Making Ignited // Tender Bois Club 2019 Retreat
Last weekend Tender Bois Club met in Brooklyn, NY for our first business retreat and strategic planning— we dug into a bunch of work for the business and also made time to create. As a small creative business, one of our goals is to demystify the process of creating; particularly the process of making music. Experiencing other creatives in their process and seeing ourselves reflected in music/entertainment has made us brave enough to share our own work—that is something we also hope to do for others. We hope you enjoy this footage from our first retreat and recording session where we cover Ignited by Mumbi S Kasumba (featured in Rafiki). Here are some thoughts, music and portraits to help explain our process. Special thanks and shoutout to Mo and Hyperballd Recording Studio, we appreciate you so much.
W: So for me, making music is interconnected with the practice of vulnerability and allowing yourself to feel deeply. Something that will stick out in my mind forever is my childhood in church and singing in the choir. There are these specific moments, we call “catching the Holy Ghost,” where usually the choir is singing (pastor may or may not have just given a bomb sermon) and someone becomes completely taken over by a spiritual force— they let their bodies go, dancing, stomping and shouting to the music. People cry, they yell and they clap their hands as they run down the aisles. In those moments, the sanctuary becomes a place where total freedom seems possible. Its like the music and their ability to let go and be free transports them somewhere else spiritually. Where nothing matters except that divine moment exposing all the stuff we push down inside from day to day and grit through. I think music has the ability to touch us all in a way, the way that I’ve seen it happen in church. And that is why it’s considered a universal language to many. It allows us to connect to each other regardless of difference and to connect to ourselves for more purpose, clarity and healing in life. Everything about the vibrations in music, sound waves and how sound travels fascinates me—how it creates this frequency that can simultaneously be heard and felt in our bodies.
E: Honestly, I don’t know where I would be in this world without music. Music has allowed me to feel, process and be vulnerable with myself and others. Playing guitar has become such a huge outlet for me, one that can truly calm me down when the world around me is too much. I love getting lost in the melodies and how chords sound together or don’t sound good together, or being able to craft something new, that may not have existed before. Music has allowed me to open myself up and be able to pour whatever it is that’s affecting me into the instrumentals, lyrics or both. There’s a certain freedom that music can bring you, and that’s the feeling I am trying to create for myself and others.
The way we begin most sessions is through a warm-up— Eli usually grabs the guitar and tunes her up; Wazi grabs his notepad and pen in case any words come to mind. Eli starts with playing a few chords and Wazi will jump in singing a tune. This acoustic warm-up style is probably what drew us to this song, Ignited. The original is just an acoustic guitar and vocals, it is very melodically simple and at the same time, powerful in a way that hits your core and makes you feel if you are really listening.
E: I came across “Ignited” one day while watching someone’s Instagram story. I was immediately drawn in by the simple, sweet guitar chords, followed by the soft vocals. I remember thinking, “This is such a sweet love song.” I was hooked. The lyrics really had me reflecting about the ways love has shown up in my life and how I choose to love others deeply. “Ignited” took me on a journey and definitely brought me to tears after listening to it. When music moves me in any kind of way, I have to share it with folks. After listening to the song, I sent it over to Wazi, already thinking in my head that maybe we could cover this song one day…
W: The lyrics are what hit me the hardest; they have a depth that really brings the song to life. I remember when Eli sent the Soundcloud link to me and I listened for the first time (this was maybe 3 weeks before retreat weekend). I was in my studio at home, it was dark, maybe 8 or 9pm and I was definitely in a mood about something. I turn the song on and put my speakers on loud. First I hear this beautiful strumming and then a voice comes in singing:
If there is a reason for love.
it’s you who ignites this heart.
If there is a season for love.
You prove it is now.
We all have flaws.
Things we avoid when we look in the mirror.
Parts of ourselves we don’t show.
You love me regardless.
And you let everybody know.
In a world so cold, so cold.
It’s easy to feel disregarded.
Put up a front like you don’t think it hurts.
Put up a front like you don’t get burned.
By the time it was over, I could feel a heaviness on my chest—I knew it was because it brought up so much for me and my experiences with love: loving myself and love in relationships. Later on we also found out the track is featured in Rafiki, a queer drama film written by Wanuri Kahiu , so it’s no wonder the song touched me/us the way it did— it speaks to the stories and struggles experienced in Black queer love. We knew almost immediately we wanted to cover the song and incorporate some original production from Tender Bois Club—so Eli learned the chords to the song and I learned the vocals. We decided we would do the recording over retreat weekend since we would be hosted by our friends at Hyperballad .
Once in the studio, we began our session as we always do with an acoustic warm-up. Truthfully, we probably ran through the song 3 or 4 times during warm-up and were ready shortly after to hop in the recording booth. With the help of our friend Mo, we had a full technical setup and spent a couple hours tracking guitar and vocal recordings (But FYI, you don’t need a big studio to record. We usually just record with our home studio setup!). This would lay the foundation of the song. From there, we built more sounds/instrumentation on top, some you might hear building up in the song: drums, bass, piano, organ, and of course some ad-libs and singing in a higher vocal register.
After building the vocals and instrumentation, we got into editing mode and went through all the parts to pick our best/favorite regions. We work on building an arrangement for the song so it builds in dynamic and intensity (Thanks Mo for being our mix master!) and we play with the sound levels to bring out the best in each region. These are just a few parts of the process—which we started in the studio that night and finished over the course of a few days through multiple hard-drives and mixing efforts from Wazi and Mo. There’s no way to lay out our entire process in one blog, but these are some of the foundational pieces that allowed us to take this spark and build it into something new. Mostly, we try our best to just have fun and let the music come to us. Once we feel the freedom to be vulnerable, the magic always follows.
One week later and here’s the final result : )
But before we could play we had to make time for work :-) #workhardplayhard #tbcretreat #smallbusiness #creativeservices