A few months ago I was asked by an independent music blog called Studiofeed to do a short doc piece. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while so of course I accepted, it was an opportunity to speak about my art in some more depth in video form (which is surprisingly rare), I wish I had more of the footage, did a half an hour interview, we spoke about One Day Soon, my parents and so much more I can’t remember, a very thorough interview. This is the piece that they put together for me (don’t tell my grandmother that I swore.. lol). Support Independent music; thanks you Studiofeed.
After a long, winding road paved with an expansive collection of introspective musings, reflective observations and ever-developing melodies spread over the three mixtapes that have surfaced since its inception, Toronto, ON poet/MC Ian Kamau’s long-building One Day Soon is finally ready to taste daylight. Distilling the many elements laid out in those previous efforts, the new long-player finds the gifted wordsmith varying his ever-present, analytical diatribes that in the past were notably held at arm’s length with a series of more personal tales, balancing his expressions of the world’s struggles with those of his, to welcome effect. The album’s often-weighty lyricism is also helped along by Kamau’s inspired and largely unassisted musical backdrops, a shimmering array of dynamic synth moods, exotic instrumental touches, vibrant baselines and surefooted rhythm tracks. Plush offerings like the spacious “Yesterdays” and more anxious “Traffic” display an impressive sense of range, while his growth as a vocalist receives prime showing on the emotive “Maybe.” Where the record slips a bit, however, is in the relentless stream of questioning, uncertainty and expressions of both internal and external conflicts it presents. It’s a lengthy emotional discussion that while possibly therapeutic in small chunks becomes a tad tedious by the record’s hour-and-15-minute endpoint.
I heard you mention recently that you played the majority of the album’s instruments yourself?
There are no samples on the record, so I played anything. I mean, I wouldn’t do a recital or anything, but I sat down with Ableton Live and electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, and all sorts of stuff and I produced the whole record. I didn’t play music growing up; I mean, I played the violin for three years and played the trumpet for two, but I only have a very basic understanding of music and music theory. But it was fun. It meant that I could be in the shower or just sitting down and have an idea that popped into my head and try to bang it out on the keyboard and see where it goes.
How did that process affect the types of things that you were writing, lyrically?
Well, I think I made a conscious decision at a certain point to try to tell more stories and to try to be more honest, as opposed to speaking about themes or concepts, and to speak about my life. Because I find people can relate more to a person than they can to an idea, and those ideas can be inside of your story and, if it’s honest, people will recognize the nuances of it as truth. There’s a bunch of songs on [the mixtape] Love and Other Struggles that you can’t listen to and be like, “this is generally about immigration” or something. There are some songs where it’s like, “this is about a guy and I think Kamau knows this guy” and it just makes it more personal. I remember seeing or hearing someone saying that the more personal you get, the more universal you get, because your experience is not necessarily that special ? the specifics of it might be, but many other people have had those experiences in different ways. There are songs that I wrote where I felt like I might have been the only person going through it and when I played it for people, a bunch of people were like, “yeah, I went through that,” which was surprising to me in certain circumstances, but isn’t surprising to me anymore, because there are six billion of us on the planet. So why would I think that no one’s ever gone through that?
What was the influence like growing up around your parents, who were also artists?
My mom dropped out of high school and I knew that growing up, but it didn’t necessarily compute in my mind. It’s not that she didn’t think education was important, she just thought school was bullshit! She went about getting a degree and then she came here and went to Ryerson and got a degree in another way. But my parents are different. They left a lot that was traditional and went their own way, and they didn’t necessarily get rich doing it, but they were pioneers. My father is an artist; he liked to draw, wrote poetry, wrote plays, he directed films, took photographs. He did all this sort of stuff in the ’70s, as a black person in the ’70s, in Toronto, Canada. I grew up around a lot of books, and they were always kinda just left-of-centre, so I felt like I didn’t have a choice. It’s like what I think is normal isn’t normal to a lot of people or is normal to a lot of people, but they’re too scared to approach it. I remember I would go to the art gallery at least once a year when I was a kid and I remember being in protests around Apartheid and Nelson Mandela. My mother started this thing called the Black Film & Video Network, and a lot of people came out of that, like David Sutherland, Clement Virgo and Karen King, and all these other people who were doing film and media in all sorts of different ways that black people were doing film and media. And I used to just be there as a ten- or 12-year-old or whatever, sitting in meetings listening to people talk about organizing things or what they needed to do to influence the wider industry and make it change and all that sort of stuff, and what they were going to do on their own. You know, I don’t even know what the influence is, because it was just my life and my reality, and I only really felt that it might be something different or maybe a little bit unique when some of my other friends were struggling with their parents about some of the things that they wanted to do, but that they couldn’t do because their mother or father wanted them to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
Ian Kamau is not a man of many words. He tends to let his art speak for itself. Initially a member of the hip-hop collective Pangea Project, he has since released a series of solo mixtapes, with 2010’s Love and Other Struggles being the most critically acclaimed.
Kamau hopes to top that success with his highly anticipated debut album One Day Soon, set for release on Oct. 7. “One Day Soon is about hope. One day soon things will be different. One day soon some of these problems will not exist anymore. One day soon, we’ll be free,” he says.
Freedom of expression is an ideal to which Kamau holds strongly. While touring Europe and Canada with k-os and The Roots, he decided to drop out mid-tour to study fine arts and graphic design at York University.
“I’m an artist, and I enjoy making music among doing a lot of other things,” he says. “Opportunities came to me and I took the ones that made the most sense. The next thing I knew, I had a record out and I was touring. The experience of having a glimpse of the music industry, sent me in another direction and killed a lot of my inspiration.”
That inspiration was rediscovered during the recording of Love and Other Struggles when Kamau was given free reign to explore his creativity at k-os’ studios. After the experience of working in solitude, Kamau built a home studio and in 2008 began recording One Day Soon. “I had to be willing to explore things that were hard to explore. I wanted to be more honest and more vulnerable than I had ever been before. I think there’s more strength in being vulnerable than appearing stereotypically strong.”
‘Kamau’ is a Kenyan name that means ‘quiet warrior’, and this warrior’s mission is clear: “I want people to think about themselves. I don’t think this album is going to change the world but I want it to spark conversation.”
For more, visit www.iankamau.com
Ian Kamau is Saving Toronto and Your Soul—One Song at a Time
Hip hop artist and community organizer Kamau talks tolerance, consciousness, and why sometimes a song needs more than one video.
BY ANUPA MISTRY | October 11, 2011
A lot of people really like Ian Kamau—so much that they’ll change their Facebook profile photo for him. It was early last week that I noticed the tiny pink-and-black swatches on my feed: digital declarations of support for the musician, visual artist and community organizer, and his new debut LP One Day Soon.
Kamau is a fixture in Toronto’s hip-hop scene: since 2003, he’s sporadically released music as a solo artist and Pangaea Project member, and in the mid-’00s toured Canada and Europe with k-os. But it’s an affinity for unique, personal connections that have mobilized an outpouring for the truly independent artist.
For seven years, since 16, Kamau headed up the Graffiti Transformation Project at Scadding Court Community Centre, teaching art and painting murals with young people in Alexander Park. Since then, he’s been involved in various arts-based community projects throughout the city—most recently at Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre—with a brief sojourn to complete a fine arts degree at York University and Sheridan College and launch a design company.
A firm faith in his own artistry and travels to places like São Paolo, Johannesburg, and Nairobi are what largely inspired One Day Soon, a disc resonant with personal narratives delivered in Kamau’s brimming tenor. But it’s also dedicated to the spirit of the young people he’s spent time with: “Young people are what you were,” explains Kamau. “And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t continue to be that.” I needed a reminder of Toronto The Good, so I talked with Kamau about how community can foment change. You can buy One Day Soon here.
The videos you’ve just released for your cover of City and Colour’s “The Girl” are quite moving. Why did you create different videos for the same song?
That song was on a mixtape I put out last year called Vol. 3: Love and Other Struggles, which explored the idea that love in whatever it’s forms is difficult. Usually when people say ‘love’ I feel like they’re talking about romantic love between a man and a woman. But within romantic love there are different forms, or there is the love between parents, or parents and their children. And then there’s also this idea of people seeing others fight for things, and not recognizing that that anger comes from love. So if you’re frustrated with society because it doesn’t treat people in a certain way, fundamentally, it’s about your care and concern for those people. I did community work because I love my community; I love black people. People fight pretty revolutionary struggles out of love.
Looking at the second video for “The Girl,” I’m wondering how far does your frustration with discrimination reach? Was it a process to get to that point?
Yeah, it frustrates me to see racism or sexism or homophobia. I’ve learned that a lot of those things are personal relationships: it’s much easier to say something negative about a group of people when you’ve never had to understand the complexities of their situations or why they do or think certain things.
I haven’t always been open about the LGBT community—certainly not when I was in high school. For me, it took conversations with people who weren’t part of that community and then conversations with people who were, and not even about sexuality or gender. But my parents are very socially conscious and if you come out of that situation and fundamentally believe in, let’s say, freedom, you can’t believe in freedom for people of colour and not believe in freedom for women or the LGBT community. Freedom is not about agreeing.
I’m really interested in the impact your parents, who are documentary filmmakers, had on your consciousness.
I remember my parents used to take me to things. They would be involved in anti-apartheid organizing and I remember being in the audience with my mother the first time Nelson Mandela came to Canada. They made documentaries predominately about the different issues, neighbourhoods and black Caribbean communities in Toronto in the 1980s. And above all, that taught me about thinking, knowing and understanding different stories.
I know a lot of people whose parents came to Canada in the ’60s and ’70s that tell them, “We did this for you.” Their dream wasn’t necessarily anything except wanting a better life for their children. My parents wanted to tell stories about the people that were around them and in their community. This meant there were other things they didn’t have: years in, like, a government job means you probably have a house. Well, my parents don’t. It was a different understanding of what value is. There’s value in money, but there’s value in what these stories can provide society.
What’s more important to you: Art or community?
Art and community aren’t two different things. I know some artists say they make art for themselves and I do enjoy the process of making music, even if no one hears it. But to be an artist is fundamentally about communication, you know? If I’m saying something, I don’t expect it to go into the world and that’s the end of it. Music or visual arts or film are the beginning of a conversation and that is a community development sort of thing. For example, the videos for “The Girl” will hopefully inspire conversations, and hopefully in places where those kinds of conversations might not be happening.
It seems like that’s already happening…
There was a change when I started speaking more about myself, and individual things. It went from people messaging me or, after shows, being like ‘That was good,’ to people coming up to me after shows and either saying thanks or telling me stories, which happened more than anything else. Sometimes those stories would end in me knowing a person, and now they’re someone I see on the regular, and some stories ended with people crying.
What’d you hear from the young people you were working with?
I don’t know! You’d have to talk to them! That’s like saying black people, or women, are talking about whatever. The specific young people I was working with were interested in singing or spoken word poetry or photography or graphic design. They wanted to express themselves in that way but didn’t have an outlet so they came into this program with that in mind. But also, they are full human beings and were dealing with all sorts of stuff, positive and negative stuff, surrounding family, school and their personal lives at the same time. They are navigating their way through life like the rest of us.
That reminded me you could do art or make music just because you like to do it, not because you’re trying to get to some place or be rich and famous. For them, at that point, to be able to get up in front of their peers, say their opinion and be praised for that was what they wanted. And that’s a lot of what I wanted—to get up in front of my peers and say something, whether people agree or especially when they disagree and you have a dialogue—that’s the fundamental building of community and relationships between people.
Toronto’s own Ian Kamau releases his self-produced, first full-length album entitled “One Day Soon”. It’s available in both digital and physical formats. Make sure you get your copy and continue to support Toronto talent!
Manifesto original post Oct 8, 2011
After three years of work One Day Soon is finally here. Today (Oct 7) is my fathers birthday. People who purchased the physical CD will read in the (32 page hand-written) booklet that I dedicated this album to my parents. Without them there would be no me, so who better to dedicate it to. My mother (Claire Prieto) and my father (Roger McTair) have been my two primary supporters in my mission to be some kind of an artist since I was a toddler. My parents took me to art classes, music classes, came to my shows and poetry readings (in some sketchy places sometimes) spoke to me about my plans and supported my vision. My parents are artists, filmmakers, and have always supported the arts and culture, taught me the importance of being involved in community, the importance of learning and teaching at the same time and the importance of honesty, perseverance and dedication. My parents worried about money but fought for a more important goal. In the next few months I will start to post digital versions of documentaries that my parents made, you will probably understand me better then.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this process. One Day Soon was inspired by my community, from my brother N’dichu in Nairobi who opened his door for me the first time i visited the continent of Africa (Nairobi, Kenya) for the first time, Tumi who did the same (Jo’burg South Africa), Mediza’s family in Accra, Ghanna who also did the same, to El tipo and Magia in Cuba, to Gillian, Giselle, Michael, Lamar, Javar, Sheldon, Kyauna and Pablo and everyone who came in to Artistic Effusion who reminded me why I did music in the first place (‘AE reminded me I was an artist’) and every person in Toronto who has pushed me, showed interest, challenged me and supported me to make this happen. This is really supposed to be the beginning of the process, we will see what happens. #onedaysoon.
One Day Soon is available HERE/Now.. please pass along the sampler and the download link if you enjoy/want to help (thanks) this project is independent, a labor of love, I really need your help to push it forward and keep it moving, anything that you can do to get it into the ears of people, press, other artists or whoever would be so appreciated. I’m at a place right now where without balancing this time with investment it will be difficult to continue, so if you appreciate this, tell someone and help me build the tribe around it.
Quoted text from original post published March 15, 2010
“A few weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a video interview for “Tribute”, an event held by my friends Bryan Brock and Tyrone Edwards, aka 1LOVETO. This installment is “Tribute To A Lady” and my part was to discuss my thoughts as a young father having a daughter in these days and times. I’m happy to have been a part of this promo video and I’m really humbled to be in the cut alongside my friends Amanda Parris and Ian Kamau.”
Quoted test from original post Feb 16, 2010
“Toronto’s own Ian Kamau has just released “Love & Other Struggles”, his 3rd and final installment of the September Nine mixtape series. Vol. 3 was created as an exploration idea and reality of LOVE. Not simply romantic LOVE (although that is a big part of the topic explored) but LOVE OF COMMUNITY, LOVE IN FRIENDSHIP, LOVE OF FAMILY and LOVE OF SELF.
We encourage everyone to download the mixtape, and listen to LOVE…”
Quoted text (from original post, June 2009 by Alison Isaac)
“Toronto has always been a city better known for its cold and cleanliness than its emcees. Now, in a city distracted by a young boy named Drake, emcee, poet, and new-era bluesman Ian Kamau emerges from the shadows with the September Nine Mixtape (Vol 1). Well, kinda.
Like that tree in the forest that no one’s around to hear, he’s been making noise; living, writing, and rhyming on the margins for years. Besides a few guest spots on K-Os’ albums, Ian Kamau’s music has generally been passed along through the hands of a committed group of supporters.
Those familiar with Ian Kamau’s earlier work will feel the growth. The September Nine Mixtape is the evolution an artist. Like a peek into the journal he left out, the mixtape feels sincere and deeply personal. The intelligent subject matter, thoughtful lyrics and sincerity make for an intimate conversation among friends.
Ian Kamau’s “Majority Report” picks up where Jay’s version left off. With snippets from President Obama highlighting the track, Kamau reminds listeners: “A Black president won’t keep my people out of court/I’m no minority, so this is my majority report/Can’t say we’re better off than we were before/One man can’t keep the world from being poor/Still kids from the ghetto fighting rich peoples’ war/Can’t say they better off then they were before.”
And then there’s the noteworthy “Alarm Call,” delivered with remarkable ease. Serene and yet intense, it’s seemingly effortless. Ian Kamau’s distinctive cadence is soothing, even when he’s breathing fire with lyrics like: “Now we’re the workforce, your whores, we clean your floors/For the promise of a new world and opened doors/That close quickly/So sickly and unjust/The system kissed us with fisticuffs.” Ringing with anger and astonishing clarity, on this piece, Kamau sacrifices nothing.
Ian Kamau’s musical influences outside the realm of hip-hop are evident throughout, but particularly on the more experimental, “Say It Ain’t So” and “Say You Will.” It’s a mixtape, and consequently limited, but it’s still enough to recognize his talent, as seen through his uncommon ability to illustrate a scene and add insight to a political discussion.” -Alison Isaac for Okayplayer
Quoted text from original post, posted July 1, 2009 by Ben Herson & Mikal Lee
“A good and trusted friend passed me this mixtape, September 9th, by Canadian Rapper Ian Kamau. The mixtape is serving as a warmup and introduction for Ian to a wider audience in preparation for the release of his album proper on (yes you guessed it….) September 9th. In all truth, it is almost an insult to call this merely a mixtape, as Sept. 9th may be one of the most focused and relevant releases for this year. A great blend of the personal and political, the musical and the raw, while having a coherent theme throughout, something you don’t normally find in a mixtape. On first listen you can hear similar vocal tones of Slick Rick in Ian’s voice, but there is no comparisons at all to The Ruler. The seriousness and direct stance of his lyrics compared to the legends more tongue in cheek light hearted manner, Ian’s sharp wittiness comes more scathing, though both share an almost matter of fact way they deliver their own commentary.
The album, er sorry…mixtape starts out with Dear Summer, a brief recount of Ian’s childhood and early manhood leading up to this point. As he starts off melodically riffing to the track, you feel the old soul that Ian tells us he was considered as a youth. His laid back voice and effortless cadence could almost lull you to sleep, if not for the beautiful truth he conveys in living, and living with struggle. When Morning Come, Alarm Call, After the Show (which is a spoken word piece), and Majority Report all give us insight into his perspective on racism, imperialism, and the white supremacist system construct that we all live under and endure. On Alarm Call as he poetically recounts the great migration, and the historical toiling in the lowest dregs of society that Black People have faced some might be quick to say “we’ve heard this story before”. However, Ian’s bouncy rhythms, powerful flow, and unique style better then anyone currently mixes the poetic and emcee seamlessly. His zen-like franknesss, and wit has him playing the dozens against the system unlike most who have been pegged as “militant”. His whole approach is a fresh trail through the well traveled ground regarded as “conscious” music.
Still, the mixtape gives you “Say it ain’t so” a ballad speaking of a young man looking to truly become one as his strongest support system, his mother moves away. The track is a testament to Ian’s talents, as he sings and rhymes, sharing his pain without whining, showing a vulnerability that makes this more then a rap, but a song. On the brass anthem, “April Fools” he turns up the tempo and brings a more open jazz feel, riding the horns and breaking out his own brand of rhythmic dry humor. Aside from some already used beats (its a mixtape, remember?!), the mixtape on the whole, is not a mixtape. Really. This is a project that should have anyone who loves dope music, looking for Ian Kamau and x’ing off the days in their calendar to September 9th.
Written by Mikal Lee”
Quoted text from original post , posted June 22, 2009
“My homie Kamau has a true talent for writing, not only music but beautiful poetry that seamlessly flows into spoken word artistry. He’s blessed us with a new release titled “September Nine”, which is now available for download. Let us know what you think Toronto?
(Side Note: My fav joint is “April Fools”…but pay attention to “Say You Will” and “After The Show”)
1 LOVE T.O.”
Quoted Text (from original post, posted Jan 2, 2009):
“(Watch the video first. Read the post later.)
Years back, my boy NaNa took me to York University to recite some spoken word poetry at an open mic. It was one of my first ‘performances’ ever.. and it was difficult as hell. There, while my nerves were shaking me crazy, I shared space in a room with Ian Kamau – someone who I then, only knew as Kamau. His performance was incredible and captivating. His voice held the attention of the entire room in an eerie way that had us all watching and waiting on his every word. He was (and is) the most amazing poet I had ever seen live. And he changed and inspired my way of writing until this day.
I since have come to know Kamau on a little bit more of a friendship basis. We worked together in TheRemixProject office and shared conversations and thoughts on many things. He taught and showed me how he built a table. I showed him that I would do my best to also build one. His was better but he never laughed too hard at mine. (:
There were so many times when I’d leave Remix, or he would leave Remix and my thoughts would circle somewhere in the sphere of “the world may not ever know the genius of that man”… honestly.
His writing is brilliant. His personality is calm. His performances are refreshing. And his new album is coming out in 2009 (This didn’t really happen).
For all you smart dumb motherfuckers, you may remember Kamau from k-os’ albums. For all you followers and readers of TheLegendsLeague, you may remember him from the bonus track on TheLegendsLeague Vol 2.5.
Tonight, I went on my facebook and saw that he had posted this video posted on my wall. I clicked it. I watched it. And now I’m doing what needs to be done in showing it to as many people as I can.
Kamau – you’re a huge inspiration to me, and to many of your peers. Believe me. Thank you for everything that you do to represent yourself and help us see into how beautiful your mind, and your ability to interpret some of the ugliest realities, is. We are really, really blessed to have you around brother. From the most honest place in my heart, to You, homey.
Check him out HERE and listen to Renaissance, please. (thanks Gav)”
A funny shoot inside, I won’t show you, but if you can find it you’ll see some familiar faces and a not so great picture of me (hence the reason I’m not publishing it here). This issue of Pound came out in 2003.
My first and last exploration into the world of modeling (only for you Pound) Ski and I had a lot of fun that day. The cover (shot by Lease) features K-OS.
Dojo was a great little magazine run by Denny Lee, Joel Regular and Jason Gouveia. Very creative and very supportive of the diverse art scene in Toronto. This cover features familiar faces Wan (from Main Ingredient) Danilo McDowell-McCallum, Ski and Carlone Capone Mario Mitchell and many other notable artists who have gone on to do amazing things in the city and the world.