Behind The Groove With Kokayi & Mar

On a balmy night in Chocolate City, Freshly Squeezed -- a coalition of soul-minded DC area bloggers -- organized a gathering, which featured the music of Dutch vocalist Mar and DC emcee Kokayi. In the cozy Gibson Guitar showroom, next to the hustle and bustle of the Verizon Center, these two musicians gave DC something fresh and juicy to savor.

Before he got the crowd of about 100 afro-hipsters rocking, Kokayi sat down with SoulBounce to spit knowledge on the universality of music and what he hopes his audiences would get from his work:

SoulBounce: So, Kokayi, what is your role in this event?

Kokayi: I'm a performer, and I partnered up with the Freshly Squeezed folks to put on a show.

SB: What do you want your audience, whether they are new or longstanding fans, to get from your show?

K: I'm about honesty in my music, so I want them to pick up on the experiences I've had in my life. I like for people to have fun, to get involved, but also to feel the honesty of my music, which is hip hop given with a different perspective.

SB: You really do have a different sound. How has that shaped how you've entered the music scene, especially coming from the District, where go-go is really popular?

K: I come from go-go bands, and I was born and raised and lived my life in DC. The thing I love about go-go is that it's the indigenous music of DC. The thing I love about hip hop is that one of its key tenets is innovation and making something out of nothing. With those two things, the live band thing is definitely DC, and being innovative, they are both just a part of hip hop. I reflect and view everything with hip-hop sensibilities and reinterpret other genres of music through that filter. If I'm playin' what people think is a rock song, it's really hip hop with a different time signature. I'm really just trying to be a sounding board for the sum total of my experiences.

SB: You're really putting me on game (laughter). Are you familiar with Alison Carney at all?

K: Yeah, that's the homie.

SB: Well, she covered a rock song, "Stellar" by Incubus, on her mixtape, and it was really dope. What do you think about crossing genres like that?

K: On a lot of the old Stax stuff, a lot of the composers and players were white dudes, and black dudes, too, but all of them were filtering their experience through the blues. We get caught up in what buyers want us to be, and the mystical "they" wants us to be the consumer. As a consumer, we are given things with labels that make products "feel new." So instead of regular gum, this is bubblegum. Or spearmint gum. Or like 5 Gum that looks like a pack of cigarettes. It's not really new, it's still gum! That's how we treat our music. Rock isn't white people music, and it's not black people music. We need to take it in and stop caring about what people think about genre. And "they" also try to get you to stay in your lane. I don't believe in none of that. I'll drive in whatever lane I'm in. My only caveat to that is if you're in a lane, drive well.

With that, Kokayi took off to prepare himself for his performance (which was slammin' by the way, he shut that ish down), and Mar came in to kick it and chat with me. If you are unfamiliar with Mar, he is an Amsterdam native with a corona of fluffy, sand brown hair. He's also in possession of one of the sexiest voices in soul music right now. Here is what he had to say about this 'fro, his music, and his view on the world:

SoulBounce: First, I want to ask you how old you are.

Mar: Oh no! (laughs) I'm 24.

SB: You have a gorgeous voice, and we've featured you on SoulBounce before. What initially drew you to soul music?

M: I think it's always been a feeling, I've never thought about it like that. I have love for all kinds of genres, but I just grew up listening to hip hop and soul. I was also influenced by my father; he is a musician as well. A guitarist and bassist. He plays jazz and blues and rock. I think I'm also down with the swing, the feeling from black music. It might also be because my grandmother is from Suriname.

SB: So you are Dutch.

M: Born and raised in Amsterdam.

SB: Do you miss home at all right now?

M: Not at all (laughter). I never knew anything other than Amsterdam, but I came to New York last year and I stayed for three and a half weeks. People were nice very helpful. Even when I was in JFK on Monday, this dude came up and was complimenting on my sunglasses and helping me out. It's totally different than Amsterdam.

SB: So what are you working on now?

M: I'm working on my album, but first I must finish the album with Full Crate.

I was raised by a musician, and I think that is coming out. I can be sexy...the song that was featured on Pinboard [blog] came straight away from the heart. That's the type of sound that's going to be on my album. I am also working on a Mar variation, it's a song from Aphex Twin, and it features Szjerdene.

SB: What inspires you musically?

M: I believe in originality more than quality. When an artist is doing something new, that's interesting. I want to go an adventure; let me learn more than I already know.

SB: OK, subject change. Do a lot of people ask about your hair?

M: It's crazy what hair will do to people. I don't know if it's just the music or what. One girl said online that she wanted to be sandwiched between me and Vikter Duplaix. I hope she's not saying that with a boyfriend! (laughter)

The show, in short, was amazing. Kokayi had a kick-ass band backing him (Zo! and Kush from The Foreign Exchange! A lady drummer! A DJ and a bassist!), and his eclectic brand of hip hop turned the energy in the spot up to 10. This stood in stark contrast to Mar's subdued set -- the ladies in the room literally swooned over his melismas. Music, and live music especially, captures feeling in ways that other art forms don't. This event was one more example of the phenomena.

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