Essential News & Views – 10/19/16 — On Aaron Abernathy & The Importance of R & B in #newDC



Marcus K. Dowling

There have been concerts like Aaron Abernathy’s October 20 Monologue album showcase at Tropicalia in Washington, DC before, and in all likelihood, they’ll continue to keep happening in the future. But there’s something about the place, time, and sound that the veteran singer/songwriter/instrumentalist has created with this album that makes his performance one of 2016’s must-attend musical events in the Nation’s Capital. In soul music being as essential to DC’s history as being America’s seat of power, working-class African-Americans, and the awkward, yet somehow perpetual embrace of our beloved NFL franchise, supporting Ab’s surging and soul-filled talents could be the key to DC’s creative and musical evolution.

I love go-go, I love rap, I love house, disco, moombahton and Afro-beat, too. However, the organic root of ALL things musical (and truly resonant) in DC is rhythm and blues. Yes, it’s in R & B’s traditions in the blues, jazz, Motown, Stax, James Brown, Prince, and so much more that’s apparent in the music that Aaron Abernathy makes. Yes, Wale once attempted to link his sound to a “new black soul” that touched Marvin Gaye, but there was a lack of connectivity to a DC sound that was supported by mainstream-trending rhythm and blues that may have actually slowed his rise.

Rhythm and blues and DC music’s pop ascendancy go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or to be more #newDC relevant, these two things go together like ramen and pork belly, or kale salads and buckwheat bread.

In listening to songs like Ab’s “I Need To Know,” there’s a connection to what made artists like Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway great. In the 1970s, Flack and Hathaway’s excellence opened a path for performers like Chuck Brown and Trouble Funk to be sonically comparable, yet differently awesome by their own standard of greatness. For the better part of 25 years, we’ve waited for a very specific soul sound to make it’s return to DC’s environment in order to once again push DC’s mainstream surge ahead in an incredible manner. Ultimately, in one new album, Aaron Abernathy may have, unintentionally started DC’s soul-to-pop revolution.

Monologue is the story of Ab at 17 discovering love and adulthood in the same heartbroken summer. In a year where black people making sad records about disenfranchisement from civil rights is hot on the streets but probably hard for non-black residents in urban centers like Washington, DC to feel good about hearing, Ab’s record is connective in the same way that Donny Hathaway singing “A Song For You” or Roberta Flack being “killed softly” by a song “one time” hits just about everyone in the world, regardless of racial or socioeconomic background, at their core.

But live, Ab’s about more than that, and in forthcoming releases let’s be certain to note that we’ll likely hear a broader range of both rhythms and blues from him, too. This is an artist who’s toured the world with Black Milk (as the leader of his band Nat Turner) and has studied under Prince’s muses Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. There’s a world of space within his sound, spaces that bump into Nag Champa’s Sun-Ra inspired jazz, CMPVTR Club’s off-kiler and future-forward techno, the raps of folks like our own collective’s Dope Music Village, and I’m sure if he sat down with the likes of DJs like Zach Eser, Jacq Jill and Ayes Cold, or with rockers like say, Alex Tebeleff of Paperhaus, they might get inspired.

Knowing Aaron Abernathy as both an artist and man, I’m sure he’s probably not wanting me to say this, but if #newDC’s musical “revolution”-of-sorts needed someone to look at as a person-of-note to appreciate and from whom to gain motivation, he’s performing at Tropicalia on October 20. If we’re all wanting to feel the wave of excitement that’s sweeping #newDC’s music scene in it’s finest and most palatable form, you’re attendance is mandatory.

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  1. Pingback: » Essential News & Views — 10/21/16 — Raheem, Wes Felton & allthebestkids Push Soul Ahead In #newDC

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