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An Interview with Makaya McCraven

A look at what (and, more importantly, who) was behind one of Portland's hottest shows of the summer: Makaya McCraven at the FFTT warehouse on Thursday, August 9th.

Photo: courtesy of International Anthem.



Launched in 2015 with the intention to fill the all-too-present need for more Portland social spaces explicitly for people of color, art collective Y.G.B. Portland (which stands for Young, Gifted and Black or Young, Gifted and Brown, depending who’s speaking) has grown into a robust and diverse community of creators and change-makers. Hosting events that embrace the interrelatedness of art and social justice, Y.G.B. hosts parties and shows at which everyone is welcome, but the artistic voice is always of color and the space is always centered around Black, Brown, queer and femme identities.

“We believe that liberation will come from art, self-love and community.” – Y.G.B. Portland 



flyer courtesy of Y.G.B. Portland



They say a great artist is great on their own, but that a legend also knows who to work with. For proof of this platitude, look no further than Makaya McCraven’s new mixtape Where We Come From, which shrewdly combines two of the world’s most vital and fastest-growing improvised music scenes: Chicago’s and London’s.  

McCraven, who deservedly prefers the title “beat scientist” over “drummer,” has long gone underrecognized for his stylistic innovation and defiance in the face of The Jazz Police. Chicago, his musical home, stands out as a center of progressivism in jazz in the U.S., home also to such pillars as Jeff Parker (guitarist for jazzy post-rockers Tortoise), electric/acoustic bassist Junius Paul, and the International Anthem label (Ben Lamar Gay).  

It’s hard to argue, though, that any jazz scene anywhere right now can really compete with London’s. McCraven simply saw what we all see — an incredible concentration of talent and boundary-pushing in that scene, gathered namely around Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood record label — and put it to perfect use. Where We Come From is an entrancing, live-action blowout of international talent, featuring saxophonist/emcee Soweto Kinch, producer/DJ Kamaal Williams (of duo Yussef Kamaal), saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboardist/producer Joe Armon-Jones, and many more.