Photo Credit: Lyle Owerko
Taking in the reality around him, the day to day is what inspires Fantastic Negrito. He notes of his latest album, Please Don’t Be Dead, “It’s a recurring theme in friendships and humanity in general,” adding, “I just like writing about the things that are around and happening.” Of course, something else that came into play was fear. Fear for his little ones at home. That is where were started but not where we ended as we had to touch on Fantastic Negrito’s extensive summer touring and what’s to come.
Kendra: There are a number of albums that revolve around love and loss, but Please Don’t Be Dead came from a sense of fear. The fear you have for your children with everything that’s going on in the world, in America. Are they old enough to understand not only the toxicity in the air around them but also your music?
Fantastic Negrito: Well I think they can feel it, children are very very intelligent, they’re perceptive, and they’re very very sensitive and can definitely feel vibrations 100 percent.
Kendra: You’re the second or third Grammy nominated artist I’ve gotten the chance to speak to, but the first winner. What is it like to have one of those statues around the house and where is yours?
Fantastic Negrito: Well, it’s an honor to be a Grammy Winner. It’s great, it’s amazing. It’s a very small fraternity or sorority of people who have won Grammys. But mine’s packed away. It’s not something that I wanted to focus on and don’t look for external validation. I really just want to be an artist, and I want to serve the people properly. I came up from the streets and I’m staying in the streets.
Kendra: Maybe on the road with you? You spent a great deal of May and June on the road. While being on tour is a blessing for an artist, it’s not always perfect. Other than missing home and loved ones, what’s the worst thing about heading out for a string of shows?
Fantastic Negrito: The worst thing about heading out for a string of shows? I don’t think there’s a worst part, I think it’s great. Of course, you miss loved ones, but I love my work.
You’re out there in the world, and you’re able to connect to people with art. I believe that music has the power to turn the world more in the direction of love, more in a direction of people listening to each other even when they disagree with each other. Actually listening and talking to each other and unifying people.When I was writing Please Don’t Be Dead, the theme was the art and the magic of the universal riff. The thing that unites people. Our beats, grooves, hand claps, and chants. I feel a great honor to be contributing something artistically to the world out there.
Kendra: Your last day on the books as of today is at the Boomtown Fair on August 8 in Winchester. Do you prepare for a festival-like setting differently than when it’s your own show at a more traditional venue?
Fantastic Negrito: Well I think you prepare for each show completely differently because audiences are different, people are different. At each venue, each particular group of people you get to on any given day are gonna give you a different feel because music is energy and you can’t fake that.
You just try to make that connection with them and try to serve them and to be as real and authentic as you can be because that’s truly the medicinal healing quality of music. Because musicians, artists, comedians, we can all be authentic — like Dave Chappelle — these people keeping it 100 percent real. We don’t have to lie like politicians. We can say what’s really going on.
Kendra: Please Don’t Be Dead dropped June 15th, and you spent a great deal of this summer touring. What else do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
Fantastic Negrito: The tour is the focus, it’s the opportunity to directly connect with people. I’m touring the US, then headed back to Europe, and ending the year in Australia – with a possible stop in Mexico. Beyond that, one of my songs is featured in the new movie Blindspotting, starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. It deals with changes in Oakland, which are like a lot of the changes happening in every major city. I’m also working on something for a couple of TV shows, and I have videos coming out, for “The Duffler” and “Bad Guy Necessity.”
My collective Blackball Universe is starting to work with other artists. We’re looking forward to venturing out into film. I love what Boots Riley just did (with his film Sorry to Bother You) and I think it’s an inspiration to the entire Bay Area. So I want to do more collaborations like I did with Candice Antique Davis on Please Don’t be Dead for “Bad Guy Necessity.” I also did a song with Gaby Moreno, I’m looking forward to doing more records with her. I love working with hip-hop artists like Mistah F.A.B.and Zion I.
It’s a great time to be an artist because again we really just want to kick the truth to people. I don’t’ think we have an agenda the way that a lot of the so-called leaders, no matter what side of the political spectrum. They’re engaged in dividing people along the lines of their differences where artists and musicians. We’re trying to unite people along the lines of differences, and I think it’s an extraordinary time to be an artist because we’re on the front lines.