Gavsborg has a new music project! The timing couldn’t be better and the content couldn’t reflect the time more accurately. Just like this week in Black history, this EP is two-thirds heavy and one-third buoyant. Let me introduce you to Kevin from Ivory Coast with hopes that it will provide release from what troubles you.
Kevin from Ivory Coast is out now on the Equiknoxx Music Label and the best word I can use to describe this three-track collection is boundless. Time and place fell away as I tunneled through the drum loops and starbursts of the opening track”Did Not Make This For Jah_9″ featuring Shanique Marie. I listened and felt transported to an imagined space. As Shanique Marie counted up from 1 to 8 and I was made to wait eagerly for her to say the number 9, I wondered if this is what the prelude to a Duke Ellington jam session might have sounded like. Yes, there is jazz in the kicks of this track. I continued listening and as the ephemeral chords progressed, Raymond Scott and Sun Ra vibes slip in like a dub phantom. But still, there is hip hop in the heavy staccato of the drum. Instrumental memories of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” create gentle waves in the production. This is the oceanic boundlessness that Gavsborg expertly engineered into the production. So even as he says that he “Did Not Make This For Jah9” in his titling, there is a way that this track shares Jah9’s penchant for gathering the diaspora via jazz-inspired sound. And as I make note of the track’s title, there is no doubt that Gavsborg, as founder of Equiknoxx, has always been more clever than most when it comes to naming, e.g. “Your Ears Are Not Very Small” (2017) or “Shanique the Laptop Battery is 7%” (2019). This EP’s titles are no different.
Track 2 is “Earth & Clan” and it is gritty. The bird, sound, power that Equiknoxx is known for swoops in with menacing intent. It takes me to a corner of my childhood in the Northeast Bronx. A crowd is gathering near the 5 train’s Gun Hill Road station stop to bear witness. One young man cracks his knuckles while the other paces left to right with his eyes locked, squinting at his prey. When the beat drops the year is revealed. It is 1990-something and a confrontation is brewing. It was a New York City borough for me, but Gavsborg is a globe trotter from East Kingston; so for him this clash could have been inspired by Jamaica’s capital city, or his love of Queenbridge’s Mobb Deep, or his jaunts in the U.K., or even his recent trip to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. In any of these spaces, and in any of the spaces along that triangular route out of Africa, homeboys and rudeboys and soundboys gather in contest. It’s as the Lost Boyz said so perfectly back in 1995: they battle to see whose “down to go pound for pound/ toe to toe, blow for blow, round for round” over a dope beat that demands dope rhymes. So what lyrics lace this dope track? Ahh, “Earth and Clan” cleverly balances the masculine angst of the rhythm with the distant and distinct voice of Shanique Marie. Recorded via Whatsapp voice notes, hers is the only voice heard on this production as Gavsborg cleverly positions her as the wise griot of the track: “Two likkle soundboys sitting on the wall […] Ungle one a dem cyan run dancehall.” Again, this is why this EP is boundless. It bridges time and space and troubles expectations of gender.
With Kevin from Ivory Coast Gavsborg presents a boundless jazz mixtape for the 2020s. It is heavy, yet buoyant. It is grit and ascendancy. Each of the tracks hit my ears and eyes (hold tight, there will be visuals soon!) and I journeyed through the soundscape with a familiar old friend, one we lost to the ancestors in February. That old friend is Kamau Brathwaite and I hear echoes of him in Gavsborg’s music. Perhaps this is because they are both poets of sound. Or perhaps it is because I’ve just been thinking about Brathwaite and his 1967-68 essay “Jazz and the West Indian Novel” a lot these days. “Jazz,” Brathwaite writes, “is the emancipated Negro’s music: hence its brash brass coloring, the bravado, its parade of syncopation, its emphasis on improvisation, its swing. It is the music of the freed man who having left the countryside of his shamed and bitter origins, has moved into the complex, high-life town…” (p. 336). Brathwaite heard jazz as a Black music of movement that booms with the freedom to create. Brathwaite found African connections in this music and West Indian novels. He found it in shared rhythm. And as a poet, Brathwaite found rhythm everywhere, but especially in voice. Like Brathwaite, Gavsborg too finds rhythm everywhere. He listens to every sound, even the inaudible ones. And I mean EVERY SOUND. The Kevin from Ivory Coast EP was born from a soundless meme that I sent to Gavsborg in 2019. And in that blinking meme he found rhythm and set drums to match the pattern of opening and closing eyelids. That blinking meme set a sound in motion, ultimately evolving into the final track “Overboard.” In the literal blink of an eye, a producer got to work. And after a serendipitous trip to West Africa this March 2020, this producer was inspired to create this delicious appetizer of an EP. Gavsborg proves not only that sound is everywhere, but that inspiration is everywhere too. It is up to the creators to skillfully reveal it.
Arriving at the end of this heavy week, Kevin from Ivory Coast is just what is needed. The listener can dive in and know that even when we are “over-over-overboard,” as Shanique Marie repeats, we can be assured by the anchor of hip hop bass and we can dream on the whimsy of digital-diasporic-jazz-like improvisation. This is emancipation music.
01 Gavsborg – Did Not Make This For Jah_9
02 Gavsborg – Earth & Clan
03 Gavsborg – Overboard