Name: Alfa Mist
Occupation: Musician, producer, composer, improviser
Current Release: Alfa Mist's Bring Backs is available via Anti-.
Recommendations: Terence Blanchard - Choices & George Duke - Faces In Reflection.
If you enjoyed this interview with Alfa Mist, stay up to date on his work on Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud and Twitter. For the latest releases, visit his bandcamp store.
For more insights on the London jazz scene read our Greg Foat interview, our Danalogue interview (of The Comet is Coming), our Yussef Dayes interview, our Emma-Jean Thackray interview or our Portico Quartet interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started producing music when I was 14/15.
I was listening to grime (when there were still debates on whether to call it grime or not), to artists like Kano, that was just the music being played in my area. I also listened to a lot of hiphop mostly from the US, to artists like The Roots & Mos Def.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think I stumbled into my own voice when I decided to try not to sample and to try and understand the music I was sampling.
I was still making beats like I always did but I was trying to make music like the samples I was hearing and it ended up being with something in the middle.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
When I make music I never ask myself ‘Who am I?’ I know who I am today. You’re always learning but that’s a separate journey to creating I think. I always just ask ‘What am I trying to say?’ Or ‘How should I say this?’
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
There was a gap between the music I wanted to make and my ability to make it. I could always hear further than what I could make happen.
It’s a good thing though and probably very normal, I’ve caught up with myself a lot over the last few years I’m happy with what I’m creating now.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I’m quite lazy so I’ve only ever learned things when I need them right now.
For example working with string players means I have to use Sibelius (sheet music software) because it’s not their fault I can’t read or write music, it’s mine! But up until then I never needed to know how to read or write because I used DAWs and mostly just wrote my own music.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Nope, nothing I can think of anyway.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Discussing ideas is fun, I do a podcast with some other artists I know: Jordan Rakei & Barney Artist called ‘Are We Live’.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I like to tell people I’ve got a routine but really it’s like this: At some point I’ll wake up, at some point I’ll have some kind of coffee, at some point I’ll put on the TV and watch either the news or something on youtube. At some point I will do something music related.
It all sounds vague but life really is that vague!
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think Antiphon is an obvious breakthrough work for me. It’s a special one because it got millions of views on youtube but more importantly it’s a full body of work, it’s 52 mins long, that means a lot of people listened to the whole project. I appreciate it alot.
Antiphon was a project built around a conversation with my brothers mostly about relationships.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think the more you attempt to create the better you get at creating. I would hardly make anything if I had to wait until I was in a certain state of mind first. I think actually starting is the best chance I have and if things are going well I’ll just zone out there won’t be any distractions because I won’t be able to hear anything else during that time.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music can definitely heal. I think music has a lot more power than we understand, but I won’t claim to know what I’m talking about when it comes to that!
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
If the culture you’re borrowing from ends up thriving the same way you are off of that culture, then I see no problems. But that’s never really the case is it?
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think my existence of being a black man from Newham making music a lot of people describe as jazz is already crazy. I’m a fan of representation, not in terms of power (I don’t really care about representation in politics for example) but the kind of representation that puts more options on the table for younger black people.
So for now I’m just here existing as a path because I couldn’t see anyone like me when I was younger.