My name: Amahl Abdul-Khaliq, originally from Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, California, by way of Lake Charles, Louisiana
What got you to New Orleans?
Music! Solely music. But, when I was attending high school, I would go to the Metairie/Kenner area to play fighting games, you know, video games. I know it might sound crazy, but, I used to compete in tournaments play various versions “Street Fighter”. My friends and I would always go to Game Club until Katrina happen, once Game Club got wiped out, we converted over to Fun Arcade. So, I’ve been coming to New Orleans for a hot minute.
It’s cool to hear that games were such a big part of your history, and then listen and hear that sound in the music as well.
Yes, it was a big part of my life. I grew up in California, especially when I was younger, there were arcade machines everywhere. You would go to a washeteria or video rental store and there were arcade machines. Growing up in the valley (San Fernando), I was practically raised in the mall. My mother would give me $10 and say, “Here, go play Street Fighter with your brother.”
That’s pretty much how I grew up.
When did you start making music?
I didn’t start making music, beats, as AF THE NAYSAYER until 2007, summer 2007
How did that come about?
I was always interested in making beats, hip hop production, electronic music production, didn’t know how to go about it, my buddy sent me a video of nick tha 1da making beats on a sampler, and I saw the video and thought I could do that… So I reached out to him and told him how I couldn’t afford this $2000 machine. He kindly referred me to a program and, I realized I could do it all on a computer and it started from there. And here I am (laughs)
Did I see you play with Charm Taylor once?
Yeah, I played with here at the Ashe Center. I’m an official part of her live performance. We’ve played together at Focus Wales 2016, which is a festival in Wrexham, Wales. I really enjoyed myself there. We’re going to do more stuff together.
What’s your preference: working solo or collaborating with other artists?
I’m so used to doing things alone, so it can be kind of weird to work with other people, but I’m really good at bringing people together. Overall, I like working with other artists because it’s less taxing for me, mentally, and emotionally. When you’re just doing everything all alone it can be very draining. When you have more input from other people, all these ideas spark, it’s more fun, for me, when you’re working in the studio, and you’re working with other people bouncing idea back and forth — call and responses and jamming out. I like that and I’m looking forward to doing that more often… But even when I’m just making music alone, I’m still sending it out to other people in my inner circle, like, “OK, how do we feel about this? What’s your opinion about this?” They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe the same thing is true for music.
Is there a consistent spark or well of inspiration?
I’m influenced by a lot of my own life experiences and things I like. A lot of my music, to me, is very nostalgic, things I just really treasure and I put a twist on it. Sometimes I’ll look at themes. For instance, this EP I just released, that theme was a soundtrack for a conceptual, post-modern video game that does not actually exist. I’m a producer at heart, so I work well with themes. Creating and working within themes is what I try to do, and that helps me stay creative.
Is there anything about life in New Orleans that inspires you personally?
It’s inspiring just to know that this is the birthplace of jazz. There are so many great musicians here, and everyone comes to New Orleans at some point in their career, whether it’s to record or perform… As far as collaborating with other artists, it’s almost overwhelming being here, and there are all these other artists I can work with. And they’re just studio musicians, playing in bands, or whatnot, and I can be like: “Hey, let’s work on this track together. Let’s do this…” That’s very inspiring. Being able to go out to shows and watch people perform. When I first came out to New Orleans just for music, like around 2010, I would walk around Frenchmen St. with my friends who were studying Jazz at UNO and just hang out and watch sessions and talk with other musicians. I was never around people who made a living from music my whole life until I got here. It was inspiring being around them. I’d let them hear my music, and I’d hear their music, and we’d just talk about music in general.
Any standout advice that you’ve received along the journey?
I can’t think of one piece of advice, but I think one person who changed me through meeting was Justin Peake (a.k.a. Beautiful Bells). He runs a music series called Merge Music. He also has a label titled Articulated Works. Meeting him and having him just give me different advice such as, how to go about dealing with venues, money, settling up with people while throwing shows. We went on a little mini tour together and that taught me how to tour for myself. I got to watch how he would deal with the label and stuff like that — releasing his music and hearing the conversations he would have. Watching how he would conduct his music business really shaped me.
How is it working with Upbeat Academy?
Upbeat Academy is my dream job. I get to teach kids music production — which I wish I had when I was growing up. And it’s free? I love it!
What have you learned through teaching at Upbeat?
Well, for one, to teach, you need to know your basics. It made me go back and re-learn some things I might have been a little shaky on, theory-wise. I had to sharpen up in areas where I might have been a little dull. I had to understand everything inside out so I could explain these concepts in a way my students could understand it. Also, the students, they’re always putting me on to new music that I’m not familiar with it… It keeps things fresh for me. By teaching them, they teach me. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true.
Is there something that you have learned through producing art that has taught you something directly about how to live life?
That’s a heavy question!
I know because of having a career in music I have a lot of different experiences that have taught me how to progress along that path, but I have definitely learned from my mistakes — in trying to have a career in music I put music above everything. Me, myself, my family, my friends. I realized that this is a flaw. I thought about death and I realized that I didn’t want to die and be only known for my music. Thinking about that, I realized that I care more about my family and friends more so than the actual career. That idea made me rethink my approach involving music as a whole. It made me not take things too seriously — to look at the real costs of achieving goals… I wasn’t taking care of myself and I need to take care of myself first because the better person I am the better I can be for the community. So that’s one thing I’ve learned. To treat music as a hobby even when it is not. It’s fun, it’s a release, it’s an expression. I shouldn’t treat it as a job even though it is a job…
I feel like I’m very loyal at heart, very nostalgic, so I want to hold onto things. But as you start to climb up, to reach, people want to pull you down to their level, and I had to learn to let go of toxic relationships. There’s a Miles Davis quote where he mentions he doesn’t like to be around people who are comfortable because they stay stuck in a rut. You have to struggle to work to become better. Either spiritually, or some other kind of growth, you have to have been uncomfortable to grow. Doing something new is uncomfortable. I try to live like that in every aspect of life — to stay uncomfortable.
The straight edge thing. It’s really weird because I didn’t really like the term straight edge because I don’t really feel like it represents me. When I think of straight edge I think of someone who listens to Agnostic Front and beats up drunk people (both laugh). I do like Minor Threat, and I do like Dischord Records. I do like my punk music, but I don’t like Agnostic Front and I don’t like criticizing people for being drunk or high. So, I can’t really relate to the straight edge culture at large, but I do understand that we live in a time where we use terms, so if I say ‘Straight Edge’ you know I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do this or that. So it’s a good term to use when I talk to people so you just know right away, no to ask me for weed.
The whole vegetarian and vegan thing was introduced to me through the BMX subculture… I do believe in animal rights, but for me, I also had a few personal healthcare issues… Within just two weeks I was able to clear up some digestive and respiratory issues just by changing my diet, by having a plant-based lifestyle. Like, “What, you can heal yourself just by changing what you eat?!”, you know? And it’s better for the environment, the carbon footprint from the cattle industry is crazy, but also it’s one of those things that people don’t realize — how much you can change your life… Living here, there are not a lot of places that cater to that, but at the same time, we should be cooking more for ourselves, we shouldn’t be going out to eat all the time. We’ve got to be careful. We don’t know what they’re putting in the food at a restaurant. We don’t know what kind of greens they’re using: is this organic, is this not organic, is this GMO, and I believe we should all be more conscious of that. I’m preaching now, which I feel like I never do (laughs).
I was talking with a civil rights activist. He likes to talk with a lot of younger people, get ideas and questions, he’s a really good dude, and it’s a really good thing to do anyway. He was talking about how entertainers might not be the front lines of protest, but what they do is they have a voice that can be heard. They don’t have to be in the streets, you know, they can send out a tweet, write a song, do some artwork. They can push all these messages in different avenues and motivate people. That’s one thing. I feel like I have been super PC with my music and my voice, but I’m in a place now where I’m trying to stand up, be more active and talk about more of my beliefs and ideas. I definitely want to start pushing for more clean and healthy living while also trying not to be overbearing with it also. I do think it’s really important for people to see from example. Like, for me, there was this BMX rider named Day Smith. A black rider, I think he was originally from Long Beach, does flatland. Not only was he amazing, it was like, oh, you’re black, and I remember seeing flatland before and as silly as this sounds I didn’t think I could do it until I saw him do it, and I was like he’s doing it, and he’s really good, I should be doing it.