Introducing Dada Strain Radio, S1
PLAY: Listen to 10 episodes of music and interviews about rhythm, improvisation and community, featuring Thulani Davis, King Britt, Wadada Leo Smith, Waajeed, Harmony Holiday, jaimie branch, others.
Greetings again! Though this space may have seemed to mostly be dormant over the past 12 months or so, nothing could be further from the truth. The Dada Strain werk had simply taken on another guise. In fact, it was a project that I’ve lovingly labored over, am super-proud of, and would now love to tell you about.
Over the past year, I’ve been making a 10-episode radio-show/podcast called Dada Strain Radio for the good folks at Sonos Sound System, and it is a survey of how rhythmic and improvised music inform ideas of community.
Though I’d been thinking about the alignment between music and the development of social structures for years, Dada Strain (this newsletter, the radio show and pretty much everything flying that banner) was inspired by writing I’d done immediately prior to the pandemic for a collaborative project by London author Emma Warren and Chicago musician Angel Bat Dawid, and later by the sounds of the 2020 protests. Those experiences pushed me actually put my shoulder to the wheel, and pursue stories that explore how rhythm, improvisation and community intertwine. And how their past alliances can potentially inform us in moving forward. As someone who loves dance music, as well as the music often referred to as “jazz,” and who sees how audiences, communities and cultures center sound in their lives — and how that sound politically and spiritually informs its listeners and musickers — I wanted to make werk that creates musical *and* social connections, in historical *and* contemporary contexts. I also wanted to establish the underlying points that 1) free jazz is actually community dance music, 2) great DJ sets are actually improvised performances, and 3) the intentions of many of its most beloved practitioners transcend simple musical “entertainment” (without belittling notions of simple musical entertainment).
Each episode of Dada Strain is focused on a single topic. Some are about musical styles, some about places or specific artists, one was a kind of eulogy. Each features an extended, edited interview with one guest, intercut with music that illuminates the topic. Taken together, I hope they paint a picture of sonic fluidity that collocates the oncoming chaos of the seemingly genre-less future, connecting sounds and ideas regarded as culturally separate but actually long united by tradition. All without coming off as too pedantic (hopefully!), full of stories and thoughts that are fun and useful to a general music audience.
Because you’re all busy people, and I have no desire to impose all of it upon you, I created a list of links to individual episodes, and the topics they explore. They’re all stand-alones and run 80-100mins each.
Ep. 1: Festivals (feat. Madison McFerrin) - the artist who curated the 2021 BRIC Jazz Fest in Brooklyn, on why local festivals are important for community building.
Ep. 2: Punk Jazz (feat. Luke Stewart) - the Irreversible Entanglements/Blacks’ Myths bassist on the anti-capitalist and DIY aspects of two cultures with a lot in common.
Ep. 3: Drums! (Not Percussion) (feat. Weedie Braimah) - the Grammy-nominated djembefola on the African roots of drumming, and his family’s role in bringing these rhythms to the U.S.
Ep. 4: Electronic Improvisation (feat. King Britt) - the great Philly DJ/producer turned Blacktronika academic, on the history of machines and spontaneity.
Ep. 5: Words & Music (feat. Thulani Davis) - the poet, critic and grand dame of American musical letters, on how poetry informs the musical landscape.
Ep. 7: A Detroit Education (feat. Waajeed) - the Motor City dance music producer on being mentored by Amp Fiddler, and becoming an elder statesman with Underground Music Academy
Ep, 8: Listening to an Elder (feat. Wadada Leo Smith) - the legendary composer/trumpeter on a life of creativity, and why imagination is more important than improvisation
Ep. 9: Sun Ra NOW! (feat. Harmony Holiday) - the great poet/critic on how the Arkestra leader’s philosophy informs contemporary music and surviving the oncoming apocalypse.
Ep. 10: Bird Songs for Breezy (Honoring jaimie branch) - the late trumpeter was a dear friend of mine and our ongoing conversations deeply influenced the thinking behind Dada Strain; after her sudden passing in August, I spoke to her family and friends about her life in music and music-community organizing.
Of course, Dada Strain Radio was not done in a vacuum and I want to cite my excellent collaborators in this endeavor. First and foremost, the incredible editor and producer Hasan Moore, who made the whole thing sound so great. The composer of the original music, brother Luke Stewart, whose allegiance to community-building and dexterity as a musician has been beyond inspirational. The graphic artist and my long-time collaborator, Justin Thomas Kay, who created the show's visual identity. And most importantly, Saidah Blount at Sonos Radio, who believed in the vision of Dada Strain, and pushed me to keep making it better.
Maybe I should have been sharing these with you subscribers all year long rather than foisting them upon you all at once. If I am being honest, I am (still, all these years later) a lot worse at promoting the work than at making it. But I am making it — and over the near future, this is where you will find it. So please ask your fellow musickers to subscribe.
Also: I am looking forward to continuing the work of Dada Strain, but I am also looking for feedback. So, if you have listened to these episodes, I’d love to hear from you—whether to critique and complain, advise or praise. In recent times, I’ve found too much of the great art-critical work happens in silos, and I yearn for feedback—whether good or bad. So please leave a comment, or contact me via DMs on the Dada Strain Instagram or (for now) Twitter.
Thanks for reading and listening. See you again soon.