T: As a child, I was immediately attracted to the Arts. I started out trying to paint (and very badly, I must say!). Then came Poetry & short story writing. Thank god-I was much better at that! That morphed into songwriting.
Has Poetry been a big passion or you were drawn into by a particular event?
Yusef: Poetry has been my life. It has been the substance of my imagination. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written so many poems this long with a certain kind of serious attention. It keeps me engaged with the world. It underscores what I feel and witness as a human being. It’s my first music.
How did you two met?
T: Yusef was involved with the production of an album by the brilliant Poet/Educator Ms. Hermine Pinson. Novelist/Educator Ms. LaShonda Barnett introduced us.
Were you hesitant back then or did you both connect right away?
Y: From the onset it was a voyage towards possibility. By listening to the music and writing the lyrics the voyage provided discovery. Through Tomás’s musicianship , training, and spirit, he can always deliver a music that the lyrics speak through.
T: That’s very kind of you to say Yusef, but quite frankly- Yusef’s lyrics and Poetry have “Music” already in them.
The only thing I have to do is listen-the chords, melodies and arrangements always seem to appear out of nowhere… But they definitely come from “Somewhere”.
How did you guys come up with the idea for The Mercy Suite?
Y: It had to do with living in the world. In many ways it’s related to the subject matter that I’ve been drawn to since I first put words on the page. The project also taught me the importance of listening in a slightly different way than poetry teaches me.
The show features a great lineup of amazing artists – did you handpick them or how did they come on board?
T: Absolutely! Everyone involved was handpicked. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Each individual comes from a distinct background – how did you all get to balance all those influences together?
T: Well, that’s what true collaboration is all about, isn’t it? This is ALL about storytelling. The lyric is always the most important thing. Everything else is designed to support that concept.
Speaking of background, both of you have achieved some great success (Yusef is a Pulitzer Prize winner, as well as being New York State’s Poet Laureate) – how has that affected your work and yourselves individually? Have those achievements put any pressure on your work moving forward?
Y: No, my work exists. It’s tangible. I hope that it relates to people—to moments of happiness, and to moments of struggle.
T: I couldn’t have said it better myself!
This being the 10th Anniversary – can we expect a few new things? How would this different to the original?
Y: I’m always dreaming of the next footstep into the immediate future. We’re working on a project now—The Black Magnolia Project—that is more experimental but cinched with surprises.
T: The 10th Anniversary Edition of “The Mercy Suite” Is performed for the most part by my band-The True Groove All-Stars. We decided to to the project because we realized that there was no proper recording of us performing this material-and that the songs had grown so much in ten years…Ten Years! There are guest performances by the legendary Ms. Meshell Ndegeocello, and A-List NYC musicians-Cellist Ms. Marika Hughes, Drummer Benny Steele, and guitarists Marvin Sewell & Brandon Ross.
Without having to include a “Spoiler Alert”, “The Black Magnolia Project” is based on a collection Yusef’s Poetry titled “The Blue Hour”. In an effort to give a brief sound-byte description, let’s just say the album is: “An introspective, Nocturnal-Non linear narrative journey to the Soul”. It incorporates improvisational/Experimental elements (musically, Electronically and lyrically!). We’re having a blast working on it! We like to think of it as Future Roots Music.
As Yusef said earlier-“The Next Footsteps into the immediate future”.