Category Archives: Get Familiar

Get Familiar Episode 12: Danny Mekonnen of Debo Band

Danny Mekonnen is a co-founder and leader of Debo Band. In this interview he talks about his musical roots and journey, Debo Band’s music, and more!

You can check some of their sounds and press at the following links:

NPR Music’s Bob Boilen’s 243 Favorite Concerts of 2012 – Debo Band Ranked #3!!!

Interview on Philadelphia’s WXPN, with David Dye/World Cafe

KEXP Bumbershoot Lounge – Live Video

NPR – 50 Favorite Albums of 2012

NPR – Top Ten World Music Albums of 2012

WNYC Soundcheck CMJ Showcase – Live Video

YouTube Debo Band Album Stream

Debo Band Spotify


Get Familiar Episode 11: Poet A[nkh] F[yre] Black

Philadelphia, PA has a reputation. Better yet, it has a legacy of great music carried by several world-renowned artists. Being on the ground here in the 215, i’ve come to understand why. This city is tough. Plain and simple. That toughness provides those who have enough drive and courage to “make it” on their natural talents an edge that distinguishes them from many others.

Poet AF (pronounced A-F) Black is one of those distinguished artists. Born and raised in West Philly, this young brother is making a name for himself as a musician, spoken word performer, playwright, television producer, and as a caring and humane member of his community.

On this “Get Familiar” mixtape, he’s going to tell you about himself and his becoming. In the process, you’ll hear some samplings of his music (along with his producer, Chris Good Lawd Jordan, and sometimes-collaborator Joesmokes Wisdom). Give a good listen to “Point of M@t’r” and “Mr. Wonderful” two singles off his upcoming studio “experience.” Finally, don’t be surprised if you witness Poet AF Black doing big things in the very near future.

Click on the Picture to Hear the Interview

Track List

1. Are You Satisfied
2. Even Evil
3. Electric Fankh
4. Friends
5. Point of M@t’r
6. Goya Love
7. Out of Control
8. Mr. Wonderful
9. THE INNER ME-Not to Be Confused with The Enemy
10. Sankofa
11. Transparency
12. Times Up

Connect with Poet AF Black

– Much Love

Get Familiar Episode 10: M. Josephine

Jersey City.  It’s the State of New Jersey’s second largest city, and it sits between Newark (NJ’s first largest city) and the Hudson River. On the other side of the Hudson is the “Big Apple.” Now that the geography lesson is complete, please allow me to introduce you to M. Josephine, also known as Mary, a singer with emcee ability, a lover of nature and humanity, and a proud Jersey City native.

M. Josephine’s first encounter with music began at the tender age of 5 when Kindergarten Choir Teacher, Ms. Small, called Mary’s mom to her office revealing her musical gift. “My mom had no idea what to expect to hear. When a teacher calls a parent requesting to meet, it usually means trouble,” says the singer. But it actually turned out to be the opposite of mom’s expectations.   Up until the age of 9, Mary’s mom organized with several Senior Citizen parties booking young Mary to sing what mainly consisted of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey classics.  The party guests enjoyed her so much that the performances resulted in money on the floor. Her mother ensured that it became a regularly scheduled event.

A variety of sounds and cultures that were present in Jersey City had a formative impact on her.  Her brother introduced her to Hip Hop, Salsa, and many more sounds. Mary became particularly attached to groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Groove Theory, as well as artists like KRS-ONE, Sade, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, and Chaka Khan. The emcees, especially, inspire her to produce. “[T]here is something magical about a dope emcee/rapper that can deliver heavy truth, dope lyrics with a one of a kind delivery.”

She is also inspired by life and the struggles of her community and surroundings.  The injustices she has endured provide her with plenty of subject matter to guide her pen.  Growing up in a single mother household, she never knew her father and experienced poverty as a child. “A lot motivate me as an artist and compel me to write and sing.” Her love for family, overcoming obstacles, and a passion for community development provide inspiration for new music and has steered Mary to work for a not-for-profit organization called “Rising Tide Capital” which seeks to empower distressed, urban communities.

Listening to M. Josephine’s music, it’s clear how her sounds reflect her experiences growing up in Jersey City and being exposed to a diverse community that introduced her to cultures from all over the world. “I [like] to personalize my music in hopes that it speaks to someone who can relate to the songs and feel empowered from them. The theme and message that connects my work tends to be about love and awareness (social or self-awareness).” Songs like “Push On” and “Apoco” are clear examples of this message. “Push On” borrows the instrumental from one of my favorite Soulaquarian creations, “Didn’t Cha Know.” To compliment the fantastic music, Mary vows to tap into her own inner strength as she struggles to be herself in a society that encourages people to sell their souls.  It is a soulful tribute to Ms. Badu and many of Mary’s other Hip Hop and R&B inspiration, as well as a message of self-love that many people would benefit from internalizing.

“Apoco” is a direct challenge to systems of oppression and the boundaries of sound that box artists into genres.  This track points out the disparities between those who have and those who have not within the context of environmental, political, and social ills that We (society) must address before it is too late.  Mary’s use of “the walls keep tumbling down” in her refrain gives her message a fire and brimstone feel that compliments the heavy metal feel of the drums, and synthesized violin and piano loops that are prominent in the song’s melody.

Another notable song (out of several that should be mentioned) is “Death Up In Me Pouch,” which features Ysrayl. This song is a nod to both Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (“Anikulapo” means death in my pouch) and Bob Marley, from whom producer DJ Irs likely found instrumental inspiration.

M. Josephine is currently working on a number of great projects. One is Donut Soul, an EP paying tribute to legendary producer, J. Dilla.  She is working to release this project on April 23, 2012. Mary is also working on a currently untitled project with her producer, co-writer, and “spiritual equal,” DJ Irs, which should be available by the end of 2012.

Dream collaborations include KRS-ONE, emcees Yaasin Bey and Q-Tip, as well as Erykah Badu, Zap Mama, and Cee-Lo Green. She is always open to building with other artists and producers about potential projects, so if you dig her music, be sure to reach out. You can do so by emailing her at and by connecting via Facebook and/or Tumbler.  Tweeters can drop a line as well to @MJosephineMusic.

Get Familiar Episode 9: Punchuashen

The world today is filled with talented DJs, musicians, and producers.  Many of them make use of the various digital tools available to them to spread their music. To a certified Soundcloud junkie like me, much of the world’s music begins to sound the same after a while. However, some artists have that “it” factor that allows their sound to catch my attention. DJ & producer, Punchuashen, is one of those people.

Hailing from Pretoria, South Africa, Punchuashen remembers when local tastemakers like Oskido and DJ Fresh were making names for themselves in the late 1990s by developing the house music scene and making the local music a commodity.  Back then, there were no Soul Candi’s or any other major companies to promote South African house music. And for Punchuashen, something else was not quite right.  The Kwaito was a little too slow while the house, which lacked diversity, was too fast.  Although Punch appreciated and liked those styles, he wanted something “really funky.”

After a short professional career in tennis, Punch moved to the United States and began making music. At first, his main tool was his PlayStation Music Generator, but a friend gave him the popular digital audio work station, Reason. Within a year, the athlete-turned-tennis-coach really began making his funky house music and developing his brand of music.

To understand Punch’s style, one must be aware of his main inspiration, the drum.  Percussion that he has heard in his lifetime – at churches and club, in house music, the Kuduro blaring from Angolan taxis, routines performed by drum majors, etc. – had a profound influence on him and sparked in him, the desire to make his own songs. Having been exposed Percussion in a variety of formats and settings, Punch begins each of his tracks with strong percussion, hoping that that alone is sufficient means for him express his feelings.  If his songs don’t begin with a good drum rhythm, then he’s lost what he’s trying to convey through his music.  That is where a lot of South African musicians have been able to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world.  According to Punch, they have been successful at developing a sound that is “very ethnic and very urban at the same time.”  That is the source of his inspiration:  “i want to recreate that i same feeling i had [when] hearing something on the radio at night when i was recording back in the day on cassette… That feeling is hard to explain to somebody.”

Even if that something is difficult to explain, tracks like “Dreams” convey a particular energy to listeners that distinguishes Punchuashen from the millions of other Soundcloud song-makers.  “Dreams” begins with a percussion loop that imprints his personal stamp on the audio waves with kicks that reverberate through all solid and spiritual matter in one’s body and mind.  After a brief introduction to the rhythm, poet Oneil Abercrombie interrupts (almost literally) with a well thought and beautifully delivered soliloquy about personal shortcomings.  In a world that demands each individual to submit to its havoc, Oneil has been “been plotting, planning, scheming, dreaming, dying for some resistance,” but is stopped by and trapped in her own manifestation of a prison cell. As she delivers these, and other thought-provoking lines, Punch accentuates them and re-interprets them using his music.

“Dreams” is but one display of Punchuashen’s current talent and his potential.  Listening to “Feeling In My Soul” which features vocalist Laila Davids, and “Visions,” would cause one to believe that they’re listening to a world-renowned musician/producer.  The diversity of sound across his releases and the movement within each track demonstrate that Punchuashen has a knack for creating sounds, which will earn him the respect We give to the people to whom he looks up.  What makes his music even better, is the humbleness and pure love that Punch embeds in his sound.  He admits that he’s still got much to learn and fine tune (who doesn’t?) with regard to incorporating more sounds into his already rich catalog and improving his technical skills.

There are many ways that you can keep up with Punchuashen, even as he fine-tunes is already superb production. You can peep his latest tracks on Souncloud and get information about his gigs and projects on his website. The Facebookers and Tweeters can also get his real time updates.


Get Familiar Episode 8: Alec Lomami

Hello world. Meet Alec Lomami, an artist whose current pop-styled songs betray the seriousness of his life and his message. As i write, the young rapper-producer is heading to Zimbabwe due to the challenges he’s been facing as the result of wars being fought without his consent, and a political system that makes it unimaginably difficult for “outsiders” to attain the “dreams” it promises. [Please forgive me for being vague. To get some background, read these great articles from The FaderMTV, and Akwaaba Music.]

Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alec was well immersed in great music.  In addition to listening to legendary artists, such as Papa Wemba, Franco, Mbillia Belle, Zaiko, Wenge Musica, and Omako, he felt connected to hip hop music.  Alec even recalled greatly admiring 2pac over the Notorious B.I.G. because of their beef. (It’s amazing how conflict gains peoples’ attention, even when they’re thousands of miles away.)  His other favoites, including Nas, MC Solaar, IAM, Rakim, and EPMD make it clear that Alec didn’t get too caught up in the rap battles!  This mixture of African and African American artists helped Alec appreciate the music of the African world.

When he heard Congolese rappers, Alec came to an important conclusion: “maybe we can do this.”  Fatima, CIA, and others inspired him to create a rap group with his friend when he was about 12 years old.  As a self-described recluse, it was difficult for Alec to develop the confidence to record and share his music with a broad audience for fear of being judged and criticized.  However, hardship at home and in other countries, especially in immigration jail, convinced him that he had no reason to fear other people’s opinions of his music. “It wasn’t until I spent some time in immigration jail that I told myself when I get out, I’ll record, who cares about the critics.”  Some time after his nine-month stint in a U.S. immigrant detention center, Alec Lomami made good on his promise to himself and recently released “Kinshasa,” a single from his forthcoming EP, Mélancolie Joyeuse.

“Kinshasa” is a mixture of western sounds with the soul and lyrics of a truly diasporic African whose love for home cannot be denied, despite the problems it faces due to a long history of colonialism and war.  Rapping in French and Lingala (one of over 200 languages spoken in DRC), he discusses his experience as a diasporic being whose identity spreads across various cultures, but does not fit squarely into any one of them.

On his forthcoming EP, Mélancolie Joyeuse, listeners can expect Alec’s music to be “conversational.” in other words, as a pop artist with consciousness (as opposed to a conscious artist), he plan to provide us with a wealth of lessons learned from his personal experiences with hopes that We will accept the invitation into his world, build with him, and glean something positive from what he has to share.  Alec is putting the project together with the dual purpose of challenging himself to step outside of his typically “low key and chill” character.  This “upbeat and super fun” EP will contrast sharply with the follow-up, which has yet to be titled.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever make another record with this happy go lucky feel. The second EP will be a little darker, something more in the line of new wave meets Hip Hop.”

When you hear or see the name, “Alec Lomami,” it’s important to keep in mind that he is an artist in his own rite, but that he produces for other artists too.  One of his artists, a young Congolese emcee who goes by the moniker “Well$,” is featured in Alec’s recently released track, “Pop Revolution.”  Alec also dreams of one day producing an album for Papa Wemba or Lokwa Kanza, as well as working with Iyadede whose sounds he really digs.  “But by in large, I like to work with people I’m friends with to make records that are more organic.”

Alec Lomami is currently traveling to Zimbabwe & South Africa where he plans to finish recording his current music project, connect with some of Southern Africa’s best artists, and get his Masters Degree in theological ethics.  You can keep up with him as he treks about the globe via Twitter and Facebook.  Also, you can check out his music as it becomes available on Soundcloud.

Get Familiar Episode 7: RiC

RiC is an emcee, producer, and activist who refuses to let popular culture dictate who and what he should be.  The young suburbanite makes his music with a clear purpose without sacrificing the “cool” that has made hip hop culture one of the dominant forces in the evolving global culture.  And in a world where cultural borders are dissolving due to social media such as Youtube, Facebook, and Soundcloud, learning how to stay true to one’s tastes (no matter how over determined they may be by the world outside one’s self) while navigating through the rapidly morphing world of sound, is a true skill for which RiC must be commended for picking up!

RiC is from originally from La Grange, a small town in Southern Illinois.  As a child, his family moved to Chicago’s South Side, then a South Suburb. His home was a place where Alex Haley’s Roots and religion were given to him constantly. Also given to RiC were stories from elders about the “good ole days,” the music of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, as well as Southside hoop dreams.  However, this routine was soon interrupted by 2Pac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha.”  RiC recalled that the song changed his life by demonstrating how powerful music could be, even when sampled from the songs on which he was raised.

As an adolescent, RiC began to pen his first songs and experiment with sampling and making his own tracks. At first he wrote only love songs, utilizing them to express his emotions as one would a personal journal. After letting one of his friends listen to some of his work, RiC began rapping and writing songs for other people.

Two older cousins became important in RiC’s confidence as a writer and producer.  One, J. Wells (Bonzi Records) gave RiC a keyboard and sampler and assured him that he was capable of becoming a talented artist.  The other became a mentor figure to RiC, teaching him about hip hop’s roots and introducing him to emcees like KRS-ONE and Lauryn Hill.  This cousin also encouraged RiC to make positive music, something that the 16-year-old keeps at the core of his work.

One example of RiC’s music is his song “UnconditionalLove,” which features vocalist, Nicole Eboni. The track is mainly built using the first two bars of Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love,” an original drum track, and lyrics that will cause the youth and adults who listen to seriously interrogate their romantic relationships. RiC challenges us to discard toxic relationships; “that stuff is dead and [RiC’s] tired of saving it.”  Instead, We should struggle to rise above possessiveness, lust, and superficial connections to create and maintain healthy interactions with the people whom We “love.” [update: the track is featured on “Radiant Souls Mixtape Vol. 2“]

Besides recording songs that make good use of critical thinking and musical talent, RiC is an activist who’s involved with the ChicagoFreedomSchool, a tough contender in cross-country, and a producer for other artists.  He’s a co-founder of the music collective, FRGEnt, and an artist on his mentor/friend’s label, URD Ent.

RiC is currently preparing to release a mixtape called, “Conversations With The Soul.” The project is self-reflective and imaginative.  It features RiC’s daily thoughts to himself as he evolves as an activists and liberatory thinker. So definitely stay connected with RiC, because he will be dropping new singles leading up to the full mixtape.

You can stay up on RiC’s progress via Twitter, Bandcamp, Facebook, and Tumbler.

[update: check out RiC’s latest video, “A Moving Star” on Youtube.

Get Familiar Episode 6: Nomisupasta/Nomsa Mazwai

Several weeks ago, i happened to hear a song called, “Maybe I.”  The song begins with a piano melody fit for a blockbuster movie score, quickly includes the playful sounds of electronic organ improv, a tough baseline, strings, and a drum rhythm that, i’m certain, has Max Roach and Babatunde Olatunji arguing amongst the ancestors about whose legacy is more pronounced.  Then the voice comes in with beauty that almost betrays the underlying critique of patriarchy within the singer’s question:  “What in life /makes it all up to he?”

Nomsa Mazwai had me hooked with “Maybe I.”  But, the other songs on her EP Nomisupasta ensured that i would not be able to untangle myself from her musical web.  Her songs are encouraging to people struggling for a better life, critical of unhealthy relationships, and sonic assaults against capitalist oppression and imperialism without being too “preachy.”  Nomisupasta is currently in heavy rotation along with Iyadede, Akua Naru, and Just Jay (to name a few). I can’t get enough of it!

I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with the South African queen of alternative music (she recently won the South African equivalent of a Grammy) who is presently a Fulbright student working on her M.A. in economics at Fordham University.  When asked about how she got into music, Nomsa explained that she comes from musical family and has been singing her entire life. Several of her aunts sing in choirs and her sister, Thandiswa Mazwai, is respected as a member of Kwaito group, Bongo Maffin, as well as for her solo work.  According to Nomsa, “in terms of South African music, while I’m an ambassador, [Thandiswa’s] like a president.”  Another sister, Ntsiki Mazwai is a celebrated poet, singer, entrepreneur, and published writer.

Although many may come to know Nomsa for her musical talent, she claims that her forte is in the realm of politics and economics.  While attending the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, Nomsa was the first woman to become president of the student government.  She has written articles that were featured in several publications in South Africa.  Nomsa has even published a book, called Sai Sai Little Girl.  Poetry and music are tools for Nomsa to package her analyses and distribute them to the broader population of working class people with whom she aligns herself.

“Cockroaches Fly” is an example of how Nomsa weaves her observations and critiques of political leaders into her music.  The song reminds listeners that even when We think they’ve done their worst, politicians can and will find creative ways to reach unimaginable levels of corruption and oppression.  “Cockroaches Fly” also encourages people to participate in their governmental processes.  That’s what democracy means to Nomsa; it’s not just about free and fair elections, but long term participation in a people’s government.

“The Emperor,” could be the soundtrack to “The Story of Stuff.”  In this song, Nomsa delivers a somewhat comical, though scathing, critique of capitalism and consumerism.  While some people are convinced that a consumer culture is acceptable, Nomsa argues that such an existence is not sustainable and brings harm to people in the Third World.  “The promise of that lifestyle, all the promises of capitalism must be called out and laughed at by the people…  Capitalism is survival of the richest,” not the fittest.  She stated further that it’s inhumane to approach the world that way.  If people lose their humanity, they will die out like the dinosaurs.

Nomsa has come to these conclusion based on her experiences in South Africa.  She explains “what I write is from an international, global perspective… There’s a reality that other people have to face that some of us don’t even know about.  And that’s terrible.”  From the incredible rates of HIV to the dumping of toxic wastes in Third World countries, Nomsa couldn’t help but question her role as a Black South African women in this world, and how she can contribute to making it better and more humane.  Her music is just one of her many tools.

Nomsa, is currently fine tuning her live performances, which she describes as experimental with regard to audiovisual effects and how she rallies crowd participation.  Her audience might realize where she has borrowed from Michael Jackson, Prince, and Luther Vandross, as well as several South African performers.  She is also working on some new music with South African producer and partner, Mpho Pholo (37MPH), and she recently recorded a song with Black Coffee.  Nomsa hopes that her next big project will be with her Sisters, Ntsiki and Thandiswa.

You can purchase Nomsa’s EP, Nomisupasta on Bandcamp.  And keep up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

– Brotha Onaci