Interview: Brother Ali - Shadows On The Sun (15th Anniversary)
Brother Ali returns to these shores for live dates celebrating his first album Shadows Of The Sun. We caught up with the well respected Rhymesayers MC to hear all about the shows and the celebration of his first album, the political nature of his music, his recent single Sensitive, plans for a new album and having Chuck D as a fan.
You are touring Europe in March in support of the Shadows On The Sun albums anniversary. How does it feel celebrating such a milestone for the record?
It’s really good, not only for that record but for my career in general. It’s really a celebration for the people that have allowed me to do this for so long and continue to support. It also means a lot for the fact that over my career I’ve used my albums to explore different points of my personality and so, some of my music has been autobiographical, some parts have been more political, some of it has been more spiritual. I find the roots for them, the seeds for all those different things on that album.
Will you be playing the album in full?
Yeah, some things we may shorten or play certain parts of certain songs but we’re not letting songs fade out at the end but we do play at least something from all of the songs We put it together in a way that it’s a good show to watch.
When you were recording the album, did you envisage playing it all live?
When I made that album, I hadn’t been on tour yet. I really didn’t know if anyone would ever hear it and in a lot of ways that made it much more, I was creating from a pure place because I didn’t, The only person that I knew was hearing me was Ant, the producer and I think the moment people start listening or the moment people start looking at it immediately, that’s just in your mind and you’re aware of the fact that people are listening now and you want approval from them.
You've been playing shows in support of the anniversary in The US since last year. How did those shows go?
Man, the US leg of this was in a lot of ways, the best tour that I’ve ever done which was really incredible because being an underground artist and still doing this, so many of the shows were sold out.
Do you feel that your live shows are a celebration of not just music but life in general?
Absolutely and the connection between people. I mean, there’s really nobody in the audience that adhere to my exact story, so there’s not a crowd full of Muslim albinos that are at the shows! I realise that I’m able to really talk about my life and the way that I look at things and people will respond to the general sentiment, the emotion and the principle of what I’m talking about. Somehow, these people are able to see themselves in what I’m saying. To me, that’s the real celebration. The ability to see ourselves in other people.
Chuck D is a noted fan of your work. How does it feel when such an iconic figure in rap mentions your talent?
Chuck D is one of the highlights. On the musical side, he’s the highlight but it’s kind of a trend in my life that when certain people, I really connect with them as a fan or as a student, something happens that brings me to them and the connection is really strong and it’s like that with a few musicians, but Chuck is the most important one. He’s my most important musical mentor except for Slug from Atmosphere but that’s my friend. Slug is my partner but he is a mentor and he is a hero.
You mentioned earlier, the single for Sensitive that you released at the end of last year, that you produced it yourself. How did the recording of that go?
Well, that one in particular, for my last album, we were making videos but they were taking a long time. We announced the album and for some reason, it took a long time for the videos to be finished and so I just didn’t have content to give to people. I started making these one minute little snippets of songs to put on Instagram because they will let you put on one minute of video content. I would sit down and in one hour, I would make a beat and freestyle the song, the song Sensitive was going to be one of those but I realised I don’t want to stop, I want to keep going so it ended up being a full song.
In the song you rhyme "Can't believe I'm still doing this, I thought my political views might ruin this". Do you feel that this might have harmed your career at any point or did you always want to get those political points across and didn’t care about any backlash?
I think it definitely did actually, because I was in the largest growth period of my career and that was when we put out The Undisputed Truth and then Us, That was a really strong stretch and I was touring nonstop, and then I had a really challenging year personally. My Dad died and our friend Eyedea who we started on Rhymesayers with died and a lot of difficult things happened in that year. At the end of that year, I made the pilgrimage to Mecca. All of those things together just really made me want to take a break and think to myself, what’s the actual reason I’m doing this and I made an album that was really political. I came home and started doing political organising, protesting, speaking and I got really deeply embedded in that for several years and I honestly got to a point where I was experiencing some bitterness and what it took me a few years to realise was that ultimately what I was looking for in politics was really something much deeper than that, which was a spiritual path, and it turned out this is what I was looking for and this is what I meant to say but it took me a moment to find that. I still hold many of the political beliefs and opinions that I had during that period of mourning In America but I think that’s not why people listen to me.
Will you be working on a follow up to The Beauty In This Whole Life after the touring cycle for Shadows On The Sun finishes?
I am working on a new project and it’s really different from the things that I’ve done before and I think I’m about halfway done and it will be out this year.
Brother Ali will be in the UK this March, make sure you grab tickets here before it sells out!
Interview by Gavin Brown
Photo by Adam Stanzak