Voices of Black: The sensual seduction of disco house

I had never visited Brown University. Yet, the one night I went, about a year and half ago, Voices of Black made it more than special. I remember Zev (aka The Wolf from Wolf + Lamb) telling me the previous week that he had discovered some new pupils, and his words were the perfect description to their music. He told me their name was Voices of Black, but in a crazy, playful apartment at Brown, they were just Baba and Jules…and while dancing to their sultry tunes I still hadn’t made the connection with the “sexy, delicious” duo Zev had told me about. When their first EP “Plastic Dolls” came out on Wolf + Lamb, I finally realized…and I was absolutely stunned! Their music was not only frolicsome and seductive, but it was also somewhat mischievous, teasing the mind with images of luscious, hopeless models lost in a world of frenzy, emptiness and materiality (the “Plastic Dolls” that give their name to the album). Voices of Black seem to be catapulted from a world with no boundaries, glimmering through the always unfaded years of  soul, funk, old-school hip-hop, real house and, above all, flashy disco. Baba and Jules are modern day, musical Romeos, that charm not only with their easiness and respect for women, but also with the soothing, hypnotic beats of their music.

Graziella Buontempo: Who are Voices of Black?

Voices of Black: Jules Born & Baba Ali

GB: What are the top three qualities you appreciate in the other?

VOB: 1. Honesty

2. Creativity

3. Risk

GB: You both come from a hip-hop background. Today, the hip-hop industry seems to be at somewhat of a dead end, producing artists that seem so far away from the true, deep roots of hip-hop and light years away from the lyrical wisdom of J Dilla, Abstract Rude or KRS-One. What do you think is happening to hip-hop today? Do you think there are any chances for a great revival?

Jules Born: I don’t think hip-hop as a whole is much different, I think the way hip-hop is presented to the masses has been dumbed down and turned into more of a minstrel show than anything. Real hip-hop still exists just real hip-hop being displayed to the masses has pretty much died. Real hip-hop meaning diversity in style, proper representation of hip-hop and youthful culture, subject matter, and overall creativity.

Baba Ali: I don’t believe in revivals, but I do believe that hip-hop will be re-invented and re-imagined. It’s just the nature of how things work. We’ve seen it with jazz, we’ve seen it with funk and disco…every new movement piggy-backs on the accomplishments of the past. We’re definitely in a period of transition, and hip-hop will be the foundation upon which new ideas will be built to find a new form of expression. The biggest gripe I have with the current stage that mainstream hip-hop is that it no longer functions as a voice for the voice-less. The story hip-hop narrates has changed, but the environments from which this art form originated hasn’t. There’s a very apparent disconnect, and that’s why it’s losing its legitimacy.

GB: You guys seem to have a very special relationship with women. Your first album on Wolf+Lamb “Plastic Dolls” is centered on the glam, glitz and fakeness that often surround specific fields like fashion, and on the image of frivolity that is often attached to women in the industry. Are women a constant source of inspiration for you? How do you relate to them and what makes a woman so special to your eyes?

JB: Women are always a good inspiration for the creative process. The appreciation of beauty will always impact art one way or another. Women are the driving force behind the development of most genres and music because women are more in tune with emotions than men. Girls don’t ask you the name of a song after a dj set, or what you used to create your latest song or music video. They just say thank you, smile and dance.

BA: I just like being around women, whether it be more intimate, business, or just plain fun. Throughout my life I’ve learned so much from so many different women in my life, so it’s not something I think about. It’s just natural. But shouldn’t it be? No matter what, men and women need to stick together. I’m not cool with sexism just as much as racism or any -ism. I try to promote unity amongst differences in people whether be gender, race, religion or whatever. I feel like it’s necessary, because there’s already so much hate out there in the world and in history, there’s no need to contribute any more.

GB: You guys are very young and I feel that with your productions you are (whether consciously or not) trying to bring back a movement in which music is linked to actual thoughts on your surroundings and on society in general. However, living in an image conscious society may often put the focus on the wrong things. Is it hard to balance between the need to entertain people, making them dance while at the same time producing something that is distinctive and of good quality?

JB: Making people dance is a result of your creation. I think that is achievable while having strong and meaningful content in song writing. There is nothing wrong with imagery as long as it is honest. Quality can reach the masses and mainstream; it’s a current misconception that everything mainstream has to be  bad and everything underground is good. It just takes more integrity to reach wide audiences and stay true to yourself, but it has and does work.

BA: I guess I never thought of  the ideas of entertainment and quality as separate. My only goal is first to satisfy my needs, creatively, and hopefully be able to connect to people. The way I started doing music was out of imitation of my music heroes and how they found a way to connect to me. So I’m just trying to do the same.

(Click on the player below to listen to “Shade” from the EP “Plastic Dolls”)


GB: You both go to school. Does what you study in class influence in any way your musical productions?

JB: College was a great opportunity to network with people and be influenced by different cultures and individuals from different places. It also reminded me of what I really wanted to do and how knowledge from different areas can be applied to anything you want to do. I never have or will take adderall. Yarch To The Masses.

BA: A lot of the books I read for class somehow work into what I’m working on musically. I think the key to being creative is being like a sponge and just absorb, absorb and absorb. So yes, school does influence me.

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Zev: The alluring mystery of music with a soul

When I first met Zev (aka The Wolf of Wolf+Lamb), two years ago in Boston, I had no idea what he looked like. However, I did know that the sultry sexiness and warmth of his music (both solo and as one half of Wolf + Lamb) had made me dance more than once until the light of dawn. With punchy bass breakdowns, lulling erotic moans, Zev transforms any dancefloor (whether in Miami, London or Black Rock’s Playa) in a groovy, slo-mo wave reminiscent of old-school house, disco and even country music. His soulful, sunny tunes travel straight to one’s heart and propel us into a place where time does not exist, digging deep into sensual feelings of love and seduction.

Graziella Buontempo: Who is Zev?

Zev: An interesting way to begin an interview, a question so deep one must reach into the abyss of one’s self just to begin pondering the possibilities of an answer

GB: What music did you listen to growing up and what are you listening to right now?

Z: I grew up listening to ultra-orthodox, all-male, testosterone laden folk music. The music was generally praising god or kvetching about how our ancestors had it rough and everyone was trying to kill us. It was essentially poorly regurgitated non-jewish music twenty years late.

GB: You have recently moved from NYC to Miami. Has this shift had any influence or consequences on your production? How different is the club scene?

Z: This is an annual pilgrimage the Soul Clap boys, Gadi, Deniz and myself make to escape the plunging temperatures the east coast. With the sun shining every day, I suppose it effects our mood, which probably keeps our music upbeat and optimistic.

GB: What creative medium that you still haven’t pursued would you like to attain?

Z: Desert making. I’m not too bad at cooking most anything.. but deserts is where I fall short. A highly creative medium I have yet to master. I’ll give you a taste when I’m there.

GB: I know you are a big fan of DIY, what is the favorite thing you have ever created?

Z: I love the chandeliers at the Marcy in New York. They’re very simple and made from old film reels that we’re going to be thrown out.

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