Kweku Collins Discusses ‘Nat Love’ Creation and Premieres New Video for “The Outsiders”
On technology's place in music
In the November 2015 edition of the IEEE Potentials magazine, famed digital artist Eyal Gever denotes the prime purpose of art to be a medium that conveys a message, a meaning and/or an idea through the use of visuals or music. He describes technology as simply another new tool that time and progress have provided artists with—no different than the white canvas used by legends like Van Gogh or the harpsichord that Bach so loved. In fact, technology allows for the preservation of art because it is a much sturdier conduit than, for example, the time-worn papers upon which Mozart composed his symphonies.
One of the most beautiful aspects of technology is that it allows a diverse range of voices and experiences to be heard by anyone who cares to listen. The Internet has its horrors, but it is also a platform that allows for uninhibited inclusivity and helps to destroy the harmful narratives enforced by the colonial influence of old white men in towers (e.g., The Academy Awards woefully homogenous board of members). According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center that highlighted the response of several arts organizations around the U.S. to the convergence of technology and art, three main trends emerged: one, the Internet has increased artist and user engagement by providing an accessible platform for artists to display their work and for users to engage with said work; two, such accessibility has greatly increased the diversity of the arts community; and three, the increased diversity of the arts community has greatly broadened and even erased, the boundaries of art.
April 2016 saw the release of 19-year-old wunderkind Collins’ debut album, Nat Love, which was completely created via the GarageBand app. The album itself is a combination of cultural sounds, from the African rhythms played in his parent’s house during his childhood to Caribbean riddims, American rock and jazz. Collins’ artistry is largely affected by and derived of being a part of a generation of musicians and artists that have been raised in a society completely permeated by technology. Additionally, Collins’ upbringing in the racially diverse city of Evanston, Illinois provided him with extensive exposure to different cultures. Yet, it was the simplistic, but intuitive, mobile app Garage Band which allowed Collins to meld all of these influences into one in order to create medley eclectic melodies like that of his song “everever.”
Collins’ energetic performance at Webster Hall at a Pigeons and Planes’ No Ceilings showcase earlier this year gave us an opportunity to directly inquire about his love for and use of tech and how it has personally informed his artistic process:
Technology…is just another tool for me to realize my vision. I’m a percussionist, I sing and so all the things that I do on the tech I can also do myself. It’s really just another way for me to explore my talents further. I can take the African rhythms I learned as a baby and apply it to 808s or to a trap kit or some shit like that. So really the technology accentuates and speeds up the art, there’s no battle between the two.
Collins goes on to elaborate that technology is certainly not the be-all, end-all of artistry. For those who find that they don’t mesh so well with technology, “…then do your research and keep working at it. If it’s not for you then pick up drums, pick up the guitar, start playing piano, take vocal lessons, start singing in the shower. Music…is so multi-dimensional and there are so many ways to go about it. There’s no one avenue that you have to take.” Certainly, Collins is not the only one. Prolific artists like Bright Eyes, MGMT and James Blake have been creating music via technology for years, albeit much more complex avenues than GarageBand. Although, that seems to be the very point, doesn’t it? Technology is intended to create avenues for ease of use and access in all walks of life.
Despite the positive powers of progressive technology there are those who decry technology’s innocuous effect on art, who consider technology both inorganic and view it as insatiable creature that unfairly increases viewer’s expectations because of the sheer number of artistic offerings. Additionally, the volume of pieces created by way of any number of today’s most popular intuitive mobile apps brings artistic integrity into question: did technology shape and even wholly create the art or was it naturally borne of human inspiration? Add to that the waning existence of live performance events and humankind’s diminishing attention span and voila, it is a ripe vat within which to stir many a fear of artistic denigration.
Such antiquated attitudes are hardly new, 110 years ago American composer John Phillip Sousa declared that the phonograph would erode the “finer instincts of the ear.” Well, that ship has both sailed and sunk, yet here lies unequivocal talent in the form of young musicians like Collins and Blake. Sousa embodied the fears of many of today’s artists who feel that the pervasive use of technology in the creative arts forces reproduction versus production. While such fears are certainly justified with the endless litany of what sounds like the same song in different pitches via artists like Lil Yachty and Rich Homie Quan, there is also a balance to those forces with creative artists like Collins– essentially, without one the other could not exist.
One of the most beautiful tracks from Nat Love is “Death of a Salesman,” in which Collins draws a parallel between the many lynchings of 20th century America and, later, the drug wars which run rampant through cities like Chicago and Detroit. Without technology which forces honesty by presenting different, inclusive, and researchable viewpoints, perhaps Collins might never have known the true horrors of both slavery and unquenchable street violence. As Gever asserted, art is intended to convey the intangible: ideas and meaning, yet neither can come without knowledge.
To all appearances, technology and the Internet seem to be the most effective, and roomy, conduit for all narratives to flourish and be heard. More than anything, the conflict between technology and art seems like another page in the century old conflict between man versus self and environment, for creation is creation at its core whether it arises from ivory keys or from touch-screen buttons. Most importantly, however, is that art not be restricted by societal constraints regardless of the medium and as society has come to learn–technology, the internet and its innovations are boundless.
You can purchase an autographed vinyl copy of Nat Love here. Use code “LoveAppeal” to take 15% off. Also, enjoy the new video from Kweku Collins which compiles footage from his European tour earlier this year.