SXSW Music Interview: Bilal

“I’m a jazz artist by trade,” states the Philly-born Grammy winner

Don't call Bilal a neo-soul act.

"I'm a jazz artist by trade," states the Philly-born Grammy winner.

“I’m a jazz artist by trade,” states the Philly-born Grammy winner.

While his decade-spanning output doesn't carbon copy jazz in the snobby traditionalist sense, his albums paint over broad canvases with a multitude of brushes: watercolor instrumentation bleeds into a ballast of deep-groove Seventies funk and R&B squelched cadences. As a true disciple of the genre, Bilal Sayeed Oliver kept his jam group open in Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq, and J Dilla lining credits on 2001's soulful debut 1st Born Second. A musical lifetime later on In Another Life (2015), the singer kept his production pool small, producer Adrian Younge "spawning the magic" of the album after the two met at SXSW.

"I went up to sit in with Adrian's band Venice Dawn," recalls Bilal. "Being a jazz musician, it's better to just communicate and have conversation through music, without the words."

By channeling Younge's reinterpretation of Sixties/Seventies funk and soul, In Another Life felt like "rediscovering analog instrumentation" from Bilal's pre-digital years. Hi-hats splash while tom-toms crackle ("Sirens II"), keys ripple ("Spiraling"), and guitars fuzz ("Money Over Love"). Following the political strain of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and D'Angelo's Black Messiah, Bilal complements Younge's "cinematic sound" in his tracking tales of black boy joy ("I Really Don't Care"), a crazed gunman ("Lunatic"), and civic decay ("Satellites").

Through In Another Life, Bilal reimagines jazz alongside contemporary savant Robert Glasper, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington.

"Jazz has endless possibilities," asserts Bilal. "Like hip-hop, it's making something from nothing and it depends on the artist or musician to make jazz come to flesh."


Tue., March 14 @ Buffalo Billiards, 11:20pm

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Spoon's <i>Hot Thoughts</i> Remodels the Locals' Art-Funk
Spoon's Hot Thoughts Remodels the Locals' Art-Funk
Britt Daniel and Jim Eno talk about the rise of R&B in the band's sound

Tim Stegall, June 2, 2017

Unleashing the <i>Hounds of Love</i>
Unleashing the Hounds of Love
Director Ben Young on his serial-killer couple drama

Richard Whittaker, May 12, 2017

More by Alejandra Ramirez
Review: Never, <i>No Guarantee</i>
Review: Never, No Guarantee
No Guarantee (Record Review)

Sept. 1, 2023

Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Crucial Concerts for the Coming Week
Jess Williamson, Ondara, Cherubs, Blushing, and more recommended shows

June 9, 2023


SXSW 2017, SXSW Music 2017, Bilal

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle