Conscious Music is the Soundtrack of the Movement: An Interview with Alfred Howard
Alfred Howard, a prolific spoken-word artist, writer, and co-founder of The Redwoods Music, a San Diego record label and collective, was, pre-pandemic, pening lyrics for 8 bands and performing homemade percussion with six. In his early 20s he caravanned with musicians all across the county before finally setting roots in San Diego, where he has become a leading figure in that city’s musical community. He is the author of 2 books, including The Autobiography of No One; writes articles for several leading San Diego newspapers and magazines; and has written lyrics for over 30 released albums.
His piece “I Love America” will be highlighted at the upcoming online Bioneers Conference (register now!) , and he will also be a panelist on a session with fellow engaged musicians affiliated with Guayaki Tea’s “Come to Life” music project.
Polina Smith, Bioneers’ arts coordinator, interviewed Alfred about his work and the role of art during these times.
POLINA SMITH: How did your musical Odyssey originally begin?
ALFRED HOWARD: I’ve been playing music for the latter half of my life. When the pandemic hit, I was writing lyrics for 8 bands and performing in 6. That outlet was suddenly gone. Shows and rehearsals were quickly a thing of the past. To be completely honest, I was exhausted at that moment: I’ve been dealing with chronic Lyme Disease for 26 years and that was the first time in almost as long that my life allotted me a break, and after a month away from music, I was excited again to get creative. My newest project was me figuring out how to do that in this new paradigm.
POLINA: How has the pandemic changed your trajectory? What have been the challenges and the gifts?
ALFRED: The pandemic has been a huge motivator for me. This year has been historical in even its most subdued moments. It had a relentless feel to it, as if each headline were in competition with the preceding one. At its best, music is a documentary of a moment. I decided to write and record 100 songs with different voices and musicians from all around the country to encapsulate a unique moment in our history, and I invited my mom, a brilliant watercolor artist, to add a visual element to each song. I thought it would be great to try to add something positive to a year filled with such dire reflections. It’s been difficult to wrangle so many musicians and record with distance as an obstacle. We’re all accustomed to creating in a room together, but art is all about evolution, and “necessity is the mother of invention,” so it’s been a great and benevolent challenge to overcome those obstacles.
POLINA: What are your ultimate dreams and vision for your art?
ALFRED: I just want to be heard. I want my music to offer relief and reflection. Music is medicine and we’re in need of healing.
POLINA: What is your perspective on the times we are living in?
ALFRED: We’re in a moment of change. We’ve had the pendulum swing so far into the darkness that the light feels like an inevitable next direction. This year we’ve been forced to acknowledge some tragedies and inequalities in our nation. We have the chance to not merely acknowledge them, but to address them.
POLINA: What do you believe is the role of art and music in social justice movements and in this time specifically?
ALFRED: Music is the soundtrack to the movement. The two are inseparable. They both motivate the other to push forward.
POLINA: What would your message to young artists be right now?
ALFRED: My message is to create constantly. Hold your creativity up as a mirror to society and paint what you see with whatever medium is at your disposal.
POLINA: Thank you for sharing your words and wisdom with us, Alfred, we can’t wait to see you at the Bioneers Conference!
Learn more about Alfred Howard’s Work
Join Alfred at Guayaki’s Panel: Come To Life: Inspiring the Regenerative Movement Through Arts and Activism at the Virtual Bioneers Conference