In SERIES #7 we are happy to provide an intimate online interview with the artist, Dexter Story.
How did you get by with your artistic work in the last months?
In the last months, I have been listening and learning a lot more than usual. Instead of thinking I could immediately comment on everything that is going on, I chose to sit still and pay attention. This has allowed me to discover new artists and music as well as appreciate generation Z'ers who are leading the movement for social change. I have also been pushing through the relevance and distractions of this current moment by being consistent and vigilant in my artistry. I consider myself a composer so I have had to use my awareness about COVID-19 and systemic racism to inform my process. Things aren't moving as fast as I would like but I am slowly getting there.
Which questions were important for you before Corona?
Before Corona, I was concerned with finding my voice in my compositions and writings. I imagined that this voice would find a way to combine my Blackness and Los Angeles background with my love for music and culture in the Horn of Africa. I wondered how the intersection of African American perspective and Eritrean / Ethiopian / Somalian / Sudanese artforms would sound, and how that conceptual merging would inform my research and study. I also wanted to know how and when I could spend extended time in Asmara and get to know the music of Guayla via the Festival Eritrea, events in Cinema Roma and other convenings in the north of Ethiopia.
Which are now important?
Now, with travel restrictions due to the coronavirus and the state of anti-Blackness here in the US, I am concerned more with how I might connect with African diaspora and African-ness in Los Angeles and have my research and artistry comment on the complexities of protest and being pan-Africanist here in a deeply capitalist super-structure. I am coming to terms with the possibility that I may never get back to Eritrea or Ethiopia again in my lifetime and dealing with poly-locals. For example, I recently put a Tigringya track under a Nipsey Hussle acapella and wrote about it. I am also investigating whether Afro-centric protest music around the world can be linked.
At which place would you choose to be now?
I choose to be where I am. This is where I am now so this will have to suffice. Los Angeles is my home and I am confronted with this locale as my site of fieldwork. What can I uncover newly in a city I already know? When I write music, it is through a West coast lens even though I may be reaching over to other parts of the planet like the Horn of Africa, West Africa, North Africa.
What consequences does Covid-19 have for Africa?
I am not an expert on corona virus nor a virologist so I can't make any informed statements on what this pandemic means for Africa. I do know that I am interested in what comes of it. How will African nations collaborate on the eradication of the disease and partner in confronting the social and economic inequities created by it? Will this crisis wake up the unifying pan-Africanist spirit among the government regimes of the continent? What have the countries learned about transcultural exchange during this moment? And how have the people been empowered during this? Or will the countries return to business as usual?
What are your artistic plans for the rest of the year?
My plans for the rest of the year are to attempt to stay healthy. I won't be useful to anyone (e.g. myself, my family, community, the world) if I am sick. Artistically, I am currently creating a new album in the same vein as Wondem and Bahir, putting together an old 2014 album I never released, and remixing and remastering my 2013 album Seasons for release this year and next year. I can't wait to get some new music out. I am also considering other ways to collaborate with musicians in the Horn. Lastly, I am in a Ph.D program at UCLA and hope to continue learning about myself and my discipline as well as play concerts when this pandemic moment is over.
About Dexter Story
Dexter Story is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, music director, producer and music industry creative based in Los Angeles. Story currently consults as Artivist in Residence / Event Producer at Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, a community organizing and advocacy non-profit, and he is a 2017-2019 cohort with the APAP USC Leadership Fellows Program. As a recent M.A. graduate from UCLA’s African Studies department, Story recently released an acclaimed East Africa-influenced album entitled Bahir on Soundway Records, and he is entering the Ethnomusicology PhD program at UCLA Fall 2019 as a 4-year Eugene V. Cota-Robles fellow. Story ultimately plans to write, lecture and research at the university level, and release derivative recordings that support his academic research.
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