In the Mix Today: From a celebration of soul music to the celebration of souls

Classically trained soul singer-songwriter Bilal performs at the Echoplex tonight

By Jennifer Cuevas

As we creep into Halloween happenings and Dia de los Muertos events, soul music takes the front seat. Philadelphia’s classically trained soul singer-songwriter Bilal takes center stage tonight in Echo Park as part of the popular soulful underground “KissNGrind” music series at the Echoplex. Bilal will perform in support of his new album, “Airtight’s Revenge,” on the Plug Research label and local electro-soul duo, J*DaVeY and Quadron Unplugged, open the night with DJ sets by Vikter Duplaix and Ms. Nix. Click here for ticket details.  I have a Q & A with the Philly-based artist and a peek into the new album at the end of the column.

Now from soul to a celebration of souls with a round up of holiday concerts and events. Click on the link below for the details and that Q & A with Bilal.

Eastside Café Echospaces’  7th Annual Dia De Los Muertos
Head to  El Sereno on Friday night for the first installment of Eastside Café Echospaces’  7th Annual Dia De Los Muertos event, with plenty of organic food, altar making and high-energy jarocho, for a fabulous fandango vibe. Day two of the event is on Saturday. The event boasts musical performances by Los Hermeneuticos (featuring members of Quetzal), L@s Cafeter@s, Las Ramonas, Guerilla Queens, Olmeca, Chicano Batman and a variety of performers in the arts. Day 1: 4 PM-9 PM, all ages, FREE. Day 2: 1 PM – 11 PM, all ages, FREE.

“Viva los Muertos”
Also on Saturday,  take a trip to the Autry National Center in Eastside adjacent Griffith Park, for an all-day “Viva los Muertos” affair with a live performance by avant-garde world music aficionados, Quetzal. The event also features art by acclaimed cartoonist, Lalo Alcaraz, Fr. Greg Boyle book signing (Homeboy Industries) and much more. Click here for ticket & program details.

Sonido Sundays
On Halloween, hop over to Sonido Sunday in at Little Temple in Silver Lake with DJs Sloe Poke, Higher and Expo. Think Latin infused rhythms and danceable beats from reggae to hip hop. Plus, come in costume and get a chance to win $200 in the costume contest.  Click here for ticket details.

Self Help Graphics’ “37th Annual Dia de los Muertos”
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, experience Self Help Graphics’ “37th Annual Dia de los Muertos” event at the East Los Angeles Civic Center. This leading Day of the Dead event in the country boasts a dozens of vendors, live silk screening by Hit&Run, the “Better To Die On My Feet” visual art exhibit and live music performances by artists such as “Los Jornaleros del Norte” and “La Bestia.”  Click here for event details.

Dia de los Muertos Music and Arts Festival at El Gallo Plaza
Also Tuesday, November 2nd, Al Borde Magazine, an online Latin music publication, celebrates its 6th Annual Dia de los Muertos Music and Arts Festival at El Gallo Plaza (the actual site of a former mortuary) in East Los Angeles. The annual event will include Day of the Dead merchandise and an altar and painting competition.  The group,  “La Santa Maria” will peform live. The event is 7pm-11pm, all ages, FREE. Click here for event details and RSVP online.

Q & A with Bilal

Q: Thanks for joining me tonight Bilal and welcome to L.A. I know you’re originally from Philadelphia. Do you still live there or somewhere in the east coast?
A: I’ve moved out of Philly, moved back to Philly, moved out of Philly, moved back to Philly… so it’s a working place for me. Definitely a working type of situation and now I just recently moved back again.

Q: You’re known for soul music with jazz sensibilities. Where does that sound manifest from and which artists inspire your sound?
A: I think the sound just comes from growing up how I grew up. I grew up singing in church as a young kid. When I would visit my dad on the weekends … he used to take me to his best friend’s jazz club which is called Zanzibar. I used to go there as a kid and between going there and seeing different bands it inspired me musically. That’s what gave me the bug to play music and want to have my own band. I’ve always been into jazz musician. My favorite is Miles Davis and it’s been that way since I was a kid.

Q: I understand you are classically trained in music, but what aspect?
A: I’ve studied classical voice for a while. I went to a performing arts high school and I studied classical music. When I left high school, I decided to go into jazz. That was the end of classical music after that.

Q: You have a new CD, “Airtight’s Revenge,” that was released September of this year, on local label, Plug Research. Can you give Th eEastsider  readers some insight into the types of tracks they’ll hear on the new album? What inspired you? Where can people purchase the album?
A: You can get the record on line …  iTunes, Amazon and a lot of stores out here in L.A., like Amoeba and F.Y.E. It’s all over the net for sale and what have you. You can link to Plug’s [Plug Research] site and probably get it also. As far as the record … it’s experimental for me. It’s coming from a singer-songwriter stance. I wrote a lot of the tunes just on piano and we made a track. I play with a lot of keyboard sounds and landscaping. It’s a pretty cool record. I speak about a lot of different topics as far as life … more like retrospective concepts … human being type things. I try to put a little something that everybody goes through … love, money, religion….

Q: Where does the title of the new album come from?
A:  The title of the album goes back to 1999. Common got me reading, “Airtight Lily and Me” and it’s written by Iceberg Slim. It’s about these two guys who are con artists and they set a lot of scams on people … but I liked the name. I kind of wanted to have a movie title for the record and revenge came to me. Then I started to think about my past history in this business, when I was about to put out an album in 2001 and the album I was working on got bootlegged. Then I went into this underground world of music. I still have this love and drive for music, but the revenge is my take on this drive I have inside of me. I pretty much produced a lot of the [new] record with Steve McKie, the drummer of my band. We pretty much recorded a lot of it at his studio. We put it on keyboard first then I worked with others like Shafiq Husayn, 88 keys, Nottz and Conley “Tone” Whitfield…but the record was kept on close even during that time. I wrote a lot of the tunes really organically…

Q: How’s the west coast tour going?

A: I’ve been on tour since the record came out. It’s been cool though. I wish we could be hittin’ it more as far as dates, but it’s been picking up.

Q: How many in the band?
A: Bilal: Keyboard, Bass, Drummer, Guitar, Vocalist and me. All together is six of us…

Q: Any guest artists or special elements for your Echoplex show on October 28? What time do you perform?

A: J*Davey is on the show. Quadraon is going to be playing. We [band] play like a jazz band would play using improvisation. That’s a spectacle in itself. We never know when stuff is going to happen. We approach the show from an improvisational aspect. I’ve written the record jazz tunes and I keep some open ended and so we have a lot of room to play with. The groove is up to how we feelin’, how we switch and vibe. I kinda got that from how Miles Davis wrote music…there’s a lot of room that way.

Q: Have you performed in Los Angeles before? Do you have a favorite place that The Eastsider readers may like to visit?
A: I’ve played in L.A. a lot but you know… my favorite place to be in L.A. is Little Tokyo cause I just like to show around there. I always make sure I stay in Little Tokyo. There are cool boutique t-shirt store– one of my favorite places to hang out.

Q: What are you listening to now?
A: The most recent CD’s that I brought have been Pink Floyd, Ariel Pink and uh…Parliament [Funkadelic]. I’ve been listening to Funkadelic..the early stuff when they were playing funk and rock…and em, oh yeah… I’ve been checkin’ out Miles Davis ‘Kinda Blue’ and ‘Birth of the Cool.’ I’m a big Miles Davis head so I’ve be listening to that too….

Jennifer Cuevas’ In the Mix appears weekly.  Please send press releases or story ideas, at least two weeks in advance, to jeneratemedia@gmail.com.

Top photo by Eric Coleman, courtesy of Plug Research

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