Heaven and Earth - An Interview with Kamasi Washington

Adorned with heavy gold medallions, stone-studded rings, and a carved wooden staff, saxophonist Kamasi Washington certainly embodies the cosmic spirit of spiritual jazz. Channelling his forebears Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders, his debut LP, 2015’s The Epic, was a three-hour sonic journey through afro-futurism and choral power, informed by a series of prophetic dreams Washington had during the recording process. He’s since played on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, exposing a new audience to the raging intensity of his tenor, a hip hop fusion informed by the work of Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper and informing the ensuing eclecticism of UK jazz newcomers like Ezra Collective and Moses Boyd.

His second LP, Heaven and Earth, is just as ambitious as his first. Symphonic and cinematic in equal parts, the double album explores reality as experienced in life, Earth, as well as in the mind, Heaven. Recorded in just two weeks – the only time Kamasi and his band could spend away from their tour for The Epic – the album is a call to action, with lead single and opening number “Fists of Fury” setting the tone with the chant: “Our time as victims is over / We will no longer ask for justice / Instead we will take our retribution.” Beneath lyrical saxophone lines and ferocious drumming lies Washington’s credo of inspiration: “The world your mind lives in, lives in your mind.”

Born and raised in South Central LA, Washington has stayed faithful to the scene there, scoring his first job while at college with West Coast hip hop’s first son, Snoop Dogg. His current band and collaborative partnership, the West Coast Get Down, is similarly comprised of childhood friends and cornerstones of the city’s musical community, including Thundercat, his brother the drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and bassist Miles Mosley.

Marked by his measured tone of voice, Washington is a man who thinks carefully about his music and its political import. Once heralded by critic Greg Tate as “the jazz voice of Black Lives Matter”, his work is envisioned as more than a mere commercial enterprise: it’s a space to think in, to create from, and to empower. Ahead of the release of Heaven and Earth, we spoke about the transformative potential of music, the fearlessness of Kendrick Lamar, and imagining the world the way we want it to be.

Read the interview in Dazed Magazine.

[This piece was published on 18/04/18]