Poet and composer Camay Aiwa is a study in the nonstop movement. On a recent video call from Los Angeles, she paused to open a few cabinets and pop a Ricola cough drop, pacing her apartment. “When people hang out with me, we’re not just sitting and talking the whole time,” she said. “I love to create. It’s my energy.”
Surprisingly, Aywa is an efficient multitasker. Over the past five years, they have released an intense mix of hip-hop, spoken-word poetry, punk and electro. moore mom – A handful of critically acclaimed solo LPs, two (with the other on the way) free jazz quintet as a member of Irreversible Entanglement, and a joint rap record with Brooklyn rapper Billy Woods. No one can tell where she will come: in concert with British jazz troupe Sons of Kemet, performing with Chicago’s Art Ensemble or on stage with pianist Vijay Iyer.
“I meet people, then we make some kind of kinship and then some work happens,” Iowa said. However, the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to tap into a different well for his new album, “Black Encyclopedia of the Air”, which came out last week. Without the face-to-face conversation she prefers, she began working on the album alone in the spring of 2020 as a fun side project to explore traditional hip-hop textures.
Produced largely by Olof Melander (whose beats blend free jazz and electronica), and featuring rappers Maasai, Nappy Nina, Lozzi and. pink seafu, Iowa’s latest album is the most straight-forward album of all time. “Like most people on the East Coast, I started going into this depression,” she explained. (She’s currently teaching composition at the University of Southern California, but has spent most of the pandemic in Philadelphia.) “So I’d listen to this album, and it became a healing process because I’m working on other things.”
The majority of the Moore Mother Catalog is, in a word, intense. to take “Myths Hold Weight,” From their 2016 album “Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes”. “We want our money back / Printed on fresh cotton and a glass of blood from the Confederate fountain / That runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains,” she speaks over a track of weightless blips and bloops that sounds like a spaceship landing. Sometimes it can seem like Iowa lives in her own universe. (When asked how old she is, she replied, “I don’t believe in age.”)
Iyer, who collaborated with Iowa for a gig in Prospect Park in August, said their songs are “so eclectic, so expansive, so deep, so biting.”
“Everything about it,” he continued, “the sound artist side, the hip-hop side, the spontaneous poetry, the collaboration and the community, the imagination that extends beyond, it’s super exciting to follow it all together and be his. A small part of the world.”
Some of Iowa’s earliest musical memories include Aberdeen, Mo. involves listening to the gospel as a child growing up. Her father sang in the church choir and she eventually followed suit, until she began practicing Taekwondo.
She smiled widely while talking about her first love – basketball – which she received after her sister Paulette became a star player at North Carolina A&T. “Then I found out about Bob Marley,” she said with a grin. “I started getting a little more creative, like ‘Maybe I want to be an artist. He started listening to hip-hop; Rappers MC Lyte and Da Brat are his favourites.
“Hip-hop was great,” Iowa said. “There were so many actors in so many different boxes, not just one type of look.”
When Iowa moved to Philadelphia to study photography at the Art Institute, she started a rap duo with her best friend Rebecca Roe called the Mighty Paradox, which soon turned into a punk band – “The Machine A rage against bad mind meets bad group,” said Iowa — with political lyrics and flamboyant instrumentation. This led to a monthly concert called Rockers!, a venue for like-minded musicians who made esoteric art. The show ran for over a decade. Along the way, Iowa started or was part of several bands or groups, each representing different aspects of her artistry: Girls Dressed Age Girls, a lo-fi punk outfit; Black Quantum Futurism, a multidisciplinary pairing with writer Rashida Phillips.
In 2015, Iowa joined the Musicians Against Police Brutality rally with saxophonist Keir Neuringer and bassist Luke Stewart, organized after the murder of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man in East New York. They met trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tchesser Holmes, and soon entered a Brooklyn recording studio as a group. The resulting album, “Irreplaceable Entanglement” (also Project Name), was a belligerent free jazz set that scolded the police, racism, capitalism and politics.
“We each had slightly different ideas, but eventually the first thing we did was start playing,” Stewart said. The LP arrived in 2017 amid raising awareness about the deaths of unarmed black people. In turn, Iowa’s songs hit no punches. “She brings intensity to her vocal delivery on a bare-bones musical level,” Stewart said. “The tone and timing of her voice lend itself well to a position like this. Seeing her activities as an artist and community organizer, I feel like she’s coming from a very deep place.”
The collective’s third album, “Open the Gates”, is due out on 12 November. Though it has all the fire of its first two releases, it’s meant to be way ahead of rage. Iowa was studying books on tai chi as a way to reduce stress during the outbreak of the pandemic and decided to take the practice into her own writing for the group’s new record. “We went inside with the intention of meditating,” she said.
For their own album, “Black Encyclopedia of the Air”, Iowa stated that it is time to get a little down to earth, to pursue a more direct project that does not sacrifice complexity. “I want it to be accessible so that you can play it when you’re hanging out with your mom or little sister,” she said. “You can still get the message but it’s not in over your head, you know? The feelings are still there.”