Posted July 14, 2021. Eddie Wong’s Intro: It’s been a long and difficult 16 months for performing artists and musicians because the pandemic shuttered venues. To their credit, actors, performance artists and musicians have worked hard to create new work and build community with peers and audiences. I’ve been following Karl Evangelista’s music ever since last year’s profile in East Wind ezine –Karl Evangelista’s APURA!. He graciously chatted with me about it feels to emerge from 2020 with renewed energy. The long-delayed premiere performance of Apura! (Tagalog for Very Urgent) will be available online on July 31, 2021. For tickets visit: https://apura.brownpapertickets.com/
Eddie: Tell us about the upcoming online premiere of Apura! at Oaktown Jazz Workshops on July 31. I gather this is your first live show in over a year albeit with a small audience. Are you planning to tour this year?
Karl: This special performance of Apura! is my way of both commemorating the past year of grief and celebrating the resilience of the human spirit. Although I performed a number of online concerts over the course of the COVID lockdown, the video we’ll be sharing on July 31 documents my first show in front of an in-person audience in well over a year. It only seems appropriate that, in much the way that socially conscious protestors took to the streets at the height of the pandemic, we celebrate the return of social engagement with a concert of politically charged jazz and new music.
My duo Grex will be embarking on a short tour later this year, though we’re drastically limiting our scope this time around. As is the case with Apura!, we have to be realistic about our safety, the safety of our audience, and the ongoing danger of COVID.
Eddie: You mentioned the origins of Apura! in our previous interview in May 2020 and spoke about its political themes and improvisational methods. Could you highlight those points again for new readers?
Karl: Apura! is an international, intergenerational musical project that explores the relationship between jazz-based musical improvisation and social transformation in an era of worldwide political upheaval. This project connects the roving, politically conscious free jazz of the 1960s to the activist experimental music of the 21st century, engaging with the artistic and political strategies of the past in order to imagine a brighter future.
Importantly, this music is meant to collide a variety of musical traditions – Filipino, American, Asian American, South African, and so on. Apura! was originally envisioned as a way to collaborate with innovative anti-Apartheid activist Louis Moholo-Moholo. Though Louis couldn’t participate in this particular performance (and trust me, Louis, pianist Alexander Hawkins, and I tried our best to make it happen), this July 31 concert is suffused with Louis’s unbending will and creative energy.
Eddie: Apura! was recorded in late 2018 and released in 2020. As you approach the July live performance, how much do you strive to adhere to the recorded version of Apura! and how much do you change given this set of musicians? Tell us more about the musicians and why you chose to work with them.
Karl: This July concert gave me the opportunity to write a full suite of music, crafted specifically for our new personnel: legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, enterprising bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, and Asian Improv aRts cofounder Francis Wong.
The 2018 recording featured the aforementioned Louis Moholo-Moholo, the brilliant UK pianist Alexander Hawkins, and renowned saxophonist Trevor Watts. On that occasion, we endeavored to tap into the tradition of European free improvisation, and so it was decided that our recording would be spontaneous in nature.
The July 31 version of Apura! is centered a bit on the participation of Mr. Cyrille, one of the originators of American free jazz and among the most celebrated percussionists in jazz. For this performance, I elected to write music that both paid tribute to Andrew’s work with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, and Horace Tapscott and expanded upon some of the compositional strategies favored by my friends in the Bay.
Eddie: You were very busy during 2020 with many projects including releasing new Grex material, sponsoring the Lockdown festivals, and premiering your interpretations of Alice Coltrane’s music from Journey to Satchidananda and Ptah, the El Daoud. Tell us about those projects and what motivated you and Rei Scampavia to do them. I loved how you made Alice Coltrane’s music both raw, intense, and serene at the same time. Will it be available soon?
Karl: Working with Louis Moholo-Moholo affirmed a very basic sentiment about music: if it is a part of your life, it will happen at all costs. Louis spent his life fighting oppression though sound, and through the pain of exile, the horrors of the Apartheid regime, and the tragic loss of family and friends, he found a way to make himself of service to a higher cause.
Grex’s work in 2020, the Lockdown Festivals, and our Alice Coltrane concert were all methods of fundraising on behalf of our community and causes of conscience. My partner, Rei, and I had the great joy of working with organizations like Black Organizing Project and Temescal Arts Center in Oakland, entities and spaces that are meant to care for the people of the East Bay. We also played a very small role in raising money on behalf of our hero and teacher Milford Graves in the final days of his life.
Work of this kind is a joy, and it is a testament to the fact that if you take care of music, it can take care of you, your family, and your community.
The Alice concert is, indeed, available.
We’ll be revisiting some of this music later this year.
Eddie: Were you able to get institutional support and funding during the pandemic? I know there were concerted efforts to advocate for arts funding the SF Bay Area. How did that work out for working artists such as yourself?
Karl: I did not personally receive any institutional support during the pandemic, although the original version of Apura! (planned in 2019 and slated for 2020) did receive a grant from the Zellerbach Foundation and some assistance from Asian Improv aRts and the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center. To be honest, I was in a position to help others rather than myself over the course of the pandemic, and so my efforts were concentrated on fundraising.
I was involved in the effort to grant a musicians exemption to AB 5 (way back in March of 2020), and I know that organizations like Jazz in the Neighborhood did the good work of furthering this cause over the course of the past year. This sort of advocacy is focused on longterm legislative gains, however, and pandemic circumstances were a little more complicated.
The sad reality is that a lot of my friends and colleagues are still reeling from 2020. Though I was pleased to see entities like the Safety Net Fund doing good work in the midst of the pandemic, in order to fully “recover” from the carnage of the past year (whatever that may mean), we’re going to have to push for serious changes in the Bay Area’s legislative, artistic, and economic culture. Our music economy was in questionable shape before the pandemic, and lockdown kicked it off of a cliff.
Eddie: As we go forward in 2021, 2022, barring any new mass outbreaks of Covid, we should be able to go to live music venues and most likely continue to enjoy streamed shows, which have expanded audiences. Are there particular venues and artists who you’d like to recommend to East Wind ezine readers?
Karl: This answer is a bit of a downer, but we lost a lot of good rooms over the course of the pandemic. I’d like to give special recognition to the Uptown in Oakland and Revolution Cafe in SF, both of whom homed some of my favorite musical memories of the past decade or so. Those are the places I would have told people to check out before the pandemic hit, and they’re gone now.
That being said, there is a lot of good work happening in the area right now, a lot of it motivated by lockdown circumstances. Berkeley Art Museum has been hosting superb remote events with some consistency. Venues like the Ivy Room in Albany have been hosting outdoor events, and the invaluable Bird & Beckett in SF presented streaming shows – on multiple days a week – for most of last year. We’ve also seen an influx of alternate format programming from entities like Pro Arts and Temescal Arts Center in Oakland.
I’d have a really tough time singling out any friends or colleagues for their work, but lest it go unsaid, I’d go out of my way to rep for anyone who participated in last year’s Lockdown Festivals. Those folx gave their time to some very worthy causes, and they played music from the heart. That’s really all you can ask for.
Eddie: What are you going to be working on next?
Karl: After July 31, I’m going to be looking into finding ways to tour Apura! and Grex (happily, we have some ideas pending). We’ll also have a valedictory edition of the Lockdown Festival – featuring a limited live audience! – on September 25, as well as the debut of a new web series, hosted by Grex, that spotlights local musicians and artists.
We have to remain vigilant, but the future is at last looking bright. It’s a good time to grasp at the light.