December 5, 2008

Afro DZ ak > Press Clippings

In 2008, Afro DZ ak's solo debut Elevation got spins + ink across the country. Here's a selection of what the press had to say:

"You ever heard of an emcee you can also play the trumpet? Me neither... Lyrically, Afro DZ ak doesn't slack on the mic as he weaves through different topics with ease and an uncanny ability to connect with the listener... The sweet singing in the hook and instrumentation reminds me of vintage ATCQ" Rap Reviews

"It sounds as though the music could be coming from a Miles Davis record, not a hip-hop album." Tufts Daily

"This record is one that should fly off the shelves, making strides to bring people together through positive songs."
Rider News

"Not often does one come across a musical hybrid like the rapping and trumpet-playing Afro DZ ak... The album fails to disappoint with its combination of conscious, intelligent lyrics and skillfully played music."
NYU News

"Elevation will turn heads as the album is defiantly booming with inspiration and successfully manages to separate itself from the stereotypical sound in hip-hop."
Buffalo Spectrum

"The winning ingredient in this eclectic hip hop stew is the music. DZ ak colorfully loops soulful horns, organs, and other jazzy tidbits over beats that leave even the most discriminating of listeners susceptible to head bobbing. "
The Noise

"Uplifting and thought-provoking"
Lost at Sea

October 25, 2008

Afro DZ ak Interview

Birth of the beat:
Afro DZ ak elevates Boston underground
Published in the The Heights
Thursday, October 23, 2008
By Michael O'Brien

His dad was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while his mother was born and raised in Kansas. At Tufts University, he majored in international relations, and after college he has worked in community development and education. One of the causes he supports is the affordability of higher education. Sounds a lot like Barack Obama, but it's actually the pedigree of Pete Shungu - also known on stage as Afro DZ ak - a trumpeter, rapper, and spoken-word poet who writes smooth, jazz-influenced hip-hop and performs in Boston's notorious underground scene. He just released his debut album Elevation on Gnawledge Records, which was founded and is managed by Canyon Cody, BC '06, and Sean Dwyer, BC '04. Despite the difference in occupation, the similarities between his and Obama's personal histories aren't purely coincidental: Obama has constantly been a source of inspiration for Shungu ever since he read Dreams from My Father, in which Obama discusses his life, particularly the reality of his multiracial heritage. This background is one of the subjects Shungu explores in his music.

Shungu was introduced to music at an early age when his mother signed him up for piano lessons. "I was a typical kid who hated practicing, but that kind of sparked my interest in music in general," he says.

In the fifth grade, he picked up trumpet and also started getting into hip-hop, listening to an eclectic assortment of artists, ranging from Public Enemy to A Tribe Called Quest, and from De La Soul to Naughty by Nature and Dr. Dre.

"When you first get into music you don't see the distinction between what's commercial and what's conscious," Shungu says.

He says commercial rap started declining around the time he was developing his own musical consciousness. Around this time, he discovered alternative hip-hop pioneers like Common, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. From listening to these artists, he developed his own artistic style. He rejected the mainstream's raw, thug mentality and opted for the intelligent, conscientious one of the aforementioned alternative pioneers. For Shungu, music became an approach for tackling important issues.

It wasn't until years later that he discovered his passion for jazz. "My high school had this music director who was really into jazz and completely opened my mind to all different styles of music," he says.

His jazz influences include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Freddie Hubbard. He admits that, though it sounds cliche by now, Davis' earlier style in classics like Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool profoundly influenced his own. He focuses on trumpet playing that is emotional, rather than fast.

"I'm not going to say I can play like Miles or anything, but being about emotion and not being about playing a million notes is something that made me able to play with a lot of different people. In addition to my own album, I play trumpet on probably 15 other albums with hip-hop bands, rock bands, and jazz bands."

Throughout high school, he stuck with his musical commitments by playing in the concert and jazz bands, while also playing soccer. By the time Shungu graduated from high school, he was composing his own parts for trumpet. Once he was in college, he started getting into rhyming and rapping.

"It was kind of a gradual process," he says.

He graduated from Tufts University in 2003, majoring in international relations. Unlike a lot of the musicians he has worked with, he hasn't been in bands all his life; though he wrote music and lyrics, he didn't start performing until after college.

Besides his solo work as Afro DZ ak, Shungu is a former member of the Eclectic Collective and also plays in a six-piece soul band called Soul Movement. He met Dwyer at a show a few years back at the Western Front in Cambridge. The two burgeoning musicians exchanged information, and Dwyer eventually called Shungu. After that, they lived together in an apartment in Somerville, Mass., for a year and half.

"At the time we knew about each other's music. We respected each other and started working on music," he says.

Dwyer, whose stage name is Gnotes, released an album titled Inthrumental in 2006, on which Shungu contributed trumpet parts. After meeting Dwyer, he was introduced to Cody, whom he describes as Gnawledge's "brain child."

"People ask me, 'Are you a part of a label?' I say it's more like a family, a collective of artists supporting each other."

After Dwyer's album was released, the two got to work on Shungu's. It took about six months to put together. Some of the tracks were written as long as four years ago, but most of them were recently put together within the last year, and some of the beats were picked up from friends. All in all, the process was smooth.

"Since I'm a musician as well, a lot of it is organic. I play keys on a few tracks so I'll come up with a keys groove and then make the beats myself."

Dwyer engineered the album, layering Shungu's various parts into catchy, cohesive songs.

Shungu admits that he has no consistent artistic process, but spontaneously writes musical parts and lyrics whenever he is inspired, particularly when he is driving.

"A lot of time I would be listening to instrumentals in the car and come up with lyrics in my head, write them down, and later develop the track," he says.

He currently works for a nonprofit company called Access, assisting high school seniors in the Boston public school system with the financial aid process for college. The job, he says, is a lot like being a guidance counselor, but is solely focused on college preparation. Overall, he loves working in education and thinks it is a good balance for his musical aspirations, and also another source of inspiration.

"The work that I'm doing gives me material to talk about in some of my writing," he says.

His outlook for the future is to keep working on music and in education.

"I don't think I'd feel complete if I gave up either music or working with young people."

October 17, 2008

Afro DZ ak - "Shine" (Music Video)

From Afro DZ ak's new album Elevation, "Shine" was produced by Willie Green and features Afro's mighty trumpet. The video was produced by Canyon Cody, recorded in Somerville MA.

Check out the lyrics, preview the music @ Gnawledge, and buy the album at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.

August 21, 2008

Interview: Afro DZ ak

This interview took place over email while Canyon Cody was in Spain working on his Fulbright project and Afro DZ ak was in Boston finishing his album Elevation.

Canyon Cody: What did your parents listen to when you were growing up?

Afro DZ ak: My mom played violin when she was younger. She listened primarily to classical music - I remember being a little embarrassed when she dropped me off at school and the other kids could hear classical music blasting on the radio. But now I'm so grateful for being surrounded by classical music when I was young, because it gave me a much greater understanding and appreciation for all styles of music as I got older. My mom also had an old record collection-- The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, etc. Through my dad and his side of the family, I was also introduced to music that reflected my own African roots - both traditional and modern Congolese music. I think the first tapes that I bought included Cooleyhighharmony (Boyz II Men), The Chronic (Dr. Dre) and Greatest Misses (Public Enemy).

Canyon Cody: When did you start playing trumpet?

Afro DZ ak: I first started with piano lessons when I was 8. I think a lot of musical ability came from my mom's brother -- he's a piano and flute teacher. My interest in the trumpet actually came from two sources-- first, I went to a summer camp at a local community college where we got to try out all different types of instruments. When I got to the trumpet, that was the one that really stood out for me. But the main reason I started playing the trumpet was... a girl. Yeah, in 4th grade I had a crush on this girl who played the trumpet. I was real shy back in the day, and I used to think about how if I learned to play the trumpet, I could sit next to her in band class and win her over. So I started playing trumpet in 5th grade. Since she was one of the best players, I had to practice hard if I wanted to move up in the ranks of all the trumpet players and sit next to her. So that was some good motivation. I took private lessons and practiced every day, and by the time 6th grade rolled around I was first chair and she was second! Though the crush wore off, we ended up becoming good friends, and years later I told her about how she helped inspire me to play the trumpet and we were able to laugh about it.

Canyon Cody: Did you learn trumpet on your own or did you have a mentor?

Afro DZ ak: My trumpet teacher's name was Joe Scannella. He was really into dixieland music, so I played a lot of that. More importantly, as a great trumpet player himself, he taught me all kinds of indispensable tips on playing the trumpet that helped me become the player I am today. But it wasn't until high school that I really started to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for music, especially jazz, thanks to my high school music teacher Eric Haltmeier. He got me into Miles, Trane, etc; and the rest is history. I played in a jazz improv group in high school called Microcosm that was led by Mr. Haltmeier, and that was the catalyst for me becoming a specialist at improvisation, versatility, and bringing creativity and feeling into my music.

Canyon Cody: What are some of your favorite hip-hop songs that feature trumpets (either live or sampled)?

Afro DZ ak: It's funny, there's actually more hip-hop tracks with saxophone lines that I really dig than there are with trumpets. Some people can't tell the difference betweent sax and trumpet, but I know instantaneously. Some of my favorite sax samples are Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "T.R.O.Y.", Queen Latifah's "UNITY" and Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By".

In terms of trumpet lines, I love how US3 flipped Freddie Hubbard's trumpet solo from Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island". I also like that real simple trumpet line on Digable Planets' "Cool Like Dat". Lords of the Underground's "Funky Child" has some dope trumpet samples on it too. I'm good friends with a couple of live hip-hop bands that feature trumpets: Audible Mainframe (from Boston, currently in LA) and Lifted (from Boston, now in NYC). Talib Kweli did this track called "Y'all Stay Up" featuring the Youngblood Brass Band, with live trumpets, tubas, trombones... that track is on point.

Canyon Cody: When did you begin to develop as a lyricist? Were you first a (written) poet or did it come from freestlying with other MCs?

Afro DZ ak: Back in the day when I was a kid, I was always more into creative assignments than essays at school, but I never really wrote my own poetry for fun, it was more just for school. I definitely developed as a musician earlier than I developed as a writer. It wasn't until college that I really started to write my own material, and I actually started writing rhymes before I started on the poetry tip. The first rap I recorded was called "Take the A Train". I think I wrote it while I was home from college sometime before my sophomore year at Tufts. It was a collaboration with my brother Nick (aka Mooks). Originally we went by the name "Afro DZ ak" collectively, but then I took over sole possession of it since he didn't have a 'fro. We recorded it at my brother's friend's house in Jersey, and he had Fruity Loops so I made this real bootleg beat and we dropped the track to it. Back at Tufts, I recorded a couple tracks with Stickemz (aka B Reese) and EZV (aka DJ Health) and freestyled at a parties, but never rocked any real shows until my senior year, which is also when I started with spoken word poetry.

Canyon Cody: From your music, it seems like you believe that music can promote positive change. Have there been songs, or musicians, in your life that have influenced you to be a better person, or work for a better community?

Afro DZ ak: As far as musicians/artists that inspire me, the first person that comes to mind is Omekongo Dibinga. I first met him because he was a TA in a course I took at Tufts called African Politics. We immediately connected, in part because we're both Congolese born in the US. Omekongo was one of the first spoken word poets who really made poetry come alive for me - his poems touched on poignant issues about Congo and Africa in general, about racism, sexism, commercialism, about setting a positive example for young people. Probably more than anyone else, he inspired me to write and perform and develop my own poetry. One thing that stands out to me about Omekongo is that he challenges himself to address issues beyond just those that most obviously affect him. For example, he is one of few Black heterosexual male poets I have seen openly speak out against heterosexism / homophobia in his poetry. He also has traveled the world extensively which I think is crucial for someone to really broaden their own frame of mind, and he works tirelessly with young people (in DC these days) to educate and promote positive messages.

I don't know if there have been songs that have influenced me to become a better person, but there are definitely songs that renew my energy and desire to make change, songs that I just put on repeat sometimes because they sustain me in my quest to make a positive difference. Some songs like that would include Blackstar's "Knowledge of Self (Determination)", J-Live's "Brooklyn Public" (a track about being an inner-city school teacher), Arrested Development's "Mr. Wendal", and Pharoahe Monch ft. Talib Kweli & Common "The Truth". I feel like one of the keys to being an MC is listening, just listening to music all the time, listening to other peoples' constructive criticism, listening to your own heart and staying true to that.

Canyon Cody: Tell me about your work in the Big Brothers program.

Afro DZ ak: I got started with Big Brothers when I was a freshman at Tufts through a community service organization called the Leonard Carmichael Society (LCS). I got matched up with Tevin on St. Patrick's Day in 2000, when he was 8 years old. So we've been matched together for over 8 years now, half of his life. He's changed a lot over time, and he has a lot of negative influences around him, so even though his mom does everything she can to provide for him, I know things aren't easy for Tevin. We have our ups and downs, but over the years we've shared so much together: going to Celtics games, Sox games, museums, the beach, recording music, playing sports, going sledding, just hanging out.

I really consider Tevin a part of my family, I think one of the reasons I first decided to be a Big Brother is because I missed my biological brother Nick when I went off to college. While my relationship with Tevin is completely different from my relationship with Nick (who is now 24), Tevin really is like another brother to me. Tevin and Nick have met each other a few times also and get along real well. Most matches through Big Brothers/Big Sisters last only a year or two, but Tevin and I have developed a bond that goes beyond the requirements of the Big Brothers program and represents a real friendship. He knows that I will always have his back.

Canyon Cody: How did you get connected with The Eclectic Collective and how did you decide to part ways?

Afro DZ ak: I first connected with The Eclectic Collective at concert at Harper's Ferry in Allston, and the promoter (Onslaught, aka Lionel Brown) booked me as the opening act for the show. In addition to The Eclectic Collective, there was another live hip-hop act called Audible Mainframe who performed as well. The whole show was real dope, and it got me excited about live band hip hop/soul in Boston. Especially this one song by EC, "Souls on Ice", which literally made me want to grab my trumpet and jump on stage and start playing while they were performing. At the time, I had recently started playing with a Worcester-based band, Soul Movement, we got booked for another show with the EC. After that show, they asked me if I wanted to join the band, because they were looking to add a horn player to their sound and they were diggin the trumpet that I had played during my solo set and the Soul Movement set.

As far as my leaving the band, that was one of the hardest decisions I've made, but one that in retrospect I'm happy with. In a way, EC was a victim of their own success. Things got to the stage where everyone was quitting their day jobs to tour with the band full time, and I felt like I had too much to give up to do that. I love my job with ACCESS, working with high school students, and both for my own sake and the sake of the students I work with, I wasn't willing to give that up. Also, musically the band was steering more and more away from hip hop & soul and becoming more and more rock, and while the music was still good, it wasn't really me. I wasn't down with putting all my eggs in one basket, especially when I felt like I had so much to offer in my day job. And since I have left the band, I have been able to do so many things, including playing all over Gnotes' and Elemental Zazen's albums, joining the Gnawledge family, and recording my solo album, which I never would have been able to do otherwise.

Canyon Cody: You must really love you day job -- tell me about your what you do.

Afro DZ ak: I am a Financial Aid Advisor for ACCESS ( I work one-on-one throughout the school year with High School Seniors in the Boston Public Schools to help them get financial aid for college. Filling out the FAFSA, applying for scholarships, taking out loans, etc; etc; I also do presentations, parent nights, etc; about financial aid. I work in collaboration with teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators in the schools to meet with students during the school day and make sure they get all the financial aid they deserve so that money doesn't prove to be a barrier preventing them from achieving their college dreams.

The strong majority of BPS students receive free/reduced lunch and many are the first in their families to go to college. The vast majority are students of color. The schools I work at are Brighton High School, Greater Egleston Community High School, and Boston Adult Technical Academy. In the process of assisting students with the financial aid process, I also serve as a mentor to countless students, helping them navigate the often overwhelming process of getting through their crucial senior year in high school while putting all the necessary pieces of the puzzle together to go on to college.

August 19, 2008

Elemental Zazen's Boston Farewell Show

On August 29, Elemental Zazen will be performing in Boston for the last time before he moves out to Seattle. Fresh from a 5 country European tour, Zazen will be performing with his live band, featuring appearances from Gnotes, Brix, Burnt MD, The Macrotones, Kabir and DJ Slipwax.

The Middle East (Upstairs)@ 9pm. $10 adv / $13 at the door

July 30, 2008

An Afro in Paris

Afro DZ ak + his mighty trumpet in Paris -- all videos recorded from July 27-29th (2008) during Gnawledge Records' European tour.



Afro's trumpet + Barack Obama's highschool basketball jersey by the River Seine, playing the opening riffs from Gnotes' "Beautiful Story"


We stopped into Le Caveau des Oubliettes, which has a live jam sessions 7 days a week. Unfortunatly we were there on "Pop Rock" night, so the house band ran through some cheesy covers, but Afro brought the funk.

July 20, 2008

Afro DZ ak's BoogaClub Jam Session

Afro @ Jam Session

Our final night in Granada before heading to Barcelona, the Gnawledge crew went to BoogaClub for the weekly jam session. Usually the house band starts the night and eventually invites other musicians to come up on stage for a song, but Afro DZ ak's mighty trumpet left such an impression that they adopted him as part of the crew for the night.

Gnotes + Afro DZ @ Booga

After our concert on Thursday, we feel fairly homey at BoogaClub... but onwards and upwards we go: mañana a Barcelona.

Gnotes + GWBush

July 19, 2008

Gnawledge en Granada

Gnotes, Afro DZ ak, and Elemental Zazen live+direct in Granada, Spain on July 17th 2008, playing with Richard Dudanksi on the drums. Big ups to for filming the show and posting the footage.

May 20, 2008

Elemental Zazen "Handcuffs" (Music Video)

Warning: Kinda graphic before breakfast.

With special appearances from George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Vladmir Putin, Ronald Reagon, Richard Nixon, James Buchanan, John Tyler, Herbert Hoover, Milard Filmore, Robert Mugabe, Augustino Pinochet, Fidel Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Franklin Peirce, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Condeleeza Rice, Dan Quale, Oliver North and The Pope.

From Elemental Zazen's new album The Glass Should be Full

May 15, 2008

Canyon Cody Press Clippings

Dj Canyon (Spanish Press)
Interview published in CARMEN, a Spanish magazine based in Granada

May 10, 2008

Concert Videos from Granada, Spain

Gnotes - "Still Glowing" (Produced by Cyrus Cassidy)

Gnotes - "Throw Your Nickels Up" (Remix ft. Mighty Om)

April 28, 2008

Elemental Zazen - Electronic Press Kit

The Glass Should Be Full (Front Cover)The Glass Should Be Full
Release Date: May 20th, 2008
Buy the CD: CDBaby or Amazon

Download Press Kit (.pdf) / (.jpg)

Photo Gallery / Lyrics
Reviews / MySpace

: Canyon Cody

"Fast, furious, raw, and reflective... Verbally nimble and righteously indignant, Zazen rhymes with a purpose"
-- The Boston Globe (January 18, 2008)

In 2005, when Elemental Zazen started working on his sophomore release The Glass Should Be Full, he envisioned the album as a political manifesto for radical social change - revolutionary hip-hop in the tradition of Public Enemy. Over the next two years, a series of tragedies in his personal life interrupted his plans and forced Elemental Zazen to shift his focus to survival.

Elemental Zazen scar
"Fuck it. If I die tonight, I hope my last rhyme was tight"

In 2006, Elemental Zazen lost a close family member in a tragic accident, and then lost most of his worldly possessions when his house burned to the ground in a five-alarm fire. The following year, Elemental Zazen (real name Jason Trefts, age 25) was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor in his occipital lobe, which required immediate brain surgery. His new album narrates the fear, hope and anger of a disillusioned revolutionary struggling against both political injustice and personal tribulations.

Recently profiled in The Boston Globe's "5 Locals on the Verge in 2008," Elemental Zazen raps with an aggressive flow, attacking the mic with honest grit and athletic lyricism. With an urgent need to tell his story, Zazen limits his guest appearances to an elite group of veteran and emerging underground hip-hop producers: Kno (Cunninlynguists), Maker (Glue), Joe Beats (Non-Prophets), Gnotes, Scroll, J.Ferra and Confidence.

Elemental Zazen (promo) Musically diverse, the album ranges from riotous fist-pumping anthems ("Handcuffs" and "No Survivors"), to subtle, reflective rhythms layered with lush instrumentation ("Silence of the Now" and "Machine" feature live trumpet, guitar, bass and violin).

With intricate rhyme-schemes penned by an angry scholar, The Glass Should Be Full is explosive hip-hop with a revolutionary purpose: "I'm a socialist vocalist focused on roping the hopeless in."

The son of international school teachers, Elemental Zazen was born in the US and raised in Al Taif (Saudi Arabia) and Beijing (China). Despite growing up in vastly different countries, Zazen saw a similar pattern of exploitation and injustice everywhere he called home.

Unwilling to accept a system that produces inhumane poverty and opulent wealth side-by-side, Elemental Zazen focused his fury into his 2004 debut The Adolescence Weapon - which The Weekly Dig praised as "one of Boston's most enlightened hip-hop discs in recent memory."

On The Glass Should Be Full, Elemental Zazen continues the fight against global inequity, but this time his rhymes are laced with an urgent appreciation of life: "All of the events that have happened to me in some ways have opened my eyes to the brilliance of life, so without them the album wouldn't have more upbeat songs like 'Machine'."

The Glass Should Be Full (Back Cover) ***Elemental Zazen - "Machine"

Prod. by Elemental Zazen
Featuring Gnotes on guitar/bass
(free mp3 downlaod )

***Elemental Zazen - "Handcuffs"

Prod. by J.Ferra and Confidence
Featuring cuts by DJ Slipwax

Elemental Zazen hospital Elemental Zazen

After The Weekly Dig featured Elemental Zazen in "10 to watch in 2007," Jason Trefts went into the hospital for brain surgery on July 24 2007. During his recovery period, Zazen started writing about his too-soon confrontation with death: "It's strange needing a will at this age / feeling caged, betrayed, jotting it down on the page." Later that year, Elemental Zazen appeared on Gnotes' album Rhymes and Beats and soon got back to touring New England with his five-piece band.

Since 2005, Elemental Zazen has shared the live stage with Immortal Technique, Kool Keith,
Mr. Lif, Cunninlynguists, Ill Bill, Murs, Cage, Boot Camp Clik, Masta Ace, Camu Tao, Akrobatik, Glue, Louis Logic, Slaine, Ed OG and Animal Collective.

The release show for The Glass Should Be Full will be on May 24 2008, at the famed Middle East (Downstairs) in Cambridge, Mass. Elemental Zazen will be touring Spain, England and France in July and August, then starting a PhD program in Sociology at the University of Washington this fall. For the past six years Zazen's has worked as as a Residential Counselor at a home for mentally ill young adults in Arlington, Mass.

Zazen's influences?
"Dao. Wind. Water. Trees mostly. Hand out the car window. Running away from things and towards other things. Life on other planets. Time travel. Insecurity. Girls. Being poor. No more alcohol and drugs. Finally getting some sleep."

What about favorite bands?
"Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, The National, Joy Division, TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens, Caribou, Sigur Ros, The Black Keys, Interpol, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, The Cure..."

Favorite books?
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Man's Fate by André Malraux
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Buy the CD at CDBaby or Amazon

March 27, 2008

Gnotes @ WERS 88.9 FM

Gnotes, Mr. Lif, Akrobatik, Jake the Snake, and Big Shug were selected to represent Boston hip-hip as part of WERS 88.9 FM's Live Local Music Week. Listen to Gnotes perform "Tower of Babylon" and "Sun Don't Chill" live on-the-air, with appearances from Afro DZ ak and Kabir.

Gnotes - "Live @ WERS" (mp3 download)

In The Studio : Gnotes

By Jessica O’Byrne

Sean Dwyer, a.k.a gNotes, has come a long way since his adolescence spent playing sports and grunge music. Since then the Seattle native has taken on the East coast in a big way, being recruited to play Division I football at Boston College and—even more impressively—establishing himself one of the most promising up-and-coming emcees in Boston. Dwyer, whose demeanor is simultaneously confident and unassuming, arrived at WERS accompanied by fellow Gnawledge Records musicians Afro DZ ack and Kabir, respectively contributing trumpet and vocals to the mix. In between performances, Dwyer discussed his hands-on approach to music (he contributes instrumentals to nearly every track on his recently-released Rhyme and Beats), an upcoming trip to Granada, Spain (where he will spend the next few months creating a global hip-hop record along with Gnawledge Records co-owner Canyon Cody—to the tune of a $20,000 Fulbright musicology scholarship), and records that Gnawledge intends to put out in the near future.

When asked about the occupational hazards inherent in switching coasts, Dwyer responded, “In a lot of ways Boston is where I’ve really cut my teeth, because it’s been the more developmental years…but Seattle’s just a much more accepting environment to art and music in general. I feel like more heads come out to support shows—not that they don’t in Boston—but I feel like it’s just a more open environment.” Nonetheless, for better or for worse, Boston has become Dwyers’ home as he develops his unique sound while simultaneously working alongside Canyon Cody at establishing Gnawledge.

From the first measure of “Tower of Babylon”, which opened the live mix set and can be found on Rhymes and Beats, two things were immediately clear: first, that these tracks are light years away from the ‘bitches-n-hos’ anthems that clog so much of contemporary radio rap; second, that the three men in the studio are talented musicians with a very serious—but not somber—message. Instead of the negativity that has so unfortunately characterized much rap music, gNotes’ songs are of the more hopeful variety. This message is translated into the obvious passion with which Dwyer performs his music.

This passion was even more evident in the raw, heartfelt manner in which he sang the opening of his second track, “Sun Don’t Chill.” Although the music is positive, it is far from heavy-handed—“Sun Don’t Chill” is kept interesting by the unexpected shifts in the beat and clever jabs at popular culture: at one point in the song, Dwyer sings “Dollas dollas kill, y’all,” obviously referencing—and perhaps criticizing—a similar line that appears in a Wu-Tang Clan song.

Dwyer will be out of the country recording and touring Europe for the next few months, which is all the more reason to check out Rhymes and Beats, along with other upcoming Gnawledge releases (for those who are interested, all of said releases—and some sweet preview tracks—can be found at ).

February 11, 2008

Powderhouse Birthday Jam

Here´s a peak into the Gnawledge kitchen: a mini-jam at Afro DZ ak's recent 27th birthday party in Somerville, MA. Backed by Gnotes on the MPC and Frank on the guitar, Afro DZ freestyles with his trumpet inside a cypher of multi-instrumentalist MC´s.

Enjoy the hors d'œuvres, a little something we whipped up to whet your appetite for Afro DZ ak´s upcoming solo debut Elevation. Now get out the kitchen, because we got a trumpet feast to cook.

Peace to Afro´s brother Mooks behind the camara, Benny Blanco, Jimi P, and the other partygoers who stopped by Powderhouse Studios to hear some Gnawledge music.

January 27, 2008

Elemental Zazen concert videos

With a punk´s energy and a poet´s focus, Elemental Zazen rocked a packed house last night at the Middle East downstairs.

Recorded from the vantage point of a side stage monitor, the videos feature Zazen´s rambunciotnus live band, with Gnotes on the guitar closest to the camara and Todd Thurheimer playing bass on the other side of Zazen. Onstage, but outside the frame, are KEH Drums bangin out beats and DJ Slipwax on the wheels of steel.

With rowdy crowd in the house, Zazen offered a live preview of his upcoming album The Glass Should Be Full, to be released by Gnawledge Records in May 2008.

The show also boasted live painting by Writous, a Boston graf artist who was recently featured in The Herald in an article written by Chris Faraone.

The post-game recap from concert promoter Leedz: ¨I usually dont post bulletins AFTER a show but this time i feel its necessary. Last Nights show, Meleodesiac CD release party, was insane. We didnt have one national act and did close to 400 people in the venue. Big up to all the acts, 3sp, Left Over Wine, Slipwax, Zazen and his band, Melodesiac, Ricky Mortis, Writous, and Elephant House. Each act played their role perfectly and last night was a perfect example of what can happen when every act hussles. But more importantly each set was tight and the fans were great. I was completely in shock on how well it went. For a night with all local acts, we proved again that we have our own scene here in Mass and dont always need big national acts to pack up a venue. I cant wait to work with all of these artists again and next time i guarrantee it will be even bigger.¨

For more melancholy mayhem, catch Elemental Zazen performing live at the Paradise Lounge on February 19, 2008 at Gnotes´ final show in Boston before heading to Spain to collaborate on El Canyonazo´s arab/flamenco hip-hop record.