Photo by Elliott Jerome Brown, Jr.

Abdu Ali grinds hard. Currently, they’re in the midst of  a nine-city tour that includes stops here in Baltimore (of course) and also Berlin and Prague. Back in the early 2010’s, they cofounded Kahlon, an inventive underground party and have been performing and making music: releasing the mixtape “MONGO” in 2016, booking a show at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, collaborating with fellow Baltimore artist JPEGMAFIA, and most recently, releasing his album “FIYAH!!!,” which Afropunk called “a Black queer revelation.” They also host a podcast, drumBOOTY, where he discusses topics like reproductive justice, Black art, and mental health. 

Tonight, Ali will be performing at Ottobar and in anticipation of the show, Ali answered some questions from us about why you should come to the show, how it feels to be a kind of elder statesperson in the Baltimore music scene, and what’s next.

BB: What do you have planned for Friday’s event? How did you curate it? Why should people come?

AA: Friday will be a full on performance featuring songs from my latest album, “FIYAH!!!.” I just wanted to have one more Abdu Ali show for 2019 in my hometown. I wanted to honor emerging talent in our city by sharing my stage with newer artists who I’m excited about and that inspire me. It’s just continuing the energy I conjured through Kahlon. I think it’s always important to share your platforms with artists in your city, because I know what obstacles I went through to get where I am. But yeah, it’s gonna give the traditional Abdu Ali live experience, full of sanctuary and deliverance! 

BB: When “FIYAH!!!” came out, it seemed like it was pretty widely embraced. How do you feel it was received?

AA: I am honored that my supporters are enjoying “FIYAH!!!” especially since it was part homage to my hometown sound, Baltimore club music. I’m glad it got covered by publications that I respect like the Quietus. That meant a lot to me. I also see this album as a step into a new direction and a lor teaser of what’s to come. It was the, “Oh hey y’all this is what I do.” But just wait for that new new. I’m already working on ideas for the next album and am excited to get that out there in the next few years! 

BB: It feels like Baltimore officials like bragging about arts and culture in Baltimore without always supporting the people creating art. Do you agree? What can the city do to embrace you more?

AA: I honestly think the Baltimore arts institutions and people in city government are  way out of touch and behind when it comes to elevating contemporary local artistry. You can tell by the programming that they just don’t know music and arts culture in 2019. And their lack of support is a lot more complex than people realize too, and it’s too layered to try to hash out in this moment about but I just think these institutions need to higher more younger people, Black younger folk, queer black folk, in positions of power. Let them decide what artists to book for programming or what artists should be exhibited in your spaces. I just think there are a lot of older folk not trusting younger folk to lead and make decisions in Baltimore’s arts institutions. That goes for museums, non profits, radio stations, colleges, all of em. 

Also it seems like there is a lack of faith in local artists, especially Black artists and musicians. Often artists in this city have to gain major visibility, often not granted locally, for this city to invest in them. I just see so many talented artists here move away because this city is running on old ways of thinking and not being in these streets and elevating younger artists. People like Amy Sherald have been here for years and it took her to paint a portrait of Michelle Obama, for this city to really support her like she should have been. If they don’t let up their power, I see a lot of arts institutions in this city not lasting. No shade. 

BB: You’ve been doing this work for a while. You’re still young but there’s a new generation of artists and musicians coming up behind you. What do you think the future of Baltimore music is? What are you doing to make sure that young people are supported?

AA: It’s funny cause younger artists calling me legend and the OG! I’m like bish I am not that old! lol. But I am honored by it. I love where the music scene is right now. We have all different kinds of artists who are Black getting support (from the music scenes they’re cultivating and the internet). Like when I started music, it was mostly street rappers, boom bap rappers, punk white bands, and white indie musicians taking up space. Now we have Black musicians who are making trap shit, punk shit, club shit, R&B shit, experimental shit, getting love. I think artists here are finally learning how to use the internet to industrialize their hustle. I honestly see the DMV in general as the next big music hub for rap and electronic music. I just want to keep shouting out artists I really fuck with in the city and sharing my platform with them! 

Abdu Ali performs at Ottobar (2549 N. Howard St.) with Grace Ives, Baby Kahlo, and Station North Sadboi. more. The event begins 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Lisa Snowden-McCray

Lisa Snowden is Editor-in-Chief and cofounder of Baltimore Beat. Previously, she was an editor at Baltimore City Paper, Baltimore Sun, and The Real News...