Nep Sidhu: Finding the Seams

Fresh off the Spaceship

Toronto-based omnidisciplinary artist Nep Sidhu realizes the infinite potentials of all materials: sound, space, or steel.

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Toronto-based omnidisciplinary artist Nep Sidhu realizes the infinite potentials of all materials: sound, space, or steel. The power of convening, invitation, and intention charges his artistic practice, informed always by spirit and service. In his hands and heart, unbroken melody and the throughline between worlds become manifest.

In this episode, we learn what drives Nep’s continuum of care, stewardship of culture, and dedication to truth. Nep and his closest conspirators observe the protection, possibility, and portal in his work—and the community that comes through the door.


If you’re in the Seattle area or want to make the trip, you can join KEXP at Clock-Out Lounge on Friday, May 27 for Fresh Off The Spaceship Live. The event will feature performances from Black Constellation artists Shabazz Palaces, Stas THEE Boss, Porter Ray, and more. 

Listen to a playlist of music from the episode below, and check out a transcript of the episode.
Support the show: https://www.kexp.org/fresh 


MAIKOIYO ALLEY-BARNES: My favorite artist is Nick Galanin, but my favorite wizard is Nep Sidhu. Nep is able to do things that I, honestly just capacity wise, and the technical side of it is one thing, but just the the breadth of the just kind of intersection of different just philosophies and disciplines is always just it's kind of mind boggling and it's expansive. It makes me feel just really, really deeply.

NICHOLAS GALANIN: You ride with Nep, the world's a different place man. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Money Yoga” from Don of Diamond Dreams ]

LARRY MIZELL, JR.: Welcome back to Fresh off the Spaceship. I’m Larry Mizell Jr. — DJ, writer, and your host in this podcast. 

LARRY: Throughout each episode, we’ve been diving into the story of the Black Constellation. The members, their work, and their stories. On the last episode, we spotlighted Erik Blood, the technical sorcerer of the Black Constellation, an sound ensualist and master craftsman in his own right… If you haven’t listened back to that or any of the previous episodes, do clear some space out and check those out. They provide valuable context into our next story. On this episode, we’re shining a light on the incredibly talented Nep Sidhu, 

[ MUSIC CUE:  Shabazz Palaces - “Solemn Swears” from Lese Majesty ]

an interdisciplinary artist based out of Toronto whose practice includes sculpture, painting, textile, video work, metal fabrication, fashion design and more - true to the Constellation’s core tenet of continuum…with an approach informed by his Sikh heritage and his deep passion for music. 

NEP SIDHU: if I allow one medium or practice to take up too much of my time, I've given it too much power. I've given it unnecessary power is maybe the better word because there's so much else in life that calls for you, you know, to. To work with and to imagine. 

NEP: you start seeing that it ends up resulting in. In the potential of something. And I think I think that right there. That right there is the distilled mechanism of, I would say, my making. Is a constant presence of potential. 

KAHIL EL'ZABAR: visually none of the approaches that he's done have been devices. They have all been instruments of change 

RAJNI PERERA: it's like architectural, it's poetic. The colors are like making my body, like, vibrate

STAS THEE BOSS: He speaks in these codes. Whenever you talk to him, it's very poetic, and I understand it completely as I. He speaks to your mind and your heart at the same time, it's wild. I love talking to him for that reason. 

Paradox of Harmonics // photo by Clare Gatto (courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit)

 

LARRY: Back in April, I went to Detroit for the opening night for Paradox of Harmonics, Nep’s first U.S. solo museum exhibition, currently on display at MOCAD, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, or at least it is at the time of this recording. The show closes on September 11th, 2022. and features a sculptural omni-directional sound system that was crafted with Devon Ojas and an Omniverse rotary mixer made in collaboration with Phi Baljufeaturing never-before heard remixes of Sun Ra by the late Detroit DJ and producer Mike Huckaby, who passed away from COVID-19 in 2020. His brother Craig Huckaby provided the never-before heard reels.

LARRY: Nep’s family is from India, Punjab to be specific, and are Sikhs, like most of the Punjabi population. An understanding of Sikhism, or Sikhi, provides an understanding of how Nep moves through the world, how he honors and connects with community, collaborators, and teachers.

LARRY: One of the core tenets is that of Seva, which has been as selfless service, dedication to others, or as explained by YouTuber Nanak Naam:

LARRY: “So the definition of Seva is somebody who serves this oneness.
Somebody who goes looking for this oneness is doing Seva.”

LARRY: Sikhi also emphasizes the importance of “inner listening,” as practice of collective meditation and remembrance—a practice that informs Nep’s foundational connection to vibration.

LARRY: The show was conceptualized as a “celebration of the creative legacy of Detroit sound,” and it encapsulates his love of the city… Growing up near Toronto, just a four-hour drive away, he found the Motor City enticing and romantic, the site and inspiration of his latest exhibition… 

NEP: It had an impact on me to be able to imagine you know, imagine a world. Imagine a sound. 

[ MUSIC CUE: “Dwele Beep Me” ]

NEP (continued):Imagine an aesthetic. Imagine a feeling. In my head was this world, you know, where that made sense. And Detroit birthed that type of imagination for me. And so to grow up to start to go towards Detroit and visit it and then see people really, you know, really getting to it. Especially from cats that were selecting records. It just made more and more sense. So it was a lot of that, you know, to speak sort of I guess from a larger sort of picture into what the sound was, what the sound represented and like how it you know, triggered all these, like, really imaginative ways to approach life. 

NEP: I feel that Detroit changed the musical landscape. It did not just turn the pages in the American Songbook. It created chapters inside of that and from that multiple other subchapters. The music that came after that done the same thing. Started and pioneered, originated in Detroit. And then it took up names and styles and genres and subgenres everywhere in the world. So those are all real patterns and they're very distinct patterns. 

NEP: And to think of melody making and both percussive elements that work together to shape this type of writing that influences the world. I don't think one can ignore the syncopation that comes from the factories where so many parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties, uncles all worked, in the sense and then later on their children went on to do this, you know, to do that thing. So I always saw this link between automation and manufacturing sort of innovation in the melody making as well of folks from Detroit. 

LARRY: Nep’s love for and examination of Detroit runs deep. His close collaborator and fellow traveler Rajni Perera sums it up:

RAJNI: Detroit is a big deal. It's a big ass deal for him. He started going there when he was quite young, you know, I think on his own. You know, he didn't really know people. He just loved the music. And then you start making friends. And when it was time to put this together, you know, they're there. When you're there for people, they're there for you. That shows up in Nep's work, especially as community centric as it is. I think it has to be that way. But it really is that way as well with him.

LARRY: Honoring and exalting community is a common function of those who call the Constellation family. Like the community that Nep found through his love for the music of Detroit, Nep’s response to the call he found in the first EP by Shabazz Palaces, would help generate another field of collective energy.

NEP: The Shabazz Palaces CD, CD-R. You know, no name of what this is. Well, when I heard the. Voice, I knew, of course, as so many did.

[ MUSIC CUE:  Shabazz Palaces - “Kill White T…” from Shabazz Palaces EP ]

NEP: Growing up in high school to Digable Planets, Ish was like, you know, in the cartoon category, what they'd say is a god emcee. Knowledge, strength, wisdom, style. All of it. And. Yes. It puts so many people onto on to so many things and just how imaginative it was. 

ISHMAEL BUTLER: He ordered the albums over online. The two first Shabazz joints. And like I said, it was a hundred percent hands on, so I fielded his email. I told him I would get it to him when I sent out our next orders. And he was like, Hey, listen, man, I just want to let you know, I'm an artist, you know? And I, a multi-disciplined artist, I do stuff you know? I got some ideas. I want to make some clothing and stuff for you. So I was just like, you know, he was a cool cat. He purchased the records. We was talking cool about, I was like Whatever man, you know, do your thing, you know? 

NEP: Listening to that. It brought back others like the. The engaging ideas of like that fashion has into the play within, you know, the function within it and and above all the attitude in you know. It had nothing to do with one wanting it to sort of share it or present it. It was just about wanting to make it. You know, to see it could it match it? Because it was all there, you know, all the information and all the attitude was there.

LARRY: Moved by Shabazz’s music, Nep took to cloth, catalyzing that inspiration and the grief he held after the passing of his mother. 

NEP: When they came out to Toronto, I had. At that time. With my mom having passed, I had worked on a tapestry. That was sort of her return to nature. And as I find out later, Ish's mom Barbara Jean had also passed in a similar manner, sort of in his care, and he had seen her go to her next place. And so. I guess with that sort of weight and with that sadness. I made this sort of tapestry and I was trying to deal with the moms having gone 
 
LARRY: That was when we met. You came to the merch table and you said you had this tapestry for Shabazz.

LARRY: At a merch table you get hit with a lot of propositions and a lot of gas, a lot of dreams, you know? But your approach, your earnestness, your energy. You know, it was clear that you had an understanding of Why we were all there that night that was deep. And I mean, I've told you this many times, I thought you were a holy man of some sort, because just the humility but also the important intention that I felt when you were talking about what you were presenting and why you were there. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “A Mess” from Shabazz Palaces EP ]

LARRY: Trust in a design beyond their own would forge the connection between Ishmael and Nep. The next day, the band had a day-off in Toronto, and Ish invited Nep over to hang…

NEP: He was like, What are you doing tomorrow? Why don't you come in the morning the room and we can just like, you know, chill for a sec. And, you know, bring that tapestry and take a look at it. And I was like, Cool. 

LARRY: That same day, at that same time, Nep’s father was seeking spiritual counsel, in his own grief.

NEP: My pops was trying to see this Peruvian. Kind of medicine woman and a healer. And he was still dealing with the weight of my mom not being here. And he wanted to just see a possibility if it was possible to be able to see her and see if she's okay, wherever she is. And there. Appointment was at 11 a.m.. For the day that I'm about to go see is just on the side if you keep that. 

NEP: So I go off to issue this tapestry. And then we're just like. Chillin for a second. I go. Oh, man. Yeah. There was a track last night, you know, you came out to. It was like this, uh, Ethiopian number. Thunderous, you know, like before you came on onto the stage it was playing. Is that like, was that something you made, or was that some old like. And he goes, Oh. No, you got to hear this. I hear this track. He goes hold up. So he goes into his set up, pulls out his laptop, and let's just put the speakers up. So we're just on the edge of the bed, like looking at the speakers as he set them up. Because got to hear this track. Now he hits play and it starts banging and it's like, woo 

NEP: So now my keep in mind my pop's. Appointment with this healer is like that. 11 a.m. meaning like they're going to be getting into their reading in the motion with the. Traveling by 12. So. We’re listening to this beautiful song. And then. Knock, knock, knock. Someone at the door. Ish goes over and it's a lady. She's got like a white hijab piece on with, like the Sheraton Hotel bib over top. And she’s like, Can I come in? This. You know, I shouldn't do this and Ish islike. Yeah. She comes in. And she goes. So this. Music. Who? Who sent you here to play this? You know. We go? She goes, Who? Who sent you to play this music? No one plays this music. Not even any, you know, not even Ethiopians. Why you. Why are you playing this? Ish goes oh you know It's just it's a. You know, something that feels really special and. Like, you know, I'm. A musician and, like. It it kind of, like, holds weight and charges me. And she goes, you know, two of my brothers that are dead are singing on this. So I'm asking you two. Who has sent you to here? Ish goes Okay, hold on. He goes. So this song like I've asked or I've had it translated. And what does it mean to you? For you. And she goes, Ah, this, this song is. She said. She laughs. And she goes, No, this song. You two will find out. What it is. But I must go. I won't. I won't say this. I must go. And just as she came, she left. Man. We're back to just being sitting here man in this. Sheraton room. You know. And Ish is like man. Like, What do you want to do? I go, actually, man, I got this. I really want to. I want to make these clothes, my man. But like. I'm sorry. You know, I don't got nothing to show you. Like just that unfolded sort of tapestry. Now it's in the corner of the room that's. He goes, all right, man, like, you know. Just. All good manners. So we need. Like you just go for it. I trust it. You know, we'll figure it out. In the film. From that point on, man, it was Paradise Sportif. And. It was. It was just built off the attitude and just sheerly off the call and response to the music and. You know, sometimes people would speak on it like it's it's meant to be exclusive or. And I get it within, you know, once you start using the idea of exclusivity in fashion, there's also a luxury also attaches itself to it then. And I appreciate and understand all of those intentions or marketing strategies and stuff like that, but. It's not why I was. It just wasn't why I was doing it. It was really to keep the attention and the focus on. Moving slowly in response. And growing that response and then experimenting off that response and seeing what other feelings came of it but listening at all times.

"Black Constellation Gang Vest” by Nep Sidhu // Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum

 

LARRY: His own response would be grow to be a key marker of the collective’s membership. Nep’s relationship with Ish and the Black Constellation inspired the creation of the  non-commerical clothing line, Paradise Sportif, designed to be the collective’s armor and adornment. You may have seen any number of items, from t-shirts sporting esoteric symbology, to stunning bespoke items like the exquisitely embroidered Black Constellation Gang Vest, the fur-collared leather knife-cape, or the red basketball jersey with the gold rope collar and the Arabic word for “FREE” stitched on its front, in a nod to the Shabazz song “Free Press and Curl”...just to name a few.

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Free Press and Curl” ]

NEP: It was born out of that trust, in and out of my love for the brother, you know, in what he makes. And being able to me make something that makes him feel good, you know, in the world, you know, whether he's you know, it's not even that he's on stage with it. It's just when he's walking, walk in the room or walking in airports, man, like on the way to getting it, you know? To make work that that feels good in all of those moments that that's what's really important.

ISHMAEL: I thought he was having some T-shirts or something, you know, with like "SP" on the front or something, the cat had like five like garment bags full of stuff and I was like, What is this cat, right? So he starts pulling out the stuff man jackets and pants and crazy embroidery and leather work and different type of materials. I was like, Man, who is this dude, man? So over the years, it started to dawn on me more and more as the stuff I was seeing he was making and producing - sculpture, clothing, running a metal fashion factory, over, up in Canada and just like drawings and knit stuff and rugs, and I was just like, Okay. So you know, he's just. Yeah, that that that brotherhood, how we, he and I sort of started running with each other was, was next level. You know what I mean? And that's really how we all came about. We all met each other through some other person that was already in the crew, and the vetting of it is kind of um. Really easy, you know, because it's like how you vibe, how you roll, where your mind is at, we tend to let everybody do their thing and really have an open arms to people's personalities and stuff like that, and it's just like a family thing, you know?

NEP: Paradise Sportif, doing it with Ishmael. It was meant to be an experience that when you saw the brother plays and it wasn't really something that was up for consuming by way of purchasing it. But it was definitely up for consuming in the way of an offer, in the way of an offer of an experience, in the way of an offer that maybe makes other cats get to cut and get to, you know, shaping, get to thinking and forming ideas and esthetics. It to me, it felt it would have been interrupted if it was kind of put up for sale. The energy in the center where it came from would have got interrupted, cause then I would have been answering all these other things and the energy of it kind of would have been a little unfocused. So by just keeping it on ish and the music. I think it falls in line of an an attitude that's come before it, you know. And instead of trying to. Get down by the landscape or complain of what's not happening, like, oh man, fuck that like this, you know, take some action to it and center the attitude on it and share man with the brothers and sisters. 

LARRY: Nep began collaborating with other members of the Constellation, like Nicholas Galanin; 

[ MUSIC CUE: Silver Jackson - “We Drowned in Our Own Love” from Starry Skies Opened Eyes ]

the resulting visual and conceptual call-and-response between the two artists fashioned a new continuum between cultures constantly battling erasure and state-sanctioned violence, as seen in the installation titled No Pigs in Paradise, created as a response to missing and murdered women in Alaska, Canada, and India…

"No Pigs in Space" by Nep Sidhu and Nicolas Galanin // photo courtesy of the Surrey Art Gallery

 

NICHOLAS: I think about what first struck me when I first started on this, did some of the work Nep was doing, you know, some of the pigs in paradise working with some of the gowns and some things that I was fortunate enough to be brought into and collaborative space. But the closest understanding of that work that I could relate to it from my perspective was that this was this was not seasonal fashion. This was not a trend. This was this was ceremonial in our culture at ooh regalia, things that have, you know, significant importance beyond those things.

MAIKOYO: Even in the face of people regularly requesting access to it via. Exchange can only be like monetary or you know what I mean? Otherwise, like, you know, having some frame of reference for the commercial side, it's not just art, but fashion. That's the thing that's really, really rare, though, like Nep's adamant about the work staying embedded in ritual and embedded in kind of the sovereignty that is outside of capitalist model, very like, rare. Because I think a lot of people try to create exclusivity for the sake of making a thing desirable, you know, as opposed to it being like a something that is truly embedded in, in the work, you know? I mean, it's very rare to find something that is that wasn't created for the sake of being for sale, no matter what people may say. You know what I mean? Like, I think there's a lot of people, oh, this, you know what I mean? Like, "you couldn't pay me enough for that." But, like, authentically, there are things that never makes that he has no intention of them ever being in certain hands.

LARRY: As it’s been mentioned, Nep’s line of best fit connects him frequently back to vibration, to music. One example is his work as the Art Director of London-based label Spiritmuse Records, whose motto is “music for the spirit.” We spoke with founders Mark Gallagher and Thea Ioannou…

THEA IOANNOU: we believe that his vision and his outlook and his art as an artist is just a different level. Is a different league. And we are so blessed to have him as the art director of the label.

THEA: He has a vision about each album that has to do with the artist and the music. And this is why it's so important because then the physical product including the artwork becomes a visual manifestation of the music and its message.

THEA: Both the name and the tagline is Music for the Spirit. So the spirit, spiritual music, music with a message is something that, you know, we care deeply about, Nep cares deeply about, you know, and I mean, it's so strong in all of his art, this spirit presence. So that's why, you know, we're just so appreciative and so grateful to be… 

MARK GALLAGHER: …on this journey together. 

THEA: And to be on this journey with him.

LARRY: One of the key artists that releases music via Spiritmuse, and in fact the reason Nep started to steward the label’s visual identity, is Chicago-based jazz multi-instrumentalist Kahil El'Zabar. 

Album artwork by Nep Sidhu // courtesy of Spiritmuse Records

 

[ MUSIC CUE: Kahil El’Zabar - “In My House“ from Kahil El’Zabar’s Spirit Groove ]

LARRY: Kahil joined the storied Chicago collective AACM, or the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, back in 1971; he went on to found the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Along the way he collaborated with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone. Kahil and Nep met seven years ago when Nep, and fellow BC member Maikoyo Alley-Barnes, attended one of Kahil’s concerts in Toronto…

KAHIL: when Nep and I hooked up and you know, see, there was this, you know, younger person that was just simpatico in the same mind space, in the universal, soulful consciousness. And, you know, that was very inspiring. Let me know I'm not out here alone.

KAHIL: Maikoyo, he, and I ended up staying up to about five in the morning just, you know, talking about life on a lot of different levels and art, all that kind of stuff and. You know, he had made me these garments before he had ever met me.  And so then he presented them to me. You know, he said there were certain people that he wanted to adorn with protection. We've been close ever since, you know, in collaboration, dialog, exchange, you know, whatever the energy is.

NEP: seeing them put things on and then them like taking shape right in front of me. Is a different experience to the rest of the work I make. You know, sculpture being one thing or tapestries being one thing, there is. Yeah, there's absolutely an invoking that kind of happens,

EL MIZELL: Kahil ended up becoming a mentor and inspiration to them both. 

KAHIL: He and Maikoiyo were, you know, handsome, you know, very strong young men and. You know, I just, you know, expressed certain kind of obstacles that had happened in my journey having, you know, a similar kind of life path as a warrior. If you're about growth and evolution, obviously at different phases, you're going to see things in a particular manner that will shift. If it doesn't shift, then you're on a more low frequency. You know, if you're on a high frequency, you're constantly evolving. So, you know, I shared with them some things where I was at.

KAHIL: they make me feel proud and excited about the possibilities of the future, the relationship, because I was already on this very high frequency. And so, man, what a gracious place to be, in you know, high frequency. Because so much shit out here taking. You know, the energy down. So, you know, when we meet spirits that are really uplifting, if you can't appreciate that, then it's to your disadvantage.

LARRY: Whatever the medium, or materials, Nep turns dissonance and harmony into conduit, like free jazz cast into concrete, silk and steel. It comes with a distinctive stylistic fingerprint, and a relentless work ethic, as discussed in this conversation between fellow Constellation members  and frequent collaborators Maikoyo Alley-Barnes and Nicholas Galanin… 

[ MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Note 43” from Jar ]

MAIKOYO: Some of the things that Nep has done and then some of the really finite things that he's done, that language that he's I don't want to even I don't want to say creative, but that has been perhaps shared with him in that he's been a vessel for. But I mean, everything from, you know, the work the video work that he's done to, you know, all the way up to the work that, you know, just showed in Detroit. Like there is a definite like esthetic throughline that is as varied as the work is that is just pronounced in the work man, which is, you know, just very rare, an art historical kind of way for considering how, you know, like vast, you know, the different mediums might be. You know. 

NICHOLAS: I got to say to the his work intersecting with music the way it does is major but music and sound is such a large part of aspects of the work that I see him continually building, seeing this life, this life, this thread through it, whether it's with Ish. 

MAIKOIYO: Career or with, I mean, yeah, the recent stuff that he did with, you know, the like even the collaboration with Devin, that that's the kind of is resulted in this newer work and the work with the Huckabees also. I mean, that's the other thing I want to say. And I do this like probably one of the dopest deejays awesome. Like if you get the luxury of ever catching an absolute set like that's special. Him and Todd together special you know, like dude's pretty much good at everything he does. Like, really, really good at it, one would argue. World class, I don't know. I've also just had the opportunity to see him like in a completely different professional capacity and do this as kind of elegant about that as he is about, you know what I mean? The other work and I think that's you know that's a term I'd use with the do about the dude is is you know there's an elegance to the guy in. And it's. I you know, I wouldn't disrespect what he does by referring to it as effortless because there's definitely a great amount of. 

NICHOLAS: His work. 

MAIKOIYO: Ethic is always working. You know, and I mean, that's and at times I know we all get concerned about him in regards to that. But like it's elegant, you know, and it's effort and grace. Very, very graceful. And gracious. Special cat.

[ MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Note 43” from Jar ]

LARRY: Nep was raised in the Scarborough area of Eastern Toronto, nurtured, fed and informed by the deeply diverse mix of cultures of his neighborhood.

NEP: Scarborough is beautiful, man. Only when I started moving around in the world, I saw. I saw how rich Scarborough really was. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Noel Brass Jr. - “Lesser known quasars“ ]

NEP (continued): You know, because you take, anything around you, you kind of end up taking it for granted until you actually get perspective and. You know, I grew up around. Obviously everything that was Punjabi But then. Various Islamic communities. Sunni Shiite Ismaili communities to. Trinidadian, Guyanese, Sri Lankan, a lot of West African diaspora. Uh. A lot of folks from the islands and, you know, specifically Jamaican Saint Lucian. Um.

NEP: Scarborough kind of shaped that sort of world perspective in a real neighborhood way? You know, I saw the world that way when I stepped out into the world and traveling so much was familiar just because of Scarborough. You know, and then when I when I would return to it, I then started to really understand and appreciate how much has always been around me in that sense. 

LARRY: Nep’s collaborator, the brilliant artist Rajni Perera, too, hails from Scarborough.

RAJNI: I have a theory that it's been built on top of, like, nuclear waste and, like, things, because it's such a like parts of it are totally a wasteland. And I think that our physiology has been slightly altered because of that. That's why we're so weird and awesome. [I love it]

LARRY: Nep’s curiosity and compulsion as an artist began early, but his explorations as a kid were often misunderstood. 

NEP: I was a really poor student in school. And I got into a lot of trouble. Some of that trouble was I was like sometimes obsessively drawing in in books that weren't meant for art class. And at one point in all, my teachers in public school got together and put like all their, like, books together, like a god damn lawyer team for meet the Teacher night. And so they put all their books together and evidenced that I was like maniacally sketching and not not learning or listening to anything in class. And at that time, the thing I was sketching was A lot of like corpses and a lot of sort of Kind of acts of death. And I wasn't morbid in my head and I was not I was I had no dark thoughts of that. But like, to me, it was like technically like the most challenging stuff to draw. So, like, I would get like magazines like Fangoria or like those old horror magazines, and I would always start to draw like, you know, the body of the corpses in these movies. But then they gathered all these and saw all this work. And it's just I became A real failure sort of of school. And I started to drift away from like my parents having kind of any hope of me bringing any value to myself or to them in that. So that was a little tough. So music was a huge music offered like a huge place for me to feel. That like what I had going on inside was, was okay at least when the headphones were on. You know, I felt I felt all right when I had the headphones on. 

LARRY: Nep pursued his own flavor of education in the library, watching old VHS tapes:a documentary about Duke Ellington, episodes of The Nat King Cole Show, or of SOUL!, the highly influential series of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Watching SOUL!, Nep was particularly impacted by the multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

NEP: I remember Rahsaan specifically speaking in that interview and being like, You know, when when he's asked, what instruments do you play? He goes through all the horns, goes through percussion as well. And then he says, you know, and then I play I forget. I think it was a flute, a type of flute. He goes, I play that with my nose. You know which Rahsaan would do. But he goes, you know, I stopped all that now because, you know, people people don't understand what it is I'm doing with that. They think it's a joke. You know where I'm actually I can understand I can understand other ideas and other presentations of of feelings. And then he just continues on, you know, but I could see like this kind of. I remember watching that young and I could feel his disappointment in humans kind, you know, not understanding him. And also the ability to move on then too. And so. Yeah. Those moments had a lot of impact on me, man. 

LARRY: You were seeing Soul. As a as as as a young one. And you are getting this education self-directed at the library, you know, via music.

NEP: Yeah. The library is really where it all happened for me after high school, too, because, you know, I kind of didn't really graduate, and it was like. After the fact. And yes, I have you know, to be honest, I was looked at As a failure or not, not going to really make it in the world as much. And that that kind of has a large impact on you when you're young, because you kind of get written off in a way. And that's okay. That's not no hurt or blame, to. You know, there's just misunderstandings sometimes when we're young. But I guess what happened there is that I ended up having a relationship to books and knowledge and. Transcripts, man that Actually provided me with an example of what education looks like. You know, and and when I was shown education in a way that was seductive, I, I ran towards it because it made me feel like there was a chance, you know? Frank Lloyd Wright was a huge example. The way he, the way he shaped education around craft and total awareness towards one's surrounding and then being able express narrative by that surrounding in the means of. Infrastructure and residence and public space and and private moments within facilities like that to me was the jazz, you know what I mean? Like to be able to do that and then to look at someone's renderings, like architectural Renderings, I started to become obsessed by, you know, that was like I started to see the way cats were like slanging their ideas into a presentation of a building.

[ MUSIC CUE: Space Afrika - “Meet Me At Sachas” from Honest Labour ]

LARRY: Building was in his blood. His father worked in a Toronto metal shop, starting as a sheet metal mechanic. Starting at the age of 13, and to this very day, Nep worked in the same metal shop as his dad, fashioning, among other things, precision components of medical and military equipment; it would naturally become part of his artistic practice, another knife in his belt. 

NEP: Being around metal for that long has ended up being a gift in the way that it ended up being a real curriculum. It allowed me to start to understand the sophistication of the people within Rwanda whose smelting practices have been have shaped a lot of the world's technology, to be honest. And, you know, they smelted in that way because. They saw smelting as a metaphor of life. Sex, romance, farming, cultural production. All those things made them adventurous in how they smelted. And what crystallized from that smelting ended up being knowledge transfer to other places. Some of that knowledge came down to Sri Lanka. You know, from Sri Lanka, it came back up to Punjab. From those same Rwandan smelters. The form that it took by the time it came to Punjab and how we used it was we had smelted steel to the point of crystallizing it into what they call woot Steel. And that steel was superior in the field of battle. 

[ MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Ulmma“ from Jar ]

NEP (continued): So even although the odds were greatly against us as Sikhs in terms of invading armies, we were able to survive without going through conversion, slavery and disappearance. But it is our steel that saved, saved us. It is also our our our will in how we use that steel. But getting back to the technology of that. I'm grateful, you know, in the life that I've spent around metals to be able to understand that, acknowledge it and to participate in some of the sharing of that. And it is very different than how I entered it, but it couldn't have happened any other way to the point of now where it sits in what some folks might see as the adornment that I make or the sculpture, the object of that I make it. It comes from these different types of intuitions and brilliance of people who were so hyper aware of what was in their surroundings that they could will an object that could be charged with such, you know, intention and function.

LARRY: Working in metal provided a portal to inspiration in all kinds of ways.

NEP: The welder I used to work beside had a long a long form radio transistor. And it was like a military model. And then eventually at one point for my birthday, he said he gave me the radio. He was like, I know you're always listening to my radio and I know you're always like. You know, take mine and like you weld much better when you have my radio. So I want you to have it. And I was like, you know, over the moon, man. I took this radio home, and I just formed this, like, incredible relationship to to talk radio and to all these things because I could catch stations in Buffalo and Detroit, especially. And beyond. But, man, once I got locked to Detroit, I had everything I needed when I was under the covers, man, because I used to be able to, like, go into the world. 

[ MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “Time of Day” from Jar ]

NEP (continued): And I think kids had this relationship to radio back then, you know, because it also allowed me to feel like an adult for those hours. Maybe, maybe that was also like a point or like I was never being taken serious by adults. Maybe there was some, some leanings into that. But man at night I would look so forward to like just finishing my dinner and like getting under the covers and putting on my radio. And I was also, at the time, able to catch The Electrifying Mojo. And when I heard that, that that kind of changed so much, you know, he was. He was such an incredible orator, theatrical, cinematic. Just the voice alone. 

NEP (continued): He understood what like the potential of what could happen in in in selecting sound in context and placement. And he would he would play with that. What he would put, you know, in front and behind the parliament record made the parliament record fucking crazy. Woo. Crazy. He made a P record sound like anything he wanted it to sound like.

LARRY: Though Nep was always an artist, as a young man it was the soccer field that was the canvas he thought he’d be dedicating his life to. Much like the metal work, that was a path he followed his father down.

NEP: My pops was into soccer, he was, it saved his life. He was, you know, dealing with being a troubled youth in England and then was sort of moved over to, like, a boys club. And from there kind of shown sports as a way out or sports to also help organize within your community or to give give another type of action outside of all the trouble for a reason to hang out or be together. And so soccer always served him that example. And he's spent the rest of his life paying that back to to to the youth, to kids, being up here in Scarborough or back home in Punjab, where we run a boxing school for girls and boys. It's really born out of that. How sport kind of saved my my dad.

LARRY: Nep had dreams of playing soccer professionally, but his aspirations were cut short when he broke his leg. Not one to stay stagnant, he quickly shifted his energy toward other outlets, and met fellow artist Todd Westendorp.

TODD WESTENDORP: yeah, when, when we met it wasn't it. That dream I think had already died for him. And so I was maybe seeing him, you know, through him, you know, wanting to begin something different, you know, a different path. And so, I can imagine there was an excitement and and it was a desire to find a different outlook of expression.

[ MUSIC CUE: Erik Blood - “The Exchange” from Canons, Vol. 1 ]

LARRY: Todd Westendorp, who created the graphic identity of this very podcast,  is a gifted designer and selector that met Nep in high school, finding common ground and visual cues in library stacks and dusty record store bins they combed.

TODD: we were both just, you know, self-taught and, you know, just sharing ideas back and forth through emails and stuff and, you know, and that led to him like making a sculpture out of just like a computer graphic I had made, like without even telling me. And one day he was like, Oh, check this out. Like, Oh, shit.

TODD: you know, a couple of years later, we decided to, you know, make some T-shirts and take our ideas of, like, fictional concerts for, like, Minnie Riperton and Stevie Wonder, just making, like, fictional tour posters and stuff and turning those into t shirts. 

LARRY: This idea turned into a short-run shirt line called Equinox Forward. One of their shirt designs hit close to home, and anticipated a future connection of brotherhood.

TODD: The Mizell one was inspired by the song, what was it, "yesterday is cool" off the Johnny Hammond Gambler's Life record.

[ MUSIC CUE: Johnny Hammond - “Yesterday was Cool” from Gambler’s Life ]

LARRY: Yeah, Yeah.

TODD: And I had this old Expo 67 book where it had all this really cool architecture from that year in Montreal and just kind of took the graphic and, you know, just like always a nod to the past. Like everything, you know, through the music we listened to, it was always a nod to, you know, the music of the past that influenced us. So, you know, taking a look at old architecture and then connecting it to the music. And that song title specifically, you know, I thought was, you know, creating a visual that sort of bridged the two together and reminding people of, you know, who either didn't know about the Mizell brothers or who did know about the music and just, you know, connecting it to a visual

NEP: Man we made a shirt about your dad. Ain't that a thing?

LARRY: Yeah, man, I remember that was like one of our earliest kind of phone conversations. You told me that, and I was like, Hold on. I was, like, looking at my phone, I was like is something I, you know, and I'm not that.

NEP: Yo man, your pops man was, you know so much. Is that the work they done? The connectors they were and. And how they invigorated, you know, entire generations after them to understand not just the music they made, but what came before that. And after that, there's only a few set of individuals that do that specific type of connecting, which is why there there are, you know, more relevant probably now or have always continued to be. And there's like every five years there's a new crop of listeners or a resurgence towards your dad and your uncle and family, you know? And it's just it's captivating, man. 

LARRY: The thing that keeps artists relevant and captivating throughout their careers and fresh at any age, is an insistence to keep learning. To never stay stagnant. Kahil El-Zabar notes this quality in both Nep and Ish.

KAHIL: what's happening in terms of his rhythm and how it's gravitating community is is quite special. But it's the reason that Ish was is really great basketball player and was strong enough to go to his attraction which was the art and that he studied the business because of his natural instinct of independence in order to then get. You know, to the music then to win a Grammy and not be intimidated to become a part of the popular fodder. And what I'm saying about Ish is in multiple textures in that relationship of his ability to create art. And from that we all build community and we're blessed where ego doesn't block our ability to trust. So that that energy grows with the others.

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “MEGA CHURCH (feat. Stas THEE Boss)” ]

LARRY: With all the various methods, perspectives, and lessons he’d found through his self-determined education, he began to see the thing that connected them all, reflected in his work in metal and textile.

NEP: Welding specifically allowed me to start seeing things in dimension. I was in. Like I was constantly sketching at all times. Often times not in the right places. But I was. I was sketching like a madman for most my youth. But welding allowed me to see how something could take place with dimension. And if you paid attention to seam, then so much was possible. And the science of of of seams. You know, lands you into so many worlds. 

[ MUSIC CUE: KMRU - “A Meditation of Listening” from Logue ]

NEP (continued):If you start to pay attention to seams, you can start to get yourself through, you know, an idea in fashion and adornment. Seams seams have so much information. To execute seams. There is practice. There is needing to be around mastery sometimes to understand how it's done or the possibility of how it's done, you know, and I think coming up, I encountered some of that when I would look in look to Japan and look to Belgium and see the, you know, what they call the Antwerp six or in Japan, Issey Miyake. Yohji Yamamoto. I started to see not just how brilliant their silhouettes, shapes, construction deconstruction was. I started to then see how much attention they paid to the way they presented their ideas. And how imaginative that was, and in sometimes not knowing where the magic lies. Was it in the presentation? Was it in the narrative or was it in the stitch? You know, and then that that that's I was so magnetized by by what I saw. And and then but it came back to seams, you know, always to me, and the possibility that is in seams. And if you pay attention enough to the history of what people have done, with seams, I think you can start to slowly imagine then the possibility of what else can be done. 

LARRY: Nep continued to follow possibilities from one medium to another, and even to his broader work with the Black Constellation. We’ll explore that more after a short break.

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Suspicion of a Shape“ from Lese Majesty ]

"Confirmation" by Nep Sidhu // courtesy of the Frye Art Museum

 

JUSMONI: I can't recall the first time that I met Nep Sidhu, but I do know that in meeting him it felt like I had known him for a long time before and I've always felt really connected to him in that way. Our families are similar in the way that we talk about the protection of women, that we talk about the protection of our sacred scripts, and in the way that we talk about our work. I've, you know, got to work alongside him in curating programming for Your Feast has Ended, one of the best art shows, one of the best exhibitions that has ever shown in Seattle, ever. 

LARRY: That exhibition Moni is speaking on, curated by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes at the Frye museum would be a pivotal moment for the Constellation, a crucible that forged new ideas and conversations made manifest.

NEP: Maikoiyo was in discussions already and had things in the air had done things prior. At that point at various places, in various ways in and outside of Seattle. But in this particular instance was starting to form a plan. For an exhibition that would be himself, Nicholas Galanin and me. You know, MAB man, he picked two wild ass Indians.

LARRY: Maikoiyo, having opened up the conversation with the Frye, saw an opportunity for connection.

MAIKOIYO: I thought, well, I could say: I would do this, this and this, or I could say we would do such, such and such, and I chose we over I. It was unquestionably going to be a more robust experience with all those parties involved.

NEP: You know, invitation is like the elixir here. It is the conduit. 

[ MUSIC CUE: ADR - “Open Invitation” from Mono No Aware 

NEP: He saw, you know, me, he saw vision and he saw things in my practice. I hadn't been really in shows, definitely not even in a museum show. But none of that none of that mattered in what Maikioyo was seeing.

NEP: I'm thankful to. To what Maikoiyo feels. But probably more so how he interprets, you know.

LARRY: Nicholas and Maikoyo speak to the unique dynamic of collaborating they have with Nep.

NICHOLAS: It's not a project, it's not a one time thing. It's like a, it's like a conversation. Yeah. And that's been picked up yet. Sat down and gets carried. It gets moved and it's always been like that. 

MAIKOIYO: No. I think that's another thing that, that, that's really,. I. Think this kind of notion, that collaboration like that's really earnest. What just about, you know, to be these kind of specific to the project and it's like, you know, it has to be more than just that. It has to be, you know, conversations that are, you know, sometimes kind of cliffhanger and sometimes are, you know, very specific and targeted to though, but, you know, sometimes kind of seem non-sequitur you to write like and like or like informed by by sometimes the things that are unsaid, right? Like the spaces between the words and like what's shared. 

NICHOLAS: I've never had collaborations like that in this space, you know, collaborate heavily musically. That's a whole of the process. But in the visual art world and and build it. Make it, we're. We're engaging in these conversations and they pass through time, they pass through borders, they pass through experiences of many things. And always met with care with Nep. 

MAIKOIYO: Care. Yeah. That's a good. That's. Yeah. Handled with care. That's a, that's a, you know, the shipping and handling. You know what I mean.

LARRY: MAB and Nep would collaborate on the short film Black (W)hole, a family affair that featured Maikoiyo’s uncle Wayne and some of Nep’s Punjabi family.

NEP: And that goes back to the idea of invitation. You know, that Maikoiyo invited me into that and into his family and that has turned into these other relationships. And so when we made Black (W)hole, it was an interpretation of of that, too. Very much so. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Erik Blood - “the Ink Ran Through” from Canons Vol. 1 ]

NEP (continued): I think that's why we're able to search the way we do when we make work like that. And make a film that is centered around search, being a home search, not being always just a middle place or a in-between. Where when you're, you know, with all these said individuals that have been searching all their life. I think that's important to acknowledge because search sometimes can feel very lonely. You know, and we do it for long periods of time, it can feel unhealthy. But. When you find others that are searching like you are. Just for proximity, you know, not to not to resolve and not to solve any one thing. But just searching because that's where it's at, you know, that's where that that's where that's where it's formless. That's where it's at all times. Shifting at all times. That's why I like the the genre shit and like the stopping to classify and to call it one thing or the other usually ends up being… An attempt to try to hold something still, that is. Is constantly in movement by nature and when you capture a set of individuals that kind of understand that and that do that thing without needing to speak on it and do it boundlessly through craft, through care, through words, through percussion. This is beautiful, man. It's beautiful. You know, we oftentimes don't stop to call it any names, but, you know, since they stopped and called this the black constellation. Well, it's it's a lot to be summed up into it, you know.

LARRY: We talk about continuum a lot in this series. That happens to be the title of a series of stunning works Nep created, that I first saw during Feast.

LARRY: I just remember falling into your Continuum series and it was just so hugely compelling to me.

NEP: Continuum was like. You know, as a Sikh it’s. I feel it's more like a sound, you know, like a melody, because we believe in unbroken melody. We like a kankar to us is this idea of the sound before the sound. Which then registers into what some might call the unstruck sound. Being able to hear unstruck sounds. 

It's very possible. Being able to make unstruck sounds is impossible. So the idea of a one handed clap say you can't make a sound of a one handed clap. But there are frequencies in some tenors, and some capacities that some will all have. But some can come into awareness that allow them to hear these unstruck melodies. Unstruck sounds. Continuum, I think is is sits in that sort of realm. Because it's not so tangible. You know. 

And sometimes when things aren't so tangible in a place that. Seeks to consume in a certain way. In the idea of in the ideas that were in the feast, I think. I think Continuum is is a noble sound. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Portal North - Panthera” from Don of Diamond Dreams, then Laraaji - “Space Choir” from Flow Goes the Universe ]

NEP (continued): And, you know, it didn't cosign the. Proclivities of the marketplace. You know, because, like. It didn't it didn't lie back and relax in like in the dungeon with the pigs, And for all these things, it. Some some say it had died, but a lot of people like welcomed that death for quite a while. You know, and and if we understand that the moneylenders of that situation, of that marketplace, some of them have never, ever known the difference between, you know, what they say, the difference between an auction and the auction block, you know, between a temple and. And whatever else that they want to sell. They've never known that there's an identity to anything other than that of like a hustle shuck, a scam mascotting. You know? And if you listen to them long enough, you'll be. 

You get into that mode where everything really is up for sale at a point. You know, where where there's no recognition, there's no sort of difference between the distance of the sacred and the profane. 

So I guess continuum here ends up being. A melody that comes that people have always been producing and listening to outside the realm of institutions and marketplaces. 

So it's beautiful to hear that there was these brothers and sisters that were willing to do something about raising that sound. Not just in response of the places that couldn't hear it as it wasn't about that. Or then it was. It was about something that always was. You know definitely was not even though the title. Originally being O Ye Parasites, you know, Your Feast Has Ended. 

The show. The show was about the said parasites at all. You know, they were you know, there there was a part they played, you know, that perhaps needed to be raised. But it wasn't central to the show at all. You know.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) // photo by Toni Hafkenscheid (courtesy of Mercer Union)

 

LARRY: Nep’s culture and faith inform his works, and in the case of his show Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), it engaged with a deeply tragic and recent chapter of his cultural history - the Sikh genocide set off by India’s 1984 attack on their Golden Temple.

NEP: Medicine for a Nightmare. You know, it was a very hyperly intentional show. It was, I was really looking towards the. Facilitating art exhibition in the distribution of truth and ideas. You know, where our where press has been. Completely manufactured. Where? Trying to bring up these truths in, say, the settings of the Gurdwara, the temple and to among the community. Here you run into a case of either preaching to the converted or a means in which that is quite disengaging, and that also may just bring up trauma. Other, rather than truths. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Nailah Hunter - “White Flower, Dark Hill” from Spells ]

NEP (continued): And looking at that, I wanted to. I wanted to go towards art exhibition to disrupt those narratives and to be able to give a space that allowed conversation that allowed multiplicity in the experiences of such violence and genocide. 

But I knew in doing that, because of the amount of false misrepresentation that are around the events specifically in 1984, that there would be a lot of. There would be not a lot, but that there was going to be know controversy around what politics I had and what I was putting out and what responsibility I had towards the ideas. 

And that show then put the, put the institution in a tough position because they then saw some of the Indian diaspora come around to start to vilify the show, to not look at the work and not pay attention to what the work is and what I'm saying, but rather to project what they think my politics are, which was all game too to me, because that was important. If people were listening to that criticism to see that this belongs to a type of people and a type of projection that has always happened to us as Sikhs. Where we present an anti-state narrative based in truth. 

We get lauded with being separatists. And terrorists. And it's interesting because we’ve, I've done this. I've paid attention long enough to also know that I'm not interested in starting the conversation there anymore. And because I wasn't interested in that. And I wasn't willing to participate in performing my politics that would allow people to feel safe or to feel like I'm. I'm representing, like all voices in all things. It put the institution in a hard place. But I wasn't willing to budge. That's not what I came to do.

LARRY: The conversations that resulted from Nep’s symbolic interrogation of this tragedy, a painful, raw wound had been buried, were accordingly not always pretty, but called for.

NEP: I wanted to make sure it stayed in the. Sort of front of the discussion of what was happening around the show, because that's where the work was. That's actually where the work was. It wasn't what people were looking at on the walls and building. Not for me. It was that rigor, that dialog. And so that's what medicine for a nightmare really represented. 

LARRY: Rajni Perera was at that show.

RAJNI: Something very interesting happened where the work was becoming vilified. it was work that. Made light and peace out of a very dark time in the history of Punjab. People don't like it when you do that sometimes. They want to sit in the trauma longer, you know, the way that when you feel sad, you listen to sad songs. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Nailah Hunter - “Enter” from Spells (then “Quiet Light” from same album) ]

But he made what he did with that, that those events and making work about it was to me was to not make light of it. I don't mean it in that way. It's it's. 

LARRY: You mean "Light". 

RAJNI: It's doing I he did. It's kind of like aikido with energy where it's like where it's like you can keep you can keep the energy that's surrounding an event, you know, in this place that it's dark, it's sad, it's violent and angry. Or you can, like, take it with your hand and you turn it, you know what I'm saying? You turn it with your body in another way. And then and then you can make energy that's healing. It's peaceful. It provides some kind of finality or closure. And it can bring it can bring this population from a place of despair and and anger and sad and sadness and a feeling of being traumatized into a into a situation where they're feeling a little bit better. And I think that's, you know, his own gratefulness. You know, it kind of like goes into transfers to the viewer and his own sense of kind of peace that he projects kind of transfers into the viewer. And it's like that. It's like a it's like an energy conversion, you know, that he that he can do with something that would be otherwise looked at as as a very, very hard time in in Sikh history. 

RAJNI: It won't focus on, on stagnate, stagnating a situation, stagnating energy or or part of culture or a topic.

RAJNI: It's like this. Great. Sort of....sort of craftsmanship. It's like energy craftsmanship.

LARRY: This fearlessness is a quality both shared and recognized by the Constellation, as noted by Maikoyo and Nick.

[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Endeavors for Never..” from Black Up ]

MAIKOYO: He's just decidedly I mean, I think that's true for both of you guys, though, Nicky, is decidedly unafraid of welcoming what you know may be very polarizing conversations, but necessary ones. You know. 

NICHOLAS: Mmm. Yeah, Nep'll say it, man. Yeah, he doesn't say it, he sings it. Poetically. Nep's somebody who's having a deeper conversation, with his words, his work, demonstration, practice, community he keeps, all of it. 

NEP: There has to be celebration, man, in what we or I do, even when dealing with things that have hefty trauma and pain and violence. Like if it ain't got celebration in it somehow. It's not natural to me.

LARRY: That understanding comes from a real commitment to care when it comes to the community that holds up Nep and his works; it manifests in a dedication to making sure that joy, uninterrupted and spiritually resonant with the intention, is always part of the process. We deal with painful things but through that, our folks have always found revelry, dance, food, laughter to be what brings us through.

RAJNI: Especially with our collaborations. We're very ambitious, but we also know, like, we'll work really hard and then we'll, we can relax. And that's where things like travel and taking a trip come in. Yeah, right. Because it's not like we're not there like oh you know, it's not like it's when we say workation we're, we're able to do it. Yeah. And also enjoy ourselves. So that's like it's such a, it's just so joyful. Like it's just like really centering, centering joy as much as possible because like, man, life is hard enough, you know,

[ MUSIC CUE: Noel Brass Jr - “The Weight Lightened by Morning” from Broken Cloud Orchestra ]

So it's just like if we can enjoy, like, the fruits of our labor, forget it. I feel like, you know, he'd probably say the same things like, yo, you gotta, you know, like yourself to as much as you like your work.

LARRY: Yeah, I love that you outline the joy. That's part of the process. I remember the first. Yeah, the first time I came to Toronto and meeting you out there and it was just like there's there's the museum and there's thinking about the work. And then there's. And looking for a place to dance and to laugh and to eat. And that was such an important part of it. And it was just, wow. It's why, like, everything is golden when I think about Toronto. Because of you guys. Yeah. 

RAJNI: Yeah. I mean, I have to say that, you know, traveling around the world and going to other places in search of that really, really helps us because unfortunately in Toronto, those places where you can go and laugh and chill are dwindling in number. So like we're now finding ourselves being like, Yo, what do we do? Where can we take our friends who are in town? Like, Oh, it's closed. Oh man. Energy in Toronto is like it needs a major overhaul. It's quite a financially driven city and hub. And as a result, culture takes a huge hit. Um, so, so, you know, it's not sometimes we're working hard, Larry, to find you guys like the nice place to go and, and enjoy and unwind together. Because I think that's a part of our our kind of work culture that we want to share because it's possible to, you know, to enjoy yourself and and be together with work and your people in other ways, other than making culture all the time. Making culture is very hard. You know, we're really up against, especially as people of color who are, like, in kinship with one another. We don't have always have an easy go of it and sometimes we're really up against it. So we need to have fun together and we need to unwind together and treat ourselves and enjoy a good, an opulent life, whatever that means. It doesn't have to be, you know, your life is dripping in gold trims and shit like that. It can it can just be like, you know, having this luxury of relaxation in one another's company. 

LARRY: Yeah. You know, love and laughter. All of that is opulence and luxury. And I see how hard that you'll do work whenever it's time to, like, find a place to to boogie. There's always so much forethought and it's like, hey, this place is cool. I'm just like, Hey, man, whatever. I'm with y'all. It's great. But I just see it, you know? And yeah, it gets harder every place, I think, to find these places, everything you see. I know. 

RAJNI: I know. It reminds me of we just got to build, like, you know, big awesome communes. 

LARRY: Yes. 

RAJNI: That's the that's what we have to do. There's no we can't rely on these cities. These cities are owned by like whites. You know, they don't give a shit. They want to like take what we do and and then like make some make it whack and then make money off of it. Profit off of it. So it's, it's hard everywhere. Yeah, for sure. And maybe, maybe we're all waiting on on, you know, on a renaissance of some kind. 

[ MUSIC CUE: “sayITaintSO” ]

LARRY: Nep doesn’t leave his works and the spirit therein to be contextualized and marooned amongst art scene elites who have no cultural frame of reference, he builds these spaces with intentionality - so much of his work is not just in the making but in the outreach to his community, to the an audience he’s designed the work for. He brings his people through the door in the most literal sense.

RAJNI: He takes the time for. For these communities that should be exposed to this work and have access to this work. He takes the time. He spends time on them to understand. So it's full of people from all over the place. But like it was full of of immigrants. It's full of people, our peoples in there? 

TODD: his generosity when it comes to sharing those spaces like, you know, and the work, like, you know, wanting to collaborate with people, you know, that is something that is core to him and his family. It's just the most generous people I have ever met in my life. And I wouldn't be the only one to say that.

NEP: it's a big part of the it's a big part of the the work, the communing. Because it's the communing that. Gave life to so much of these works. Right. And it's not an idea of paying it back. It's not a I get that stuff. I don't think of it like that. It's just a natural. It's a natural environment, how the work is getting made. So for it, not for it not to play back into that, it just would feel. It would it would feel like Not complete. Not whole, you know.

LARRY: Nep’s artistic drive is a beautiful transmission of the culture that created him: one of service, of community, of commitment to progression and deep truths.

LARRY: When I first reached out to interview Nep for this episode, or “Nepisode”, if you like- we started off reflecting about our recent time in the D, particularly the night out we had dancing to the transcendent, genre-obliterating sounds of the legendary Detroit DJ/producer Theo Parrish.

NEP: I think I was telling you, you know, Theo was one of the first people that really changed my DNA, man, of listening. And like introduce sort of the potentials of of sound and like attitude in in the music with what he was doing up there, you know. And again, it was only just like looking at. You know what he's doing with being able to kill the bass treble and mid, but. But doing it through through feeling and doing it through really knowing the the record. And it was like it was “Summer Soft”, you know, by Stevie Wonder. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Stevie Wonder - “Summer Soft” ]

NEP: I heard that song, you know man, 7, 7058 times. You know what I mean? But when he played it on that system, it was just like. Some years go. Oh. Taken with her the nurse the and she's go yo like. Inside out like it sounded like. It sounded like. It sounded like a like like an instrumental they left off of Bulletproof Wallets. Wow. Like it was the most gangster as fuck thing, man. And Stevie underneath it all still singing but it was the most cool. Just opened, opened up, man. All the possibilities in the song, man, you know, all feeling, you know. I mean, all feeling, though. Yeah.

NEP: ​​What a mode. What a style of oration, though. You know what I mean? Like what? Yeah. What a thing to do to pack, pack, Pack crates like that for the night to try to tell a story, Not in a not in a like. Listen to me, I got something to say, but, like. Let's try to do something. Together tonight, that kind of thing. Like, I got an idea, you know, I hope you guys are with it. Like, let me just try to do this with y'all and then when it's not working, you know, the best ones will also understand that and then adapt, you know, and pivot. But watching all that, the act of it is beautiful, man. It's a beautiful thing to me. I know I get it, like all the, you know, the robots and like all the IG shit and stuff, shit's on that. 

[ MUSIC CUE:  OCnotes - “Lamars House” from Secret Society ?]

NEP (continued): But like, it can't hold a flame to the tradition, to the cats, nah, it ain't got a chance. Because look, man, when the lights are out, you know what I mean? When the lights are out, there ain't no spotlight out where the cats playing. You can't even tell the direction he or she is coming from. Like you can't tell anyone nothing. You know, if that person's doing, you know, what they should be and want to be doing. Yeah. It's beautiful to witness that.

LARRY: Next time on Fresh Off The Spaceship, we look at the work of the brilliant Central District MC Porter Ray… 

PORTER: The culture that I'm a part of and that I love and hold so dear to me. I want to garner more respect for the culture and for the art form. I want to continue to have a space to represent my culture, my art form, my neighborhood, my family, my people. I want to create a scene in Seattle that's bubbling. 

[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5950’s” from BLK GLD ]

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