others don't hear me or they simply want to put a space between themselves and me. I've found out that some of the musicians I want to consider as my peers don't necessarily relate to me as I would like...or as I thought they did. But that's show biz. As far as one's abilities go, what is interesting is that the masters can work with anyone and make them shine. Therefore, so should any musician be able to do so. 

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

The arresting player demonstrates a sense of search upon a construction, which is technique, towards attaining discovery. Any kind of execution upon an instrument shows a technique of some kind. Aside from 'studied' music class approaches, the search to find ways to create imagined realities develops the techniques vital for their appearances. Technique is the result of controling what you want or have to do to make the music happen. I wonder if anyone has started teaching how to control feedback from a cranked guitar yet...? 

Ai Confini tra Sardegna e Jazz 2010 Celebrations, "The Holy Ghost and the Infinite Spirit of Albert Ayler" Butch Morris Conduction #192, "Possible Universe"

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater... ?

I had a good run through the 90's as designer with my Onoculii Designs. I also made a science project of the guitar I seem to only play. I consider that my music could be a kind of designer music. I've been an exhibiting visual artist and I write. Dancing is a part of how I present the band...I've gigged theatre...have done some acting and modeling. I established East Village Guitar Salon in Manhattan to teach. I also research. In 2006, I published Exerciricle: Keys to Museo-Ontology (On Mu Music Press). This book uniquely explores the science of museo-ontology, which I describe as an examination of music, meta-physics and mental/spirit subjects. The idea of it is to cause for the student to discover their inherited genius within.
What would you enjoy most in an music work?

A strong creative concept and well developed ideas... obviously devoted "time and attention" to the final presentation. I appreciate a music that presents attention to all of its details. I listen for the gems everywhere. All the elements are set, or end up being set, in a fulfilling balance of design and inspiration. I look for a sense of a decoded language... a channeled reality... an enacted vision...something not unintelligable.  I listen to everything, even if it really isn't my thing. I've been emerged in rhythmic schemes and lush harmonic coloring.

Lawrence D. Butch Morris Rehearsal "Conduction nª 192 Possible Universe"

What quality do you most empatize with in a composer?

A composer has to mind the ideas that will make their music 'indestructable' and able to be treated in any way at all. Then it's alll there...the envisioned idea complete to itself. Composing is erecting musical architecture. There always has to be a hole dug first to put up a structure. 

Djuke with Ok Ka'a. Thomas Carillon

How would you define silence? and noise? 

These are abstract realities. It's all about what and how we hear. In my book, Exerciricle: Keys to Museo-Ontology, I address these ideas. "Silence exist within a sphere opposite to that of sound and is not receptive to its energi(es)...silence expresses the potential of (a) vibratory sound energi(es) that (is) (are) not alligned to tune the physical bodies...silence is the illusion to (a) physical appearance(s)" etc. Of noise, I described as "a sound energy that exist as an unintelligible reality...a reflection of sound energi(es) that (is) (are) unable to exchange intelligence to the physical exist between the spheres of realit(ies) and the void... it is the sound reality of chaos" etc. In a more practical sense as these ideas relate to being on the bandstand, silence is simply shutting up, and noise is what happens when nobody is paying attention to any one or any thing going on around them. 

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?

The old school jazz players have these post beatnik era things they tell the newbies, like, "be natural and see sharp", or "if you can't hang in then don't hang out" or "you can't hang in if you don't hang out"...these are always amusing to think on. Luther Thomas always said "don't take your axe out the house and don't play it!"..
Sun Ra always kept reminding that you can change your destiny...

"On Ka'a Davis of the EV Movement" by Tando Ntunja

What instruments or tools do you use?

As far as my 'go for' effects, I've been using the ElectroHarmonix micro synth for years. I like the synth potentials because it creates any kind distortion, even mimics tremolo and delay. And it always offers new sounds to the sonic palette. It's important to have sound sources that inspire.Confidence and effective inspiration are very related. I've been learning to use the 'Tweaker', an interesing newly created device from Amukat Gadgets. I also use a loop pedal and I like the Korg micro-synth. I've also been playing violin. I have 2, one is a solid body electric.

Depict the sound you're still looking for. 

My eventual social aquaintance with Fela Kuti and involvement with the downtown squatter movement created for me a point of departure that would seek to characterize a social riddim pulse beat music. I have been exploring in harmonic rhythm. I am engaged to express a sound that charts the connectivity of elliptic rhythmic schemes. What I am doing I call djuke music. Perhaps it could be thought of as a kind of designer music.The music is looking to open possibilities of the conjured jazzes in a direction scarcely taken. I'm staying within the roots-soul esthetic but am adding in electronica dimensions as well. I've been running my band the Famous Original Djuke Music Players as an effort to define the music. This project is a pulse beat dance band, but for some reason still gets thought of as being an off shoot of free jazz. As I define myself with the djuke music, I am also an artist who can be a part of an array of musical situations. I appreciate music as a mystic experience, so I continue to engage in projects that push forward and express this...ideas of soundscapes of arcing lights and crystalline lattices. I constantly record. I'm looking forward to releasing a new trio project as well as solo material. As whatever I do, I will bring an emphasis of a pulse beat, elliptic rhythmic scheme.

On Ka' Davis Guitar, Welf Dorr Alto Sax Solo, Nick Gianni B. Sax, Cavassa Bass, Pete Barr Drums, Joho Djembe. Live @ The Shrine in Harlem March 22nd

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?  

I've been studying sound science and meta-physics for years. I have 2 books that I am working to finish, one is a discovery of the roots of jazz via American slave society music and the other explores music as sacred geometry. I have to admit that my relation with Sun Ra has a tremendous influence upon me as well as that of Fela Kuti. Our conversations strayed from music into relevant politics, social and mental slavery, history, myth-science, freedom and outer space. I have an old book entitled Across the Unknown which is a dialogue channeled from invisibles. It's a most amazing book. Sun Ra turned me on to X-Ray and Search Light on the Seventh Day, a book written by a slave who, before he was illuminated, was illiterate. I have a recorded project that borrows from this title called X-Ray Search Light Project. Then there is my years of living as a squatter and our rioting with the police to protect our buildings...but that's another story to itself.  

What are the challenges and benefits of today's music scene? 

The implied idea of the 'new aged' artist is about self promoting and looking for a sense of satisfaction that you have done it all on your own. Doing music has changed rapidly and very visibly so in just the past 15 years. With all of the advantages of internet, promoting has actually been made more complex. So musicians have to don more caps to wear. Being attentive to maintaining an effective presence online takes a big effort and a lot of work. Self promoting also means self financing. Money and resources are needed to make things happen and the attentions don't seem to stop. Let's see, then there is practicing your instrument, writing for the ensembles, organizing the players (paying them..?), rehearsing, renting studio time, making videos, getting gigs to play, arranging for the gigs, promoting the shows and the releases, seeking relations with and paying for publicists, management, promoters and other advertisement and exposures...and then feeling to have to be 'competitive' by giving it away for's crazy. The idea of the label has become a means of distribution but not any longer a reliance to actively promote the artists they represent. It has caused musicians to assume personalities outside of being artists. The fervor to 'break through' has presented 'successful' musicians who are presenting more simple, immature music seemingly because they aren't developing their music because their attentions are devoted to hyping themselves up...and it is the squeaky ones 'in our faces' that get the grease. On the other side, dedicated musicians are  able to be in place to control their own rewards and to happily not to have to take the road of medocracy.


Recording with engineer Robert Honablue

2014 George Spanos: Dreams Beyond (Evolver Records) {w/ Juini Booth, Lawrence Clark, Ikue Mori, Ben Stapp, Adam Fisher, Simone Wessenfels, Lola Danza, Sayun Chang, Vascho Domovsky, Fung Chern Hwei}

2013 I Never Meta Guitarist (Vol. 2) (Clean Feed) {various artists}

2010 Himalayas (Wollesonic) {w/ Kenny Wollesen, Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, Tim Kieper, Daniel Jodocy, On Ka'a Davis, et.. al }

2009 Famous Original Djuke Music Players: Seeds of Djuke (LiveWired Music) {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Nick Gianni, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Kadiatou Sibi, Tess Marsalis, Radu Ben Judah, Andrew Lamb}

2009 Famous Original Djuke Music Players: Djoukoujou! (Tzadik) {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Nick Gianni, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Kadiatou Sibi, Tess Marsalis, Radu Ben Judah, Andrew Lamb}

2006 Mahjoun! (Worldly Vibe Records) {w/ Karim Alaoui, Abdullah Alaoui, Electric Meg Montgomery, Doug Principato, On Ka'a Davis, others}

2005 Out Da Concrete (Worldly Vibe Records) {w/ Electric Meg Montgomery, Daniel Carter, On Ka'a Davis, others}

1998-2005 Bombpop (vol. 1-8) (Footjumbo Records) {w/ Thomchess, Jimi Mbuseylo, Tom Augsburger, Takuma Kanaiwa, On Ka'a Davis, others}

2004 Marina Fiorentini Unexpected String Theory (Music Village Records) {w/ M. Fiorentini, On Ka'a Davis, others}

1983 Snuky Tate Babylon Under Pressure (Animal Records) {w/ Snuky Tate, On Ka'a Davis, others}

1981 Don Ayler Septet Live in Florence (vol. 1-3) (Frame Records) {w/ Tony Smith, Radu Ben Judah, Jerry Griffin, Frank Doblikar, Mustafa Abdullah, On Ka'a Davis}

1981 Sun Ra Arkestra Dance of Innocent Passion (Saturn Research) { w/ Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, June Tyson, Jac Jackson, Danny Thompson, Micheal Ray, Knoel Scott, Tyrone Hill, Samurai, Craig Haynes, Radu Ben Judah, On Ka'a Davis, et al}
On Mu Music (ASCAP)

2007 Cartoon Satellite Live! at The Stone, {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, Chantal Ughi, On Ka'a Davis
2007 Cartoon Satellite All That Glows, {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}
2007 Cartoon Satellite Babes in Wondersound {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}
2007 Cartoon Satellite Dielectric Atmosphere {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}
2007 Cartoon Satellite Photon Gun Run {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}
2007 Cartoon Satellite Space-Age Politicians {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}
2007 Cartoon Satellite Ultrionic Presence {w/ Dalius Naujo, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}

2007 *Title: TBA (unreleased) {w/ Matthew Shipp, Sabir Mateen, Daniel Jodocy, Chantal Ughi, On Ka'a Davis}
2006 X-Ray Search Light Project Djuke No Go Die! {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Tess Marsalis, et al}
2006 X-Ray Search Light Project This is Djuke Music! {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Tess Marsalis, et al}
2006 X-Ray Search Light Project Djuke Wonderland {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Tess Marsalis, et al}

2006 X-Ray Search Light Project Ambient Spheres {w/ Luther Thomas, Juini Booth, Electric Meg, Jojo Kuo, Francis Mbappe, Marie Afonso, Tess Marsalis, et al}
2006 Coup Rule The East 13th Street Squat Basement Sessions {w/ Nick Gianni, Sonny I, On Ka'a Davis}
2006 Smoke 'Em!{On Ka'a Davis et al}

2006 Original Djuke Rock Ultrio Live! {w/ Nick Gianni, Bopa King Carre, On Ka'a Davis}
2006 Original Djuke Music Players {w/ Nick Gianni, Bopa King Carre, On Ka'a Davis}
2005 BuDa Sound Gallery 13 Sculptures {w/ Jerome James, Nick Gianni, On Ka'a Davis}

2004 X-Ray Search Light Project No! No Go For It!
2004 X-Ray Search Light Project End to Shame and Chaos
2004 Meditations in Virtual Jazz {w/ Andrew Lamb, On Ka'a Davis}
2004 Studio Trax {w/ Magama Skosana, On Ka'a Davis}

2004 A Classical Guitar Recital of Spanish Music {On Ka'a Davis}
2004 Esoteric Arte Ensemble of Sun Ra {w/ Khusenaton Shu Amon, Sabir Mateen, Nizomi, On Ka'a Davis, Luther Thomas}
2004 Esoteric Arte Ensemble of Sun Ra: Live! in Harlem {w/ Khusentaon Shu Amon, Radu Ben Judah, Sabir Mateen, On Ka'a Davis, Kenyatte}
2002 The Future {w/ Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen, Dan O'Brian, Thom Corn, On Ka'a Davis}
2002 Acid Test: Lit! {w/ Ritchie Admiral, On Ka'a Davis}

2002 X-Ray Search Light Project Djuke Music! {w/ Luther Thomas, Kadiatou Sibi, Greg Lewis, Karim Alaoui, On Ka'a Davis, et al}

Unreleased Recordings with Sun Ra. Sun Ra Arkestra "Live" Recordings 
source: The Earthly Recordings of Sun Ra by Robert Campbell (Cadence Books)
1982 Squat Theatre, NYC
1982 Hudson Pier Art Museum, NYC, November 19
1982 Jazzmania Society, NYC November 27
1981 Squat Theatre, NYC January 17
1981 Soundscape, NYC September, 19