Georgia Anne Muldrow
Photo: Antoinette A Brock
Georgia Anne Muldrow On 'VWETO III' & Why She Makes Music For The Black Experience
One of the tracks on singer/producer Georgia Anne Muldrow’s new beat tape, VWETO III (Foreseen Entertainment), is called "Afro AF." The title is a good summation of her career. Since her first full-length album 15 years ago, she has released more than 20 albums exploring and blending virtually every shade of Black music into a funky psychedelic kaleidoscope. As a producer, she has released a series of instrumental albums over the last decade in which she sets aside her remarkable vocals to highlight her talents as a beatmaker, including 2011's VWETO and 2019's VWETO II. The word VWETO means "gravity" in Ki-Kongo, a Bantu language.
"It’s an African word that is talking about a force of nature," Muldrow tells GRAMMY.com. "The recognition of these forces of nature has been in place for a long time, long before Isaac Newton, and this is evidence of that. And, you know, drumming is almost like a harnessing of gravity. You’re using gravity to your advantage. Dancing is harnessing gravity; it’s embracing your connection to the earth."
She’s also collaborated with hip-hop oddball Madlib on 2012's woozy Afrofuturist masterpiece Seeds, and embraced spiritual jazz under the name Jyoti, on albums inspired by Sun Ra and all the Coltranes. (Mos Def compared her sounds to the soul/jazz/pop fusions of Roberta Flack.)
"I sing, I love to rap, I can make music for people who dance," she says.
VWETO III, released in May, is a 17-song, 58-minute mix of off-kilter, woozy and urgent funk. It dances and slides from the retro-80s synth-heavy space dream of "Unforgettable" to the Funkadelic guitar pyrotechnics on "Grungepiece'" and on to the sparse, burping groove of "Afro AF." Even when she’s not singing, Muldrow has a lot to say.
GRAMMY.com spoke to Georgia Anne Muldrow about music, resistance and how beat-making fits into hip-hop.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are you able to express as a beatmaker that you can’t as a singer? What drew you to the VWETO project?
I've always loved making beats; it’s provided a means of travel when I wasn't necessarily free to travel. I just love making a sound from scratch. It’s music for people who dance. It’s music for people to think to, rather than music telling them what I think.
You made this album during COVID-19. How has that affected your music?
Music allows me to travel the terrain of my mind, the terrain of my spirit, the terrain of my imagination, and bring ideas to life. Ideas are ephemeral and amorphous in the landscape of my heart and mind, and I try to match a note to them so that other people can maybe see it too. It’s like how an author writes a book and then you start to fill in the blanks with the pictures in your own mind.
For me, with music there’s a certain kind of synesthesia where I don't just see color — I see a landscape filled with objects and each note is some kind of object. So I just try to bring that to other people through my sound design. I try to make a song with not just a beat that’s funky, but with something that's alive. Something that sounds like a world of its own.
Are you looking forward to live performances again? Have you been vaccinated?
I'm looking forward to just making it through the day, to be real. That's really where I'm at. Making it through the day because I mean, right now, to be a Black woman is more than a notion. It’s a lot to deal with. People find time, during this quarantine—they still find time to kill Black people. Ain’t no vaccine for that.
Was this album influenced by the uprisings over the summer?
If you’re familiar with my work, you know that everything I do is about the preservation of the culture of my people. It’s about strengthening my people and reporting to the rest of the world community about what's happening to my people. My purpose has not changed. The music, the means to express is always changing. But the intent behind it is always going to be the same. Because it seems like we’ve got more to do.
I do seek to show through my skill and my talent and my depth of thinking that Black folks are beautiful creators of music itself. We brought it to the world, for everyone to enjoy. When I get my music to the people, it's coming from a place of reverence for those that come before me. I'm always talking about being Black, I'm always talking about what's happening out here. Just because I'm not singing it don't mean I ain't thinking it. [laughs]
My need to be funky is me wanting to conduct energy through my body into other people. Because it is a technology of its own. Being funky is my way of preserving that aesthetic. It’s a way to be a reference point for people who are maybe too young to know who James Brown is, and to keep the DNA alive so that maybe they can figure it out.
I make music for the Black experience. It’s music that has the priority of serving the Black community. Because the Black ear is the most universal. When people say they’re looking for music with universal appeal and they start pointing to middle America — that's about as far from the universal as you can get. As far as Klan activity, and this and that, that ain’t universal at all. So that's why I make music for Black people. Because it's going to be better music.
Could you talk about the inspiration for the track "Mufaro’s Garden"? You’ve said you were thinking about a particular image in John Steptoe’s children’s book Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, right?
Yeah, there was a scene where Mufaro, the father, is looking over the garden and in the distance sees Great Zimbabwe, that landmark of ancient civilization. I read this book as a child during some of my hardest times. And I would daydream about being there. And I ended up going there as a teenager, with my school, to Zimbabwe.
And so when I was making this song, with the flutes and the way it sounds like there's wildlife in there —it’s a whole sonic environment. And I just knew right away that [Mufaro’s garden] was what it was.
Have you read the book to your kids?
You know what, I have not. I haven't read it to my kids. I hadn't thought to, until I got back into this song. But with the video that's being made, we’re going to be able to create a vision of what that storybook looks like. And my kids can see that and if they’re interested in the book, they can let me know.
How old are your kids?
I have many, but the ones I’m raising right now, the youngest is 12 and my oldest is 18.
You encouraged visual artists to create images based on "Mufaro’s Garden," drawing images inspired by the track. Has anyone responded yet? Have you gotten images of Musfaro’s garden?
Yeah, I have. I have gotten some. They’re still coming in. So I'm just checking them all out because they’re still coming in.
You’re planning to ask people to send videos of dancing to some tracks too and ask people to rap over your beats. I was wondering if you could talk about why that sort of collaboration is important to you?
I think it goes back to hearing KRS-One talk about the elements of hip hop — about what it takes for a hip-hop jam to happen. And finding ways to make a space for that to happen with music has always been my goal. I want people to dance to it. I want graffiti writers to write to it. I want rappers to rap to it, I want DJs to scratch to it.
That’s the part of hip-hop that makes me feel fulfilled in my relationship with it. Like, making a beat is one thing, right? And I have it, and it's there and it's funky. But what fulfills my musical relationship, the culmination of it, is when someone starts breakdancing to it, when someone starts popping to it. Then I feel like yes. Something’s going on. When people are breaking a sweat to it, I’m not just making it for someone to say, "oooo" and nod their heads and be a wallflower.
Hip-hop is one of the most beautiful cultural solutions that we have found as a people. Artists who were getting shut out of institutions, poets who were getting shut out of institutions, dancers who were getting shut out of institutions, they built their own institution in the street.
It’s such a lesson. If somebody doesn't want you somewhere, use that as information, and build something even more beautiful. Because at the end of the day what hip-hop has done all over the world is give people a voice.