I’ve been having to ask myself a lot lately, what role music plays in my creative process. It used to be something that just happened, me listening to music, me dancing a lot, me karaokeing in front of my laptop at 3am in French or English or Yoruba till I wore my vocal cords out. Lately, I’ve been asked about what inspires my work. In 2011, it was the sea and the freedom its vastness imbued (freedom to travel, to stare into infinity, etc).
Now, I’m not really inspired by the sea anymore, at least not consciously. I’m always inspired by the feel I have for the texture and color and general properties of each piece of leather I bring in. So, those are tangible inspirations, where the relationship to the end result is easier for me to explain. But music. It’s there in the work. I don’t know how, but it’s there.
Sometimes I listen to music while I create, but most times it’s just silence and the sound of cars and motorcycles outside the balcony. Most times the heavy music-listening happens outside my active doing hours. So it’s not a relationship as simple as the tempo/lyrics/attitude of music inspiring my creative process while I work. I listen to music off-hours like I eat off-hours, but I won’t really say eating fine cuisine or cooking inspires my work in any tangible way.
There is an attitude in music that I am becoming better and better at identifying and sussing out, thanks to spending time around the skinny kid that writes for the skinny and dances like humankind’s very existence depends on it. Like, I’ll listen to something and want to absorb its New York sass and nonchalant badassity, or another day it’s something from the west coast with a chilled beat that in some sick (read: cool) way reminds me of go-go, the (much-maligned at the time paint bucket-base percussion) sound of my adopted Washington DC hood. I remember my freshman roommate from Gary, Indiana and how we’d invite our two suite-mates to our party of two and dance till wee hours to no-chill sounds from the deep Midwest, like Cajmere’s house classic “It’s Time for Da Percolator,” that we’d groove to like it was jungle. The songs we’d listen to were often big on repetition, e.g. Gary Indiana. It’s one of the most repetitive city-tribute songs you’ll ever hear, in the league of the Osbourne brothers’ Rocky Top Tennessee.
Sometimes I feel like I should know and like new music, but it’s the oldest music and the music from the weirdest corners of the youtube discovery hazemaze that stay with me the most. I don’t decry the death of music — I know that’s not true. Great music is being made everyday, and you just have to have more patience to find and hone in on styles you like. I like Lorde, I love when Rihanna collaborates with Drake, and Beyonce’s 7/11 is just so cool, I know I’ll never be that cool. Kendrick is relatable. In all the music I like, I see that the music video plays a big part too.
I was reading about Russian composer extraordinaire Lera Auerbach and I listened to some of her music and of course watched vids of her performing and she was like this tortured soul. I think that’s what stayed with me the most, not so much the music itself, but the idiosyncrasy of crazy composer female slightly overweight overly shy in person and just badass at the piano. Well, then I looked at her art and it was tortured as well, in a more literal way. It was sick (not in the cool sense this time, just the kind of stuff that gets you sent to guidance counselling if you try it out in artistic self-expression class in high school).
It’s unusual for me to find a composer that is also somewhat-publicly a sculptor/painter, but getting the chance to see this embodied in one person made me think that perhaps what I am looking out for in music is a sound that embodies what I am communicating, or sadder still, what I want to communicate, through my design. Sadder because it would be cool if I was born with the New York urgent swag and Cali chillax that I desire to have run through my work, but I have to in a way extract it from the music I listen to. I’m sure I have Lagos cockiness and swag in there somewhere too (as Chimamanda Adichie says in her Lunch with the FT,,”we in Nigeria have an unearned and funny sense of superiority. Nigerians are the Americans of Africa…” and as much as I dislike that she put it that way, it has some truth to it), and the result of this mishmash is what you see in each biannual collection — me refining my thoughts and my being through music and a honing of leatherwork technique and skill.