One hundred days removed from the twin scourges of a global pandemic and sociocultural strife, musical melodies are emerging to lift our spirits more than soothe our nerves. In contemplating how a few D.C.-based musicians survived COVID-19 and racial unrest, a sense of thinking broadly about music as a creative outlet and mechanism of personal growth emerges.
In speaking to singer/songwriter duo April and Vista, soul musician and vocalist Aaron Abernathy, and rapper/producer Awthentik, a well-rounded sense of how talented musicians cope with the state of a reemerging world becomes clear.
“We were set to tour with Little Dragon in April, but when the tour cancellations started rolling in, we knew we’d have to adjust quite a bit this year,” Matt Vista says. Thus, April George’s barely audible, yet emotionally resonant sigh following Vista’s words gives the sense of a duo still making music, but also forging forward attempting to shake free of the weight of a dream deferred.
“Before COVID, the music industry was moving at such a pace where you couldn’t slow down and think about what you’re making. That caused a lot of good music to be seen as forgettable, possibly,” George notes.
“Now, there’s no reason to rush anymore, which should inspire more memorable music [to be released].” As far as when we can expect that music, George adds, “we’re not trying to fall into the trap of putting something out immediately. This is some of our best collaborative work, yet. We’re working with the best musicians we’ve worked with, too.” Adding an emphatic note that may give a peek into two significant goals — touring and releasing — in their future, Matt Vista notes, “we’re going to continue to take our time. It’s not the responsibility of the artist to chase the industry. Instead, it’s the industry’s job to pursue art.”
Aaron Abernathy is a globally-touring soul artist whose music schedule typically found him spending as much on Germany’s Autobahn as it does the Capital Beltway. However, when not playing music, he’s a bit of a self-described introvert. Moreover, his January 2020 release Affirmations wasn’t his usual soulful rhythm and blues. Instead, it featured a collection of yoga meditations meant to inspire mental clarity and positivity. Having a 100-day touring break inspired him to re-double his efforts in discovering a higher plane of creative rejuvenation.
“Practicing yoga [before COVID] made it easier for me to go inward and keep balance,” says Abernathy. “Once the industry shut down, the album I was going to put out, the touring I was going to do? As an independent creative, I’m just left to sit here and see where my brain goes. Having time allowed me the ability, most importantly, to reconnect with my heart. Once I learned where it was going to go, that’s the direction I took.”
Awthentik’s thoughtful pauses showcase his resolute demeanor during the pandemic. His words share thoughts speaking to rekindling heartfelt inspirations related to his music. “I’m sometimes unsure if music is even the solution for right now. In many ways, music doesn’t feel as timeless as it once did.” The rapper/producer’s time of late has seen him getting active, focusing his photographic lens on the Black Lives Matter protests in Downtown D.C.. Seeing so many Black people mobilizing their voices for justice has inspired him in the studio, too.
“The streaming era plus music having a greater impact from being used for advertising has microwaved projects,” he notes. He offers a studied note on how music could best advance itself as an industry driven by activist-style art while being mindful of creatives needing to amplify their voices. “If we must make music right now, it’s the time to be even more conscious than usual about what we’re saying. It’s a time to be as truthful and message-oriented as possible.”
Ultimately though, artists are most excited about the potential of, even if socially distanced, playing their music live in front of crowds willing to receive the fruits of their creative labor aurally. “Our first shows back better be lit!,” says April and Vista’s April George, unable to hide her excitement about safely breaking quarantine. Awthentik’s words temper George’s enthusiasm with a level of gravitas, perhaps speaking to music’s profound impact upon the world’s future. “I think we, as artists, all feel like we’ve created some of our most timeless material during this period.”
(Photographer:: Fernando Castro & Agatha Powa)