Afro-Australian MC and Producer Mista Monk returns to Manila for Circus 2020. He speaks to Mynila about touring Ethiopia with Black Jesus Experience and his first solo EP.
Please tell us about the history of Mista Monk – When did your music career begin and what drew you to Hip Hop?
My music career began in the early 2000’s when I began performing with a live hip-hop outfit called Culture Connect. One of the members I had known from high school and he was making beats on a Casio keyboard back then and I was an aspiring freestyler.
What was it like working/performing in multicultural crew back then?
Culture Connect was a formation of myself and two brothers of African descent who came together to perform for an African community event with the addition of live musicians subsequently. We were a unique act in the scene at the time as it was a lot more monocultural than now. There was genuine enthusiasm for our message as Australia was gripped by xenophobic conservative politics and we were representing for all the minorities.
What was it like growing up as an Afro-Australian and do you think it’s different for Afro-Australians now?
I didn’t have a sense of an Afro-Australian community growing up beyond the local community where I grew up whereas now you have prominent artists like Remi and Sampa the Great amongst many other incredible artists who are representing the identity of people of colour and the identity politics of being a marginalised person very poetically .
Tell us about Black Jesus Experience and how did you start collaborating with the father of Ethio-Jazz Mulatu Astatke?
Black Jesus Experience is a kaleidoscope of rhythms and rhymes taking elements of jazz rhymes and Afro rhythms. We are a live band strongly influenced by the music of Ethiopia . Our singer is from Ethiopia and we have travelled there many times over the last ten years. It was on our second visit that we met Mulatu Astatke after his cousin told us he had been hoping to meet us as he was planning to perform in Australia. Since then he has toured with us in the UK and Australia many times.
You published an amazing video of a cypher in Nairobi, please tell us about the Dandora Hip-Hop City Community Center and touring Africa.
Dandora Hip-Hop City Community Centre is a hub for young aspiring hip-hop artists in Nairobi, Kenya set up by a successful rapper Giovanni who is from the neighbourhood and wanted to give back to the youth there, who don’t have many opportunities and have a strong passion for music. It was a very inspiring experience to witness the hunger for the art and talent these young people have there, and indeed all over my travels in Africa. I was constantly in awe at the strength of the hip-hop community there, which gives a powerful voice to people, many of whom are experiencing great adversity.
What can we expect from Mista Monk in 2019 ?
I will be releasing my Half Light EP on Dub Temple Records this year, which will be my first solo release. I’m excited about it since it marries my rap vocals with more electronic orientated beats taking in elements of jungle, hip-hop and bass music. Thematically it covers the spectrum of love, life, loss, and injustice.
Who or what influences your music?
Early on I was heavily influenced by Nas, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep in both vocal style and production. But I was equally influenced by Jimi Hendrix, his poetry as well as Jamaican artists such as Bob Marley and Shabba Ranks. Now I draw influence across the board – I’m particularly interested in traditional African music, the poetry and imagery of life’s tapestry is ample inspiration .
What are some of your most memorable moments in Manila and Philippines and what are you looking forward to experiencing this time round?
This is my second trip to the Philippines and I really enjoyed the warmth of the people and experiencing the underground music scene in Manila, so definitely keen to explore that further and connecting with local artists to collaborate on some tracks while also lazing on the beautiful tropical beaches so abundant here.
What should we expect from you performance on February 16th at Circus 2020?
It will be a combined MC and DJ set as I can never just play beats without dropping a rhyme, that would go against my nature.
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