— Mattie Humphries, 1968
Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble’s new album "NOW" was created in the final throes of Summer 2020, following months of pandemic-induced fear & isolation, the explosion of social unrest, struggle & violence in the streets, and as the certain presence of a new reality had fully settled in. Set up safely in the garden behind Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the music was recorded in only a few takes, capturing the first times members of BME had ever played or sang the tunes. For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together to commune and make art than it was about producing an album. In his words: “It was about offering a new thought. It was about resisting the darkness. It was about expressing possibility. It was about asking the question, ‘Since the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape... what happens NOW?’”
...about Black Monument Ensemble...
Originally conceived as a medium for Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks’s sample-based sound collage work, Black Monument Ensemble (BME) has evolved from a solo mission into a vibrant collective of artists, musicians, singers, and dancers making work with common goals of joy, compassion, and intention. Galvanized by Locks’s conceptualizing, poeticizing, and guiding vision, the contributors come from all facets of the diverse wellspring of Black artistic excellence in Chicago, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to uplifting, anthemic, and highly animated musical performance.
BME is a genuinely multi-generational collective; ages of the members range from 9 to 52 years old. In addition to Locks, current and consistent BME members include: instrumentalists Angel Bat Dawid, Ben LaMar Gay, Dana Hall, and Arif Smith; singers Phillip Armstrong, Monique Golding, Rayna Golding, Tramaine Parker, Richie Parks, Erica Rene, and Eric Tre’von; and dancers Raven Lewis, Cheyenne Spencer, Mary Thomas, Bryonna Young, Tiarra Young, and Keisha Janae.
Locks has a stated interest in work that explores “The Black Nod” which, as he explains, is “an unspoken acknowledgment that happens often out in the world – a sort of ‘I see you’ moment exchanged between Black people.” His work with BME attempts to do the same. Fronted by a jubilant choir, the ensemble embraces a kind of civically engaged, artistic approach to activism originally heard in the 1960s from bands like the Voices of East Harlem and on albums like Max Roach’s We Insist; or originally seen in the photography of Kwame Brathwaite and the art of Emory Douglas. Merging influence from the subsequent half-century of artistic & technological evolution, Locks employs a cyber-punk palette of disparate implements (including beatbox, boombox, telephone, and megaphone) to make narrative compositions of mined sound, beats & archival speech (a la Madlib or Supa K) which are brought to life by the ensemble in electric, improvisational performance. It’s a truly multi-dimensional sound that spans mediums, genres, and generations; past, present, & future.
...about Damon Locks...
Damon Locks is a Chicago-based visual artist, educator, vocalist, musician, and deejay. Known for decades of varied projects in Chicago’s underground music & art scenes, Locks’ CV starts in the late 1980s with the band Trenchmouth, and is highlighted by work with The Eternals (co-led by Trenchmouth bandmate Wayne Montana), Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, collaborations with Nicole Mitchell, Ben LaMar Gay, and many others. In recent years Locks has traversed almost every media discipline… including sound/animation work using unheard Sun Ra recordings from Experimental Sound Studio’s archive (with Terri Kapsalis, Wayne Montana, and Rob Shaw); various collaborations with contemporary dancers & choreographers including Onye Ozuzu, Ayesha Jaco (of Move Me Soul), and Anna Martine Whitehead (on presentations & workshops with the Detroit Justice Center); participating in artist residencies at The New Quorum in New Orleans (alongside Nicole Mitchell, Lisa E Harris, Wadada Leo Smith, and others); teaching work with incarcerated artists for the Prison and Neighborhood Arts/Education Project at Stateville maximum security prison; and producing cover art for dozens of albums, including several International Anthem releases by Makaya McCraven, Hear In Now, Irreversible Entanglements, and more.
released April 9, 2021
Angel Bat Dawid – clarinet
Ben LaMar Gay – cornet & melodica
Dana Hall – drums
Damon Locks – samples & electronics
Arif Smith – percussion