Ian Friday is an audio/visual curator who explores and exhibits cultural traditions and histories of people from the African diaspora. Founder of Global Soul Music, Ian produces music that archive and uncover ongoing black musical cultures connecting house, soul, afro beat, jazz and world music. As Associate Director of The Colored Girls Museum, Ian assists in developing programming and creates marketing for the museum's social media platforms. The histories of people from African descent have been passed down through the ages primarily through oral tradition. Music and art serve as conduits to deepening our understanding of those narratives.
I had a chance to chat with Ian Friday about his career, artistic endeavors and why community means so much to him.
Black Widow: What was your introduction to house music?
Ian Friday: Well, I grew up at the time before it was called house music. I was a club goer and dancer. I gravitated to the music in the clubs and the music I heard on the radio. House and the culture connected to it were attractive to me. It was a sense of “come as you are and dance as you feel”… I loved that. House music and house culture were related to disco and all of the things that was popular at the time so it was a natural fit for me. It was a sense of community that I could relate to. It was the music, the rhythms, the lyrics…all very much a reflection of my life. Growing up in New York City with Caribbean parents, I already diffused cultures and house reflected my personal life. At the club I heard a variety of styles because music wasn’t as segregated as it is now. The Culture that house represents and reflects created energy of family and inclusiveness. It was an open environment that was welcoming. The fact that I’m a creative and an artist, I loved how the music was presented; from the clubs and the décor, each week it was something new. It was something theatrical about it that appealed to me as a young teen. It was the music of my youth.
Black Widow: You’ve written poetry…what are differences in poetry and songwriting?
Ian Friday: There’s rhythm, syntax and a different form in songwriting vs poetry. You are still trying to tell a simple story and paint pictures that are relatable. It may seem simple to do but the simplest, meaning the most relatable stories, are often the most popular songs. Poetry can do some of that but there’s a different art to songwriting. I did poetry and edited a poetry magazine in college but I was consumed with the art of acting and theatre.
Black Widow: Oh really? Acting and Theatre? So you have a love of many art forms?
Ian Friday: I loved it all. I will credit my mom for exposing me to a variety of arts. I started a non-profit arts organization called the Tea Party. My desire was to pass my love of the arts to my friends and create a welcoming and supporting environment for artists to work on their craft. That’s how the Tea Party was formed. I was DJing, I was acting, I was writing poetry, and I was in love with many different art forms. Before the big wave of slam poetry, Saul Williams performed at the Tea Party and even The Last poets. We had music too, Ericka Badu, Mos Def, Living Color and Talib Kweli. I was in the mix of all of that. My music career springs from being connected to all of those people, organizing artists.
Black Widow: When did DJing and Producing come in to the picture?
Ian Friday: I’ve been DJing since college but initially it was a hobby. The poetry thing had many components. I would host open mics, present the artists then I’d DJ the after party. Our motto was “building community in the presence of art, no matter what art form it was”. The movie Love Jones was literally my life!!! [LAUGHTER] My DJ brand was growing and I was getting gigs and opportunities at notable spots like The Shelter. I soon became friends with Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan of Blaze. Kevin was running Shelter with Timmy Regisford at the time. It’s weird because Kevin and I both had mothers who were dealing with cancer at the time. We were actually building a relationship around our shared experiences with our moms. That opened the door to our friendship. They were making incredible music at the time and Kevin invited me to the studio once. I called it “Mecca” because I was a fan before I was a friend. They were working on an album and he let me do some alternative mixes and that put the bug in me about production. Kevin picked up my 1st project, and it did very well.
“As an artist, once you get positive reinforcement and some encouragement that gives you the courage to go down a particular path”.
Black Widow: OMG! That’s so true!
Ian Friday: Right, that’s what you were saying happened to you! It comes down to dollars and cents sometimes. My 1st project literally paid for my boiler in my house now! [Laughter] If you can get it off the ground, your art can support your life. Sometimes it’s the big house, the big car or the fancy trip or sometimes you are going to get…
Black Widow: What you need... like the boiler in your house [LAUGHTER]
Ian Friday: Right! [LAUGHTER] It gave me the positive reinforcement I needed. What I was doing…this thing I’m doing …what I created in my house has brought attention to what I’m doing around the world!!! I’ve always loved music and played around with the idea of producing but it was that mentorship from Blaze and the support from West End that made me feel like it was something I could do. We are a small family and if I had issues or questions, I had people who were doing this at a higher level who were helping me along. I’m such a fan of song and lyrics, I really fashioned my career after Blaze. They really were known for doing songs so I started writing songs.
Black Widow: How was that transition, especially since you were doing poetry?
Ian Friday: I came out of the poetry tradition. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received is that you have to be a student. You have to love it and you have to be a student. I studied not just house records but great records. I studied other songs, people who were doing it at a high level. People like Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton who were writing songs that last forever. I tried to decode that and translate it into the stories I had. I had to ask myself, what I want to put out into the universe. Again, connecting to the very spirit of house music, which is about upliftment. I wanted to write about things that touch people, lift people’s spirit and be honest. I wrote Life Starts Today and those early records that were getting a lot of traction gave me that encouragement. People weren’t just feeling what I was producing but they were feeling what I had to say.
Black Widow: I think that’s such a gift. To be able to write something and have it connect with so many people through music. Honestly, that’s how I connect with other artists as well. I connect with their vulnerability and honestly. That’s not always easy to do as an artist. Have you ever struggled with being “too open”?
Ian Friday: Sure…you want to save a piece for yourself. People get into this business for many reasons (celebrity and such) but there’s a cost…there’s a price we pay for this art. You have to smile at people when you may not feel like smiling or things like that but I remain grateful for the opportunities. I have to remind myself that I could be at home hoping to touch people or not having an opportunity to do the things I love. Even when I feel like someone is doing something that doesn’t feel good, I put the force field up and remind myself that I’m surrounded and protected. The ancestors got me, my people got me and I’m ok. But yes, there are times when you are just open and it’s beyond consciousness. It can be a beautiful thing. I feel it even when I’m DJing. When spirit moves through you from one record to the next. However, you have to be grounded otherwise it becomes all about you. It can go quickly…the spirit can leave as quickly as it comes. It could be that creative spirit. When I sit down to write or produce, you want to make sure your vibe is right. I have to remember to stay in the moment. I can’t go into a studio and try to top a “Life Starts Today”. What do I have to say right now in this moment? How can I impress myself?
Once you do that and create, all you can do is release it. How people receive it is something you cannot control. You know what I mean because you are a writer. You have to edit. Each word has weight to nourish. The listener may not understand that you may have toiled over a phrase for an hour, days etc. They just love it and scream out the lyrics! OMG THAT’S MY SONG! [Laughter]
Black Widow: That’s so true! The process and the response to the end product are usually totally different.
Ian Friday: In terms of openness and vulnerability, I generally welcome it. I want to be open. We are too closed as it is in this world. I want to be a safe space for myself so I can be open for my art and give it the best opportunity to touch people.
Black Widow: How would you describe the music you make?
Ian Friday: I call it Global Soul because it’s a reflection of who I am. I’m first generation American. The translation between my Caribbean parents, to living in New York where there are all kinds of people living together, and my travels…it’s a fusion. It can be Latin, Caribbean, African or the soul and R&B or even rock. Global Soul is a fusion of sounds that have influenced me and turned me on. I try to incorporate that energy in my music. You can hear Latin, African, Caribbean then the soul and R&B and Funk. That’s what the Global Soul sound and my vibe is about. It’s ever evolving and those rhythms are ever evolving.
Black Widow: You said in a previous interview that house music needs to be more artist driven so that the wider public can attach to the genre. What do you think is the importance of the artist within this genre?
Ian Friday: Although I’m a DJ and producer, I recognize that the way the public attaches themselves to music is through the artist. That’s just how it goes in popular music. We don’t have enough artists driving the culture at least not like how I think it can be. We have some incredibly talented artists in this genre. It requires so many things but it starts with the business of house music. We need more business people in house. If the DJ is the producer, the label owner, the marketing person, the arranger and the business person and the accounting person etc., it can become too much to manage. Back in the day, you had arrangers, recording engineers, the mix engineers, songwriters, etc. The recording chain had so many experts that the product would be more elevated and the business could attract experts in the field. House music needs to attract high level talent in all these areas but right now the people leading the charge are behind the decks and I say that as one of those people.
Black Widow: That’s why I found your statement so fascinating…because you are a DJ/Producer. It can be challenging as an artist.
Ian Friday: Oh absolutely, it’s even challenging for us too! Trust me! It’s definitely a lot of layers to it all.
Black Widow: You are the Associate Director of the Colored Girls Museum, the first of its kind in the nation. How did you get involved with this incredible space?
Ian Friday: It’s been an exciting journey and an amazing ride and opportunity to be a part of developing the very 1st museum of its kind. Our executive director, Vashti DuBois and I attended college together and have been on many creative adventures. She had this idea for the longest. She’s worked with women/girls professionally in a variety of settings and she’s an artist. She wanted to create a safe space to honor and celebrate what we call the ordinary/extraordinary colored girl. I was involved at the start. We converted a 3 story Victorian home to hold art and artifacts. It’s a memoir museum. What’s entered into the museum was submitted by ordinary colored girls and we hold it in sanctity because of its importance to her and her story. We celebrate the woman that has done so much for so many for so long in an uncredited way. I’m a part of this as a colored boy but as I deepen my understanding of her and her story, it deepens my understanding of my own humanity! Women…black women have been in support of Black Men through our trials and tribulations historically and it’s time for us to stand with them as well. That’s the vison and mission of the museum.
Black Widow: Absolutely outstanding!
Ian Friday: I’m the associate director and performance curator so I just curated a festival in 2016 with artists, performances, a children’s village, vendors and that. We are open weekly and give tours, exhibitions in other places. It’s designed to travel as well.
Black Widow: I think the entire idea is amazing and so needed right now. To have a space where black women and young black girls can go and see reflections of themselves and see how connected we are through our stories is amazing.
Ian Friday: It’s been transformative in my life. It feels like church. Its community building. It’s about women. It’s about colored girls but it’s not just for colored girls. It’s for anyone that’s ready for a conscious revolution. However, when women and girls come… [Pause] the sparkle in their eyes. It’s fellowshipping. It’s been personally transformative for me.
Black Widow: I have to be honest, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a man, a black man, be involved in a project that is committed to telling the stories of black women.
Ian Friday: I grew up with both of my parents but my feminism has been learned from the start. In recognizing both of my parents as very strong, accomplished people and EQUAL, my idea of womanhood was never diminished. Some of the smartest, bravest, strongest people I know are women. Some of my role models were women. I think when you are able to be open to that experience and be comfortable with yourself as a man; it deepens my human experience and understanding. It’s not all about me. This world, this life isn’t just about my perspective. It’s just like Global Soul music, being open to the fusion of culture around me. Being involved with the museum gives me another opportunity to be open to a different experience and to honor that. I am there to bear witness at times and to stand aside at times and be ok with both.
“…If this was the colored boy’s museum and women were involved, no one would bat an eye lash because women have been involved forever. You’ve always seen women standing with their sons, husbands and boyfriends. Women marching and picketing when a man is shot but when a woman is raped do black men do the same thing? Historically that is not the case and we have to change that….
Black Widow: Why is it called the Colored Girls Museum?
Ian Friday: We call it the colored girl’s museum because it’s the girl that has faced some of her greatest triumphs that propelled her in life and it’s the girl that has experienced trauma that has informed her life. If we are able to get to the girl and heal then the woman changes and the man and the community are lifted up.
Black Widow: That’s it. That’s really it!!! I have to say in speaking with you, I see a commonality. Whether in your writing, your music, your involvement in the museum, it’s all centered around community. That is the spirit of house music that you carry throughout all of these various artistic avenues.
Ian Friday: Absolutely. I completely agree. It is about community and the things that bind us. Culture, Creed, Art…those are languages we communicate with and we live in this world to share it.
“… Community is super important to me and the things that help to facilitate community are the things I’m naturally attracted to. I love the arts but I love what the arts can do in terms of bringing people together….”
With community we can elevate and solve problems as a neighborhood, a state, a county, a nation…a world. It’s funny you said that because I’ve thought about it and there really is a thread. From everything I’ve done it’s all about touching people in a positive way and being touched by others the same.
Black Widow: How do you think we should preserve the culture?
Ian Friday: We have to evolve. We have to intentionally create space for the next generation. Some try to hold on out of fear of being erased but that’s where people like you come in. It’s about documenting our stories. Those that have the power of the word, write the history. To preserve it as we’ve experienced it, we have to document it. We can’t go back but we can preserve it. We have to come together, talk, share and evolve together. We create but we don’t commodify. We pass things along orally in the spirit of our tradition but we can decide as a community that this is important and do the things necessary to create and document our own history. If we create it, we have an obligation of legacy and cultural ownership. Too often the people making money on it don’t look like the ones who created it. We have the writers, the talent, the knowhow but we have to come together and do the work. Especially now, with the state of things. This space we are all in right now is a direct reaction to where the country is right now. I feel like we are in the midst of a Black Art Renaissance.
Black Widow: I agree! I knew the level of art that would come out during this time would have a greater sense of purpose and intention.
Ian Friday: Absolutely! The artists are the voices. They can get a response. When there is some unbalance discourse in the world, creative people will be the voice to what a lot of people are thinking. That’s part of the gift of a creative/artist. We have all this stuff going on right now and so much is being exposed; the #meToo movement, sexual abuse awareness, etc. … art and culture reflects the times. The world is smaller now. We are influenced by the sounds coming around the world you know? For Example, take afro house. It is having big impact right now. The influence from the music was coming from us to them and now it’s from them to us and I think that’s interesting.
In terms of perseveration…Culture lives and breathes and it has its own life. It may not look like the thing you started when you started it but once you put it out there and you impact people, they are going to do their thing with it and put it back out there and others are impacted by it and so on. I think that’s the beauty of culture. I don’t have fear of the culture dying.
Black Widow: It’s evolving and not everyone likes change.
Ian Friday: Not at all. We have to be open to change. Some will be good and some may not be. You may not be able to control it all either but that’s just the nature of things. The best way to deal with that is to be open to what’s coming.
Black Widow: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as an artist?
Ian Friday: It’s important for any artist to take control of your career. Have information about who you want to be, how you want to be seen and remember not every opportunity comes back in dollars and sense. Building your brand, having people be aware of what you do…it’s all part of being an artist. It’s a business and you are an entrepreneur. You can do art for art’s sake but once you want to make money, it’s a business. You can’t just be left brained.
Black Widow: No you can’t…if you want to have a voice and be successful; you have to know the business of making art.
Ian Friday: Absolutely. You have a whole brain. You have to be mindful of how you want the world to consume you and your art.
Black Widow: So you are coming to Chicago on Halloween at Renaissance Bronzeville! What can people expect when they come to hear you play?
Ian Friday: I’m coming in the moment. I would want people to come with good, open positive energy. Just come with the spirit of fun…
Black Widow: Well you are coming on Halloween so the spirit of fun will definitely be in the building! [Laughter]
Ian Friday: [Laughter] yeah! Musically we are going to have fun. I like when the crowd comes with an open mind. I want to play and have people feed me and I can feed them and we can have a great time.
“When I come to Chicago, I have fun. It feels like coming home and visiting family. I don’t feel like I have to introduce myself musically here, we are already in the same zone”.
Black Widow: So what does the future hold in store for you? What are your main goals for next year?
Ian Friday: I have a lot of music coming out. Love is the Color Vol 2 with remixes by Reggie Steele and Mark Francis is coming out in November. Love is the Color Volume 3 and 4 are coming out in 2019 and I have projects with artists like Sheree Hicks, Stephanie Cook and Soul Eclipse and more.
Black Widow: That’s a lot on your plate in addition to your other projects.
Ian Friday: Slow and steady wins the race. I’m so fortunate to be able to do what I love. It doesn’t come without sacrifices but what doesn’t? I’m doing work that is important to me. It’s work that I love and that makes it all worthwhile. It is a lot at times and hard work but sometimes it doesn’t feel like work and I’m not doing it alone. It all comes back to community. I’m not alone in this and it’s not for my own glory either. Whatever success I gain, gives me a greater opportunity to serve. If I want to be able to serve better and to serve more, that means I have to work hard. Music has been so good to me. The artists I’ve been fortunate to work with have been so amazingly good to me. I want to see us all win. The entire scene and culture lifts when we all win. I want all of us to lift this thing up.
So 2019, whether it’s the music or the museum, the DJing, it’s all of it. It’s all connected and I’m just trying to position myself so I can be in a better position to share with the community that I’m a part of and the culture that I love.
Black Widow: Thank you so much for speaking with me. I truly enjoyed it!
Ian Friday: No thank you, this is how interviews should go. I enjoyed it; it felt more like a conversation!
Black Widow: I appreciate that so much! Thank you!
You can catch Ian Friday, Weds October 31st at Renaissance Bronzeville! Click on the image for tickets and more details!
You can find Ian Friday at the following: