This post was written by Contributing Culture Editor Regina Park.
Nag Champa, the pet project of Jamal Gray, brings a mix of funk, jazz and African rythyms to the local music scene. Photo Courtesy of Jamal Gray
Jamal Gray, the up and coming D.C.-based musician behind the futuristic funk act Nag Champa, talked to the Hatchet about inspiration, creating exciting live shows and his plans for the future. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Hatchet: What was your inspiration for starting Nag Champa?
Gray: I wanted to hear something different in the D.C. scene. I’ve been going to a lot of shows like indie, rock, hip hop, even avant garde, but I felt like there were some elements that were missing and i wanted to add my voice.
Hatchet: Nag Champa’s music is very experimental and truly like nothing else on the scene today. How do you come up with Nag Champa’s style?
There are elements of eastern spirituality and african music. That’s actually where the name comes from – Nag Champa is a type of incense.
I have two very progressive parents that are deep into African culture, Eastern culture and very deep into the jazz scene. My mother worked with a lot of of independent record labels around D.C. I was around a lot of real performers when I was young.
Hatchet: What other projects aside from Nag Champa are you working on right now?
Gray: Right now I’m working on CMPVTR CLVB, a multimedia collective. It started as a group of friends of DJs and producers including myself, Saint Clair Castro, Exaktly, Jamal Zuniga aka SexxGod and Txny Kill. Essentially we were renting a studio in the Union Art Space.
At the time, I was the booking agent for the event space there. We were throwing weird shows, melding elements of progressive electro and local hip hop, trying to push the limits of music in the D.C. area in general. We kept the synergy and creative energy amongst us and from there we transformed it into CMPVTR CLVB about one year and a half ago.
Since then, we’ve done a bunch of shows in New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Va. and Charlottesville, Va. among others. We’re still mostly DJs and producers, but as of late we’ve transformed into a multimedia collective so we’ve added visual mapping, projection mapping and a lot of weird video warping and glitch effects.
Every show that we do includes a performance element and music element. We have seven to eight TV screens that we’ll bring out and we’ll have different video clips playing. We’re trying to get deeper into the performance. Whatever installation we’re presenting there’s usually an underlying message: idolatry, political messages, social commentary. We’re trying to create a full sensory experience for listeners.
Hatchet: Where do you see Nag Champa going in the future?
Gray: I want to see D.C. become a global destination to culture, music and art. We can be akin to Paris, New York and London for how our art is received around the world. I want Nag Champa to be global ambassadors, just like the jazz musicians in the past were in the 60s and 70s.
So far we are in a space where we’ve been really well received by the art world.
Love to be playing internationally, playing at festivals, playing alongside some of the biggest artists. That’s the role I feel like we play: we usher in a new sound and protect elements of D.C. sound like go-go that’s getting pushed out. D.C.’s indigenous music is really powerful and represents the people well.
Hatchet: If people could only listen to one song, which Nag Champa song do you recommend they listen to?
Gray: We have a song called “Escapism 002,” and I think that’s a sign of where we’re going with this music because it has elements of African music and electronic music placed on top of it. That’s the juxtaposition of the music that we were raised on and music of the future.