“I want to scream at the top of my lungs and push things over.” Welcome to the musical mayhem of Moor Mother. Born Camae Ayewa she’s the Philadelphia rapper, artist and activist who can push your ears over the edge with her pugilistic DIY music making. Hear for yourself when she plays the one-day VISIONS festival in London Fields on Saturday August 5th.
It’s not entirely fair to refer to Camae as just a rapper, as she’s equally at home in gospel or jazz music. The influence of jazz should come as no surprise as she lives around the corner from The John Coltrane House in Philly. She’s also a big fan of both free jazz pioneers Linda Sharrock and Marshall Allen – both of which she’s shared a bill with recently – while the gospel influence comes from her church-going family who hail from the town of Aberdeen, 26 miles north of Baltimore in Maryland.
“I’m just happy and comfortable when I create,” Camae says. “Anytime that I can be myself and not get pigeonholed in a certain role is good. That’s why I like playing experimental festivals like VISIONS – because they invite me to do and play whatever I like. I get to do what I’ve been dreaming of rather than play a hip hop set because they’ve heard you can rap. It gives me a bit of freedom to improvise and learn about myself.”
“I want to scream at the top of my lungs and push things over.”
That freedom has resulted in a seemingly endless experimentation in music, equipment and production. She began recording herself in 2012 and ever since has cranked out a wild collection of tunes and collaborations.
Her most recent effort is a sprawling joint EP with fellow Philly producer Mental Jewelry. From sludge raps to dub-heavy live instrumentation via a laptop, the six songs pose a direct challenge to police violence and sonic order. Another collaboration of note is her Black Quantum Futurism Collective, which pairs with creative partner Rasheedah Phillips.
Despite their unbridled anger and purpose, Camae’s songs never lack a playful hook or fresh break. Talking with her ahead of VISIONS reveals an infectious enthusiasm for her craft and making music. “Right now I’m making a lot of beats,” Camae says. “I’m writing tonnes of poetry. I’m writing songs. I’m writing raps.”
When the stars align, she assembles her ingredients and mixes them up into a potent brew in her bedroom recording studio. “I’m not a trained engineer. I just bought the equipment and recorded my album,” she says of the sessions that resulted in her impressive debut album, Fetish Bones, last winter.
“I make a song. And then I have to make the song work. I’ll do a lot of takes – sometimes I just kick off a song by singing it into my phone as I walk down the street. Then I’ll get home and mess with it on the iPad. And then I’ll take it into the studio. I’m constantly sitting with the songs.
“I really have to make my music at home. I’m kind of a crazy person – I have to get out a lot of energy. I think it’s good if I do that by myself! It means I can be as wild as free as I like – no embarrassment… What is Camae doing right now, they ask? Whatever. I’m recording! I’m not Mariah Carey, ya know? I’m pretty much exhausted after I get into it. I usually have to go to sleep afterwards.”
Sleep on Camae and you’ll miss one of the most unique voices in music today. And there’s no sign she’s slowing down. “Next up is a free jazz project and collaboration, as well as a club project. And then I’m putting out my second album out next year,” she says.
Until then, she’s got a date with a VISIONS stage next month. But what will she be packing for her gig, I ask? “I’ve got something that I hope is a bit special cooked up,” she says. “I have a little plan – but I’ll also leave a bit of room to address any issues going on in London.”
“I like to get to the venue and feel out the area. I like to see and gear what people are going through. As humans, a lot of our stories are so similar. If I’ve got a song that references an environmental disaster, for example, I want to really reach out and connect with people who are going through it.”
Camae extends herself to make those connections – whether personal or political – and puts everything she’s got in performing live. “As soon as the song begins I’m transformed – it just transports me. I’m out of it,” she admits. “I need to be careful because I can hurt myself. I need to be aware and need to learn. I just like to let the words and music inform my performance.”