By Jeff Maisey
K’Bana Blaq is perhaps one of the most prolific songwriters and creative music video artists in the 757.
Known to many as one of the three dynamic upfront singers in the award-winning R&B group The Fuzz Band, K’Bana has also indulged fans with several single track and album releases. His popular songs include “Pour Me Out a Blessing,” “Love Over Hate” and “Let Them Go.”
For his third solo album, K’Bana Blaq goes all-in with old school R&B vibes in a tribute to the music his father listened to back in the 1970s. Listeners can hear the influences of Marvin Gayle, Curtis Mayfield, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
In addition to the music being an homage to his dad, K’Bana takes sonic dead aim at today’s autotune dominated pop music, something he labels “mindless music.”
In advance of “Death to Mindless Music,” which will be release February 28 as part of a live show at Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach, I talked with K’Bana about the concept and more.
VEER: Why did you select the topic of today’s pop music to build a statement-making album around?
K’Bana Blaq: At first the actual title of the album was going to be “Color Fade” and it was dedicated to my father. It was supposed to come out in 2016. It was because he was diagnosed with a few cancers.
One of his favorite songs is “Destiny” from The Fuzz Band. That was during the time we were going to Iraq and all these other places (on USO shows).
I always wanted to create an album from that song. My dad was influenced by soul music. He was influenced by the Civil Rights. He was a Civil Rights leader in the military.
As the years went by and the album didn’t come out, music began to change; just lots of cloning and people not being comfortable with individuality and experimentation because everybody wanted to be number one. Once I realized MTV, VH-1 and all these award shows were giving R&B/Soul awards to hip hip. They were giving country awards to pop singers. Everything was mixed up. It didn’t make sense.
Nobody was taking any chances like back in the day where you had different artists from a Janice Joplin to a Lenny Kravitz. I thought about it, and it felt like a death. It felt like people were just being mindless and they wanted to just make money and to be number one.
I was like, death to mindless music. That’s when the album really began to take shape.
VEER: Back in your dad’s day there was no internet, video games, cell phones etc. What kids often got at Christmas was a musical instrument. Musical instruments became a way to express yourself. Do you think where culture is today with technology dominating every facet of life that a degree of human creativity gets eliminated?
KB: Oh, definitely. I definitely agree because I believe too much of anything is dangerous. We always in life should seek-out balance, and as we get smarter we lose simple common sense.
I think we are all responsible in our homes. Teaches our kids. Me being a pre-school teacher was my greatest gift that God had given me. I was always having to be creative and always reminded of the joy of being young.
When I look at social media I think it’s a wonderful blessing. It has allowed people to communicate. It allows people who do not have a chance in the music industry to be part of it. But then it takes away what I think is the most important — hard work. That’s what makes the difference when you see a Beyonce or some of the more prevalent superstars. It’s not just because they’re talented or look good it’s because they really put in the work. I really miss the musicianship.
With “Death to Mindless Music” one of the main things I had to have was musicianship. I wanted to bridge the gap. I have vocalists like they did back in the day with Luther Vandross and Nancy Wilson.
It allows the music to sound really full. When people talk about it I’ll be able to say that’s live bass, live drums, and inspire people to going back and being a musician.
VEER: You sent me two mixes of the song “Blackness” from your new album. Lyrically it tackles stereotypes within the African American community with regard to what it means to be black. Why was this an important topic for you to delve into?
KB: Jeff, to be honest, I was so nervous. This is a K’Bana Blaq I think no one had experienced.
When I first started with The Fuzz Band I just wanted to be a star and being the musical pied piper and Peter Pan. Then life comes.
Some of the things that hurt me the most was within my community. Now that I’m older and now that I’m wiser. Now that I’m a community leader and I go into different schools and work with parents against bullying, I feel like I have a responsibility within my art to give.
As the album was coming more to a close, and I’m thinking about my father…this album is a big deal because my father doesn’t really understand — from fashion to politics — how much he influenced my music. I really wanted to figure out what was going to be my voice for my community. And that was “Color Fade.”
The first “Color Fade” was just about not allowing your culture to fade. That means I’m an African American so for me don’t let that culture fade. If you’re white or Puerto Rican, German, Irish you’re not supposed to let your color fade. You’re supposed to be proud of it and let it stand in the forefront.
Then, I want to tackle the racism that’s actually within my community, but I wanted to do it in a way that they could understand it. I’ve never been a poet out-loud, but I love writing poetry. So I wanted to do something poetic.
When I started writing “Blackness” the first thing I want to do was tackle the stereotypes that we as African Americans allowed to be positive in our community. Some of them could be very good, but the ones I’m speaking of are the ones that are mindless to me. They are the ones that are making people famous; they are the ones making them rich. For a type of Whitney Houston singer it’s going to be hard for her to be in this industry because she gonna have to strip-down some clothes. I’ve noticed that. I want young ladies and young men to understand you can have fun. You can be all things. But when I see an abundance of things happening it really does bother me, so I wanted the song to start off being aggressively about the stereotypes, but then slowly start to look that I’m saying we are allowing the stereotypes. At the end I wanted you to understand we’re all human, though. Humanity is about keeping the most important things. I understand who I am, you understand who you are. But humanity is the biggest thing. If we realize that then we all do not have to be strange fruit.
I picked “Autumn Leaves” because that is my favorite jazz song. I picked “Strange Fruit” because it was one song from Billie Holiday that really spoke about the lynching.
I was saying to us all that we have to take accountability not just for what we see that’s evil in others, but possibly the evil that’s within ourselves.
VEER: Given the album’s theme, I immediately thought of Sly & The Family Stone when I read the song title “Everyday People.” While the lyrics recall Sly’s song in that ordinary people have power, the musical style is quite different — very jazzy. How did that song come together?
KB: Well, the thing I love most about this project is the complete unexpected things that are happening.
Like I said, the album started in 2016. I started with producer Aaron Eaddy who is a magical, funk-a-tier genius at a super young age and he was this uncanny knack to make you go all the way back.
When we first started “Everyday People” it actually was funky. There’s an original video for it and it felt like Marvin Gaye. That was the theme: “What’s Going On.” I looked at the cover of the album and I wanted a song that feels like that.
We did it. We honored it with my father’s leather coat because a lot of the fashion people will see will be fashion from my father in the promotions of this album.
As time went on I wanted to change it (the song). Jazz has always been a huge influence in my home. I wanted people to hear the lyrics this time. I didn’t want it to be busy.
I have a big passion for the homeless. I have a big passion for people that have nowhere to go. In Richmond, there is an area where they hang out in a park. That is where the video was filmed.
When I did the second version I just want people to understand how hard we are judging. Going back to social media — everybody’s god; everybody’s king, everybody’s queen.
Even comedians. Everybody’s trying to sugarcoat it. When I grew up comedians were the ones that would say the things you wanted to say and still make you uncomfortable — like a Dave Chappelle — but you understood where they’re coming from because somebody has to tell the truth. Comedians were, what I call, the safe but honest politicians.
That’s why I loved the Golden Globes recently with the host, because he did exactly what comedians do. They’re there to shine a light on things that are seemingly wrong, yet allow you to laugh about it and be uncomfortable.
With “Everyday People” I want people to remember that you’re just a blink away, a dream away from being homeless. There are so many people who look at homeless people as if they’re just lazy.
Sometimes I feel like the homeless are the biggest dreamers. They just didn’t have a Plan B. It just didn’t work out.
I’ve been in this business a long time locally and travelled (as a performer) internationally. There were so many nights where I wanted to give up. But the passion I have is bigger than me. I’m so grateful to god for it, but there are so many people who don’t have that passion. That’s why I continue to be an artist and push the boundaries of excellence. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
VEER: There’s a song on the album titled “Warrior.” It has an interest beat where it kind of resembles a march — as in people marching. Was that by design?
KB: Oh my goodness, yes, it was.
“Warrior” wouldn’t let me go. I was having dreams about that song. The album was done.
When I wrote it I wanted it to feel like…not church….I wanted it to go further back to Harriet Tubman, back to when people are in war, even back to World War I. Like when people had to prepare their minds for battle. It’s more spiritual. It’s more mental. It’s more meditative. And I wanted to to be something where when you heard it that guitar in the beginning is the alarm clock. It’s letting you know it’s time to wakeup.
And then as soon as I sing “people’ve been talking” it’s like I’m on a soapbox and I’m speaking to the soldiers and I’m telling them people have been talking and they’re saying you’re a fool. I’m trying to push them. Warrior keep on pushin’. Keep on believin’.
It turned out so good. I wanted this album to be out of the box for me, meaning I can listen to it and not hear me.
I wanted this project to show who I am going to be as an artist in music from this point, which is a storyteller.
Another thing in Mindless Music,” in the title, if you really be honest and listen to radio you don’t even know what they’re saying. The beat is very hypnotic and it drives you. Most times you may know the hook, but a lot of the stuff they’re singing is not good for your mental.
I think when you’re listening to something on repeat it’s okay to have party music but you also need music that mentally stimulates and provides motivation. If you don’t, anything on repeat begins to seep inside of you.
VEER: Speaking of party mode, the song “Public Enemy” is musically my favorite on your new album. It reminds me very much of Earth, Wind & Fire. What can you share about this tune? Was Earth, Wind & Fire an influence on you growing up?
KB: “Serpentine Fire” is one of the greatest songs outside of “Superstition” to me. I’m still working towards that.
My goal and my dream is I want to do an album that is completely live in the studio. I want to create that type of music.
Back in the day music was made where whatever makes it great that’s what we’re going to do. It was important for me to get top notch singers in order to make the album big. I need to have those elements.
“Public Enemy” is about all the strikes and the marches, not just the Civil Rights marches but the ones people would have on their job. You know, picket signs. I kept seeing a lot of picket signs when I wrote this song. Imagine if they walked with those picket signs to that kind of beat in their head.
The song basically says we’re afraid to do things we know is right, but because there’s a fear…in real life nobody wants to be an enemy to somebody. Nobody wants to be rejected.
Even today in politics when it’s concerning Trump it took a minute for people to get it but you’ve got to open your mouth when you see people doing wrong. It doesn’t matter if they’re the president or not. Wrong is wrong. We’ve got to get more people speaking up.
I’m just trying to use this album and music to speak up and speak out and hope I inspire my peers to challenge their music and artistry. MUSIC: Death to Mindless Music
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Zeiders American Dream Theater