MusicReviews

Jah Freedom Extols That Which Came Before on ‘Kahlo’

Jah Freedom points at someone off camera while sitting in a music studio
Jah Freedom at a July listening session for his new project, ‘Kahlo.’ (Photo by Jonathan Golian)

Art is subjective. To each piece that we encounter, an interpretation unique only to us is formed, thereby forming a sort of bond with it. We may not always remember each piece by name or by creator, but most likely we will retain how we felt about it if that connection is made.

Our gallery of subjects today come from Frida Kahlo, a legendary Mexican painter who lived during the early 1900s. While her works gained acclaim, mainly in the latter half of her life, Kahlo is known for the native folk-art style she employed, mixed in with autobiographical and fantasy elements for each piece. 

Rediscovered by art historians and political activists’ decades after her death in 1954, Kahlo became a recognized figure in the art world posthumously, regarded as an icon in both Mexican national and indigenous traditions while also being highlighted in the feminist movement and LGBTQIA+ community.

Jah Freedom, one of North Carolina’s own legendary composers and DJs, takes a different approach in interpreting the artist in his new seven-track album, titled Kahlo in remembrance of Frida.

Similar to his 2019 project honoring Jean-Michel Basquiat, every track on the new album is named after one of Frida’s paintings. 

“For crafting each, I would look at the work and form the music by how I thought they sounded,” he told Queen City Nerve. 

The outcome is a view through the eyes of one type of artist into another’s, but instead of simply telling listeners his thoughts, we’re now tasked with interpreting his creativity as well, and it is a pleasant experience.

Learn more: Near-Death Experience Inspires New Jah Freedom Project

A gleeful casual mood can be felt through the birds layered into the background alongside fellow musician Elizabeth Kowalski’s calming flute in “Me and My Parrots.” 

There’s a strong downtempo accompanied by Jah’s soul treatment on the keys in “Without Hope,” paired with the sound of rain falling to great effect.

With “The Dream, The Bed,” various elements are thrown in, from drums, to piano and guitar twangs — even some hint of birds chirping, a recurring theme — giving the track an unpredictable feel.

In creativity, one of the most nurturing activities an artist could take on is immersing themselves in another’s work. Jah Freedom takes Frida Kahlo’s art and interprets each selection with a touch of his own styling, be it with jazz, neo-soul, or a little improvisation through thrown-in effects. 

What listeners are left with is an enriched experience and, hopefully, questions about how they too might evaluate Kahlo’s works … and art in general.

Jah Freedom will have cassette copies of Kahlo available for sale at his next Top Billin’ open mic event at Tip Top Daily Market on Wednesday, Aug. 9


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