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Play It Forward: Angel Bat Dawid Knows How To Deliver Emotion Through Song

Angel Bat Dawid is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist rooted in Chicago's jazz scene.
Mara Arteaga
Rhizomes Films
Angel Bat Dawid is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist rooted in Chicago's jazz scene.

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Devonté Hynes – the English singer-songwriter, producer, director and genre-spanning creative force behind Blood Orange – spoke about experimental jazz artist Angel Bat Dawid's atmospheric track "London."

"It's so beautiful. I feel like it melds all the things I love together. The tone of the clarinet is really unreal to me and the runs are so imaginative and free and loose — but then, there's a structure to it. And there's a rhythmic feeling to it. This classicism, but this loose freeness and jazz freeness, with warm tones that still feel like you're listening to it outside," Hynes said, before addressing Dawid directly: "I just want to express my gratitude and thanks for creating such wonderful, beautiful and inspiring music, and for being someone who I look up to, as a composer, as an artist, as a human."

Hynes' praise made Dawid cry. "Such full emotions – for real, my heart is so full," Dawid tells NPR. "When I wrote 'London,' I was so full of joy because I went there for my birthday and all my friends were there and I was in an Airbnb and they had a piano in the house and I'm like, 'I'm going to write a song about being in London.' I had that sitting on my phone for so long. I never showed it to anybody, I just would listen to it from time to time so I could always get that same feeling," Dawid said. "To hear someone from London and someone as respected as [Hynes] say that and that he felt that same thing that I had felt and he listened to it, I'm just so full of emotions and so full of gratitude. It's incredible how music is and how powerful it is. You just never know. That was on my phone for like the longest!"

The jazz clarinetist spoke to NPR's Ari Shapiro about capturing emotions in sound, Chicago's influence on her music and an artist she's grateful for, Grammy Award-winning funk singer-songwriter George Clinton. Listen in the audio player above and read on for highlights of the conversation.

On being patient with her musical journey

"That's what my whole message is to the world. Just do music as often as you can! Like drinking water and eating food, you should be doing music all the time. You don't have to learn the clarinet or the piano, you can just do it in your home. I've always done music my whole life. All the obstacles and trials and patience have been leading up to this point. I knew music I wanted to do when I was four years old: My dad took us to go see Amadeus and the music blasted from that film effected me. Mozart's complexities and harmonies; in order to understand all those things it takes discipline and it takes study. Lifelong discipline and study. And it takes trials and errors – and I've had a lot of trials and errors."

On Chicago helping her sonic evolution

"It was Mozart's clarinet concerto that made me really want to play the clarinet. Being in Chicago, being around musicians that were experimenting, especially Black musicians. They explored freeness. Being around them, going to jam sessions in the city, I learned how to do that too. It was the perfect blend, like the extra sauce I needed in my musicianship because I was missing something. That's why things didn't pop off for me earlier in my life, in my music career. 'Cause I was missing that key element, but that key element had to come at a specific time, space and place in order for it to be right. There's a lot of patience that you have to have as a musician. "

On Blackness being central to her music

"Music and my identity are the same thing. I am the music and I just so happen to be a Black woman who identifies strongly with my Black heritage. There's no like, let me stop being Black. I'm always Black. And with Black comes a lot of complexities. When I do music, that's not going to turn off. So that chant, "The Black family is the strongest institution in the world," I believe in affirmations! If we collectively, as a planet, globally, start speaking that, what's going to happen? The Black family's going to be strong."

On an artist she's thankful for: George Clinton

"First of all, I come from a Funkadelic, Parliament household. Every day, probably, of my life, my father played anything from Funkadelic and Parliament. He was a hero of my father. The music is so good. George Clinton always did his own thing and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most. George Clinton was the ultimate arranger, producer, know how to put things together, all the elements, you know, it's so triumphant. ["Let Me Be"] gets me so hype. George Clinton, I just want to let you know that you are such a great inspiration to me. You showed me how to be myself. I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our life time. Thank you, George Clinton!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.