Shuffle: Cleveland's Mourning [A] BLKstar Creates a Grassroots Movement Through Music

Nov 8, 2018

An eclectic Cleveland band uses music to confront issues of racism, oppression and police violence. Mourning [A] BLKstar hopes its sophomore album sparks a movement.

Mourning [A] BLKstar was formed in 2015 as an experiment that arose after a tragedy.

Beatmaker RA Washington fell into a “creative crisis” and became disillusioned with his path as a musician.

That is until he recruited vocalists Kyle Kidd, James Longs and LaToya Kent to lend their diverse, creative lyrics and voices to the vision he was carefully crafting. Other members include Dante Foley and Peter Saudek on drums, Theresa May on trumpet, William Washington on trombone and Andersiin on synth noise. Ahmadeus Kafari is on keys/vibes. 

The sense of community and out-of-the-box influences are what have given the group its unique sound and ability to bridge genres while not falling into any one particular style.

Labeling ourselves as 'genre non-conforming [and] gender non-conforming' just washes everything away where people can see what is necessary

Bending gender and genre expectations
Kidd explained that listeners describe the group as a punk band with jazz and operatic elements.

The vocalist described the collective as “genre non-conforming and gender nonconforming.”

“No one can put us in any box,” Kidd said. “Labeling ourselves as a ‘genre non-conforming [and] gender non-conforming’ just washes everything away where people can see what is necessary and what is needed to take from the messages that we have to offer."

Kidd said the musicians make a conscious effort to put aside who they are as individuals and come together as a sole unit to collaborate and create.

The collective incorporates hip-hop production with lo-fi, washed-out synth, jazz instrumentation and audio samples from significant moments in history.

Mourning [A] BLKstar released its debut album “Blk Musak,” which contains lyrical content reflecting upon the experiences of marginalized people.

The group describes these themes as “the heart of black music.”

Eulogizing lives lost to police brutality, gentrification
The circumstances related to the birth of the group created an ongoing theme with its original material, which focuses heavily on black history, the political climate and violence against black Americans.

The group’s new album, “The Garner Poems,” directly references Eric Garner, who died as a result of police brutality.

Garner was placed in a chokehold and famously said the words, “I can’t breathe.”

Longs said those words are symbolic of the feeling many black citizens continuously feel as a result of racial tensions and injustice.

Longs said it’s the feeling of not being able to expand, be yourself, relax or feel safe in certain situations.

“I go out, and if the lights start flashing behind me, there is a different experience,” Longs said.

“You physically can’t breathe,” Kidd said.

'I want people to sit in the heartbreak for a minute'

“The Garner Poems” contains 10 tracks, with “Harlem River Drive” being one of the most politically driven.

The song incorporates traditional jazz stylings with chilled-out hip-hop beats and heart-wrenching vocals by Kidd.

The singer croons, “This ain’t my Harlem/It ain’t been for a long time.”

Longs said the song touches on themes of gentrification and the effect it has on the personal development of those who are removing the culture and diversity from neighborhoods around the country.

“There’s a thing happening in America: gentrification,” Longs said. “Everybody’s moving into cities, but there’s a loss in the bleaching of those neighborhoods. There’s nothing wrong with gentrification—you know, improvement, putting money into a neighborhood—but to put money into a neighborhood and identify the people that were there first as having no value is criminal.”

The song references what once was and what cities like Harlem could be if its historic significance and people were celebrated instead of erased.  

Creating a grassroots movement through music
Longs said Mourning [A] BLKstar is more than just a group of performers, and the experience of watching the group play live is something greater than just attending a concert and listening to music.

The artist said the themes and topics of the group’s songs have inspired communities to gather, collaborate and create a movement as a result of their response to the music.

“I want that on a larger level and not for any personal success or hubris or anything like that,” Longs said. “I want a large mass of people to feel it, hear it and then take it with them and do with it what they will.”

Kidd said it’s important for people to feel the pain expressed through the material as a way to inspire change and progress.

“People always say, ‘I want people to feel love and I want people to feel happy,’ [but] I want people to sit in the heartbreak for a minute,” Kidd said. “Because within heartbreak there comes the opportunity for you to collect yourself, gather your thoughts and reflect on where we have been and where we could go if you take a position in this revolution.”

Longs added that Mourning [A] BLKstar wishes to expose its music to the masses to start conversations and allow listeners to address issues not just in their communities, but within themselves as well.