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Quarantine Diaries: Musicians

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We often see Baltimore as a pin in a musician’s timeline—they were born here, performed here, lived and died here, or at least lived here for a time before moving up elsewhere. The list of artists with those connections to this city is impressive and bears repeating as often as we do: Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, Eubie Blake, Philip Glass, Tupac, Miss Tony, David Byrne. There’s also the future legends, the contemporary, younger artists like Abdu Ali and :3lon, and transplants like Dan Deacon, TT The Artist, Future Islands, and others. Of those contemporary artists and bands, many formed or grew as artists here, but few were actually born and raised here.

Likewise, few who are born and raised in Baltimore seem to find the same measure of commercial success as those who move here. The affordability of the city and its long-held reputation as an incubator for artists has attracted hundreds of us (including myself)—yet that accessibility is inextricable from the slow devastation of parts of this town, from racist housing policy and segregation, divestment from Black neighborhoods and businesses, a corrupt and unaccountable government, and so on. As J. Hunter of the band Lower Dens wrote for Pitchfork in 2015, it is far easier for white artists to make it in the music business than it is for Black artists: “Whatever benefits there are for non-black artists and musicians to live in and move to Baltimore are directly indebted to the majority black population of Baltimore. Our liberties come at the cost of theirs… I find the rent to be cheap here because I am white in an oppressed black city. The feelings of lawlessness and freedom exist for me because I am white in an oppressed black city.”

Along with these equity gaps, the local music scene also contends with racism, tokenism, and misogyny in overwhelming variety, like every arts scene everywhere. In his intro to City Paper’s 2015 cover story “Race and Music in Baltimore,” writer Lawrence Burney discussed how some people in this city’s music scene talked about that Pitchfork op-ed: “Hunter’s piece and [Abdu] Ali’s quotes were dismissed as ‘complaining’ or worse, which had the effect of proving Hunter’s point: Too often, white Baltimore is blissfully unaware of how it benefits from white supremacy and won’t accept it no matter how cogently and sensitively the information is presented.”

Though the pieces of writing I mention are both from five years ago, these conversations about privilege and access in the local art scene still ring true and still continue—we have not done enough to correct it. The pandemic shutdown has only made such equity gaps more glaringly obvious across every city and industry. The ongoing national uprisings against the virulent, antiblack violence by police and other racist institutions has pushed it all to a head, prompting us to ask, among other things, What do we do right now, to support Black artists especially right now?

Musicians who already survive precariously have lost gigs due to Covid-19 cancellations and have had to figure out how to hustle through a pandemic. Some have gotten into online performances, others dug into their art at home or used their music to fundraise for important causes, and a few have resisted the push for productivity entirely during this period of isolation. Streaming platforms like Spotify pay artists fractions of a penny per play, but Bandcamp has recently started waiving its revenue share for a whole day about once a month so that 100 percent of every sale goes right back to the artists. So how can we support musicians right now? The next Bandcamp Friday is June 19. Read on for more ideas.

This edition of Quarantine Diaries focuses on musicians—many of whom have recently put out new music and projects—and their ways of coping, protesting, and creating right now. (RK)

 

Bobbi Rush, Creator
IG: @didbobbirush
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/bobbirush
Bandcamp: bobbirush.bandcamp.com

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I stay on the west side of Baltimore with family.

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

🌚💋🧟‍♂️

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

Exercising and dancing. Keeps my mind and my body right. Boosts my energy

What is the name of the project that you most recently released? 

I’ve just recently released episode two of my podcast moodblue. You can find that and listen on Soundcloud. I’ve also just begun my book reading series titled Time Inside. And my most recent song is titled “Sapphire, Bleeding Gems.”

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine?

Waking up and doing exactly what I wanna do. Choosing all that I do with my time.

How are you responding to the ongoing protests against police brutality? How do you think art plays a role in protest?

I’m responding by observing and creating. Staying supportive of my friends and family. Taking time out to rest and not digest so much of what’s happening out here as well. It can get overwhelming.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over?

A hot, dark, sweaty party with a consistent DJ that also plays amazing house music. 

What music have you been listening to the most during this time?

Madlib, Sarah Vaughan, Maxwell, Kem, D’Angelo, Slum Village.

How are you supporting local and creative organizations, businesses, makers, and/or healthcare workers in Baltimore?

By showing up or purchasing products, sharing their work on my social platform. I think we should support the Tendea Family organization and the Black Running Organization and also support the work at the Kromah Gallery.

 

Dyyo Faccina, Music/Performance Artist
Instagram: @d.y.y.o
Website: dyyo.live

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I have lived in Baltimore for a little over five years. I currently live downtown. I’ve been quarantining with my partner who is also a performance artist, and my two cats, Lemonade and Cooper.

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

😐❤️

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

I love my morning workout routine. It helps me get motivated at the beginning of the day and helps me avoid sitting on my couch watching TV all day. I have also enjoyed reading. I am currently reading Being And Nothingness by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. This helps me keep my brain sharp, and helps me to better articulate my ideas.

What is the name of the project that you most recently released? 

My most recent project is an album titled LIVE! You can get the album on my website

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

At first I found it a bit frustrating to have so much free time and struggled to figure out what to do with it. I was a bit restless because I thought I had to use every minute to be as productive as possible. But after a while I realized that before the quarantine I was always in a constant state of productivity between work and time dedicated to my practice. And now it is important to use this time to rest, because who knows the next time that we will have this much free time?

What do you miss the most about life in Baltimore before quarantine? Is there a show or event you would attend regularly? Or a particular bar/restaurant? 

I miss being in the crowd, watching people perform. It has been interesting seeing how artists (especially music artists) have been responding to not being able to be as hands-on as usual. There have been a lot of online performances and there were the Verzuz battles. But I really miss the inherent charisma a lot of Baltimore performers have on stage, seeing them exhibit their art, and seeing the crowd in awe. That’s a big part of what made me want to start performing.

What music have you been listening to the most during this time? 

I’ve been trying to listen to as much of a wide variety of music as possible. I actually gave myself a little project where I chose 35 of my favorite artists and listened to their entire discographies over the span of five weeks. In total I listened to 262 albums, EPs, and mixtapes.

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

I haven’t really gotten into any new hobbies. I’ve more so have been diving deeper into the hobbies I already had but was always too busy to do. Cooking, reading, film, learning about music. I’ve still been mostly making music. I’m currently working on a project with Baatchoy, the keyboard/synth player from my band DYYO LIVE! Among other things.

What kind of support do you need the most as an artist? How can people support what you do?

I don’t want to speak for all Baltimore artists, but for a while I have heard a lot of artists mention that there is very little institutional support for artists in the city. I feel as though collaborations between venues, production companies, big corporations, local businesses and the artists are integral to taking Baltimore art to the next level. I feel like it would also make Baltimore artists feel more respected by their city and more likely to represent it positively and give back to the community.

 

Photo by Cieara Adams (IG: @clarksvisionn)

Josh Stokes, Artist/Musician/Creative Director
IG: @joshpma
Bandcamp: joshstokes.bandcamp.com

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with? 

I live on the west side of Baltimore off of Garrison Boulevard. It is a very busy community with a lot of activity but very beautiful with lots of grass and trees! I have been quarantining with my roommate, his girlfriend, and my three children Josh (15), Jaden (13), and Jordyn (11). J3! 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

Three emojis I am using the most are 🤘🏽👽😘

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

I’ve fallen in love with the iRig. It is a small piece of equipment that lets you run sound directly into the phone so that the people watching your stream get the best quality sound. It’s been sold out cuz everyone’s been buying right now lol. It makes me want to be more productive and find new things to do to put it to use and I will! I will be doing live DJ sets on Twitch.

What is the name of the project that you most recently released? 

The name of the project I recently released is called “Toons.” (Buy on Bandcamp here, stream on Spotify here, and Apple Music here.)

What do you look forward to most every day under quarantine? 

I look forward to finding some new source of inspiration for growth as a creator and human. And to get my children and chill in the house with them! 

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

It sucks not being able to do any shows or travel. But that’s been changing a bit. I think we’re all ready to feel that feeling of togetherness again. It’s been difficult to be told to stay in the house. I like being in the house too, but not to be told!

Photo by Cieara Adams (IG: @clarksvisionn)

What do you miss the most about life in Baltimore before quarantine? Is there a show or event you would attend regularly, or a particular bar/restaurant?

I miss going up to people and hugging them without them thinking they’re going to drop dead afterward. I also miss when I could go in the store and didn’t have to wear a mask. It’s super suffocating.

How are you responding to the ongoing protests against police brutality? How do you think art plays a role in protest?

I attended a march a few weeks ago. It was very powerful and I was glad to be there. I believe my best way to protest is with the strongest weapon I have, which is my music. This week I’ve been doing pop-ups throughout the city with the intention to spread love but still keep a serious message about our cause. Art plays a major role because it can influence the thinking of an entire generation. It does whether we know it or not. Art is one of the few things that will get us through these times. Much love and respect to all creators, you make the world better.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over?

My dream right now is to do a packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, high-energy, laughing, dancing, drinking, smokin’-good-time show so I’m looking forward to that a lot. 

What music have you been listening to the most during this time?

I got pretty heavy into Bjork. She was a huge muse for me, and inspiration on the latest album to just open up and go as far out as you can. It’s all for the better of the piece. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? What are you making?

I’ve been sticking to my usual hobbies, making music, or I’ll say just staying in an open creative space that’s ready to take on the next project. I do a podcast called “DreamOn” and I also work on a cartoon, “Turd Ferguson & The Shitheadz.” So just building and steady creating. 

 

Amy Reid, Sound Artist/Musician/Curator
IG: @amyreid_music
Website: amyreidmusic.com
Bandcamp: Isolated Bliss | Chiffon | Amy Reid

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with?

Baltimore, Better Waverly. I am quarantining with my partner Kata, my cat Sid, and my pooch Linus. 

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

💜😻🤯

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

Immersing myself into nature, walking, and learning about mycology has been really grounding. This is the first time as an adult that I have been able to make time for observing the season as it changes in terms of sound, plant life and the growing progress of my garden. Learning about different types of mushrooms and the different times of spring that they appear in Maryland has been a way to mark time moving as days become mushy without a steady routine. Fun fact, some mushrooms have 28,000 different sexes and I think the human race could learn a lot from them!

What is the name of the project that you most recently released? 

Isolated Bliss came out on May 8, 2020 and is an ambient album created on an island I was living/working on this summer called Monhegan. The project embraces the art of listening as an act of staying present during the longest period of time I’ve ever left Baltimore for. I documented my experiences in nature through the use of field recordings and combined them with electronic melodies and textures to tell a story about all of the emotions I experienced adjusting to a new reality: curiosity, wonder, excitement, hopefulness, hopelessness, connection, isolation, and the deep dark space that fear can consume someone in. It actually felt like an important time to release the project because there is a collective experience of isolation happening right now. Limited-edition cassette tapes just came in!

What do you miss the most about life in Baltimore before quarantine? Is there a show or event you would attend regularly, or a particular bar/restaurant? 

I miss the collective energy of live music, hands down. As a highly anxious person, going to see live music or perform has always been a way for me to connect with people that isn’t conversation based. I love talking to people but sometimes I’m maxed out and just want to dance while having a shared experience with people that I love. On the flip side of being in the audience at a show, performing is cathartic for me. I am able to channel an inner version of myself that always exists but is less visible. She is confident, loud, articulate, and energized. 

How do you think art/artists play a role in protest?

There are infinite ways in which art and artists play a role in uprisings. Part of being a creative person is imagining and activating new realities—we’re doing that all the time and that can be powerful. Artists, especially those existing in the margins, are starting and/or participating in movements all the time and we have to remember to show up and fight for injustices outside of our own lived experiences, speaking as a white queer woman. What I see happening during the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with the national and international uprisings is both localized community efforts and larger scale efforts by community leaders. An example of an artist doing this work is Abdu Ali who started the “Black Arts Legacy Fund” to support the Black LGBTQ and women artists community in Baltimore through fifteen $100 micro-grants. 

In my neighborhood, Better Waverly, there has been a mutual aid effort that is delivering free groceries to residents. I think that mutual aid can be extremely powerful in supporting people who the government is actively and intentionally not supporting. If you can write, write a letter to your mayor and city council demanding that we defund the police. If you have a large platform, either speak up or lend it to someone whose voice can be amplified. Sell your art and put the profits towards Black leaders who have already been doing this work. Every time you spend a dollar, consider what you’re actually contributing to. Moving forward after the state reopens, if you curate music/art shows, ask yourself whose voices do your shows represent? Personal actions that we make each and every single day are political actions. Our role is to continue this work daily and I say all of this to also remind myself and stay energized. 

How are you supporting local and creative organizations, businesses, makers, and/or health care workers in Baltimore? 

I think that with most places being closed or just starting to reopen, I have been able to take time to think more about what my money is actually supporting. Music has been crucial to me during this time so I subscribed to my first Patreon, from Trillnatured, one of my favorite DJs in Baltimore. Bandcamp has been waiving their fees on certain days and giving 100% of the money in sales to artists so I took advantage of this to support my favorite new releases. 

A lot of artists have been donating their profits to organizations so I snagged two gorgeous prints from my friend Emi of Fruit Camp Tattoo who donated all of the money to Muse 360 Arts. One of the protests in my neighborhood was held at Urban Reads Bookstore, a Black-owned business on Greenmount Avenue that has a range of books, a cafe, smoothies, and CBD products including juices that are very relaxing. Lastly, please visit this GoFundMe or consider sharing. This is my neighbor, a mother of 4 who was in need of psychiatric care, and instead of being given medical assistance she was met with violence by the police and is currently being held without bail or medical attention. The officers need to be held accountable and this needs to never happen again. 

 

Ami Dang, Musician/Composer, Producer
IG: @amidang
Website: amidang.com
Bandcamp: amidang.bandcamp.com

Where do you live? Who are you quarantining with?

I live in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore, and I was quarantined there from mid-March to early May with my partner. I moved into my parents’ home in Baltimore County just before my aunt died of coronavirus on May 5. I wanted to be supportive of my mother during this time that she is grieving her sister’s death. I moved back to my home in Waverly recently.

What are the three emojis you are using most right now?

🙏✨💙 

What object, things, or process have you fallen in love with at home during quarantine? How is this impacting your mood and productivity?

Taking long walks (and being outside) has helped me clear my head and allowed me to be energized by the sun. I created a short album (EP) of meditation music over 10 days in quarantine in April, and it was released on Friday, May 22. I love to sleep! I consider 8 hours (at least) of sleep to be a necessity. I am a much better person when I get enough sleep.

What has been most difficult for you to adjust to?

In a personal way, I have a hard time without structure, but I give myself deadlines and projects to hold myself accountable to what I’m trying to accomplish. 

In a bigger and more general sense, I am most baffled by how (if at all) the world is changing during the crisis. I will happily adjust to a new time and space in which we recognize that we embrace humanity to uplift one another, but I fear that this is not how the world will change. Instead, it seems like we’re heading into a period of further uncertainty in which we’re experiencing an even larger gap between the rich and the poor, deepening racial inequality that results in the same cycle of systemic oppression and state-sponsored violence, and an increase in the ways in which common people are disenfranchised. It’s most difficult to adjust to the reality that—even upon surviving this abominable pandemic and relentlessly fighting for basic human rights—corporations and corrupt government bodies continue to prevail.

How has your living space changed to accommodate you during this time? Is this a physical change, a work-life balance change, or mental?

I had been touring and was quite transient from November 2018 until March 2020. This might be the longest time I’ve been home since before that period. Considering I was constantly traveling and didn’t have a stable “home space” for most of 16 months, the pandemic has forced me to stay home for longer than anticipated, which has been, to be honest, a very welcome change. I am very blessed to have a comfortable home space that has room for me to play music and work.

What do you look forward to most after quarantine is over? What will you do, with great joy when you are allowed to?

Go on tour!

What’s your favorite meal or food you’ve been cooking at home?

I make a lot of chocolate chip cookies, and this recipe for braised coconut spinach and chickpeas with lemon is one of my favorite dinners.

What kind of support do you need as an artist? How can people support what you do?

You can check out my music here, buy something on my Bandcamp, follow my accounts, and/or sign up for my mailing list. I have livestream performances coming up on June 11 and July 11. I also launched the first episode of my new podcast on June 2!

How are you supporting local and creative businesses, makers, and/or health care workers in Baltimore? If you have a favorite org or charity you recommend supporting, please list.

I recommend supporting bail funds and legal action funds (like Baltimore Action Legal Team) so that citizens can exercise their civil liberties through protest. We need a revolution to end state-sponsored violence, systemic oppression, and economic inequality.

 

Photos courtesy of the artists. Josh Stokes photos by Cieara Adams (IG: @clarksvisionn)

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