AHI

There are also never any wasted paints in God’s art shop, and Toronto’s own AHI has arrived on the sonic scene as a vocal rescue ladder dropped directly into...
AHI : Q&A
AHI : Q&A

Today’s social and material world, unfortunately, is largely one of elastic expectations and cascading profanity. So much that passes for creativity now is only about cunning and venom, and there are no missed tricks in the megalopolis of megalomania emphasizing divisive ideas of self-first thinking far and wide. However, there are also never any wasted paints in God’s art shop, and Toronto’s own AHI has arrived on the sonic scene as a vocal rescue ladder dropped directly into this fiasco-fire. Exhibiting a rare and easy elegance on his latest full-length offering, aptly entitled Prospect, AHI is not just a man of enviable artistic vision, but one keenly alert to his status as a living repository of ancestral memory.

Prospect is a record about how the torch-passed experience of unbelonging leads to the creation of one’s truest home. Unlike many artists who look backward in order to move forward, AHI does not wear heritage like an archival piece. On the contrary, the entire unifying message underpinning Prospect focuses on the hole-in-the-toe shoes (or total lack of shoes whatsoever) that bore your ancestors through the lives we now celebrate. Prospect is centered on reminding listeners, and AHI himself, that they quite literally are living the lives those ancestors were struggling toward with whatever they had or did not have.

The stories in these songs depict AHI walking forward with great and meticulous purpose, both spiritually and physically, footsteps lit behind him like pools of fireflies he is deliberately leaving to mark the path for the next ones who come hunting for shared ancestral totems. In its musical syntax, Prospect sounds and feels like what might happen if Leslie Odom Jr. dove headfirst into Alvin Ailey’s Blood Memories and turned that experience into some form of auditory Shibori, the Japanese resist-dyeing technique that highlights tension and release. AHI himself is observably nimble-hearted and writes from the refuge of the gentle resistance fighter. This, coupled with his natural ability toward emotional specificity, does the whole album a power of good that likewise further elevates its recurrent themes of honoring the kindred aggregate of humanity above all things.

It was QRO’s towering thrill to sit down with AHI recently and follow him through an enlightening exchange spanning not just the twists and turns encountered on his path to bringing Prospect to life, but the deep significance of those bends in the road to the full message and meaning of the record.


AHI

QRO: I still have not even remotely gotten over the magic of hearing you debut this stunning album for us at Paul Mabury’s house at Americana this year (QRO recap). Can we start by having you duplicate that magic a bit here for our readers and walk us through the experience you went through for Prospect? Because I feel like your narrative around this record is just surreal and amazing.

AHI: Oh yeah, we can go right into it! The record itself has been a long time in the making. I initially thought I was going to release this record at the beginning of 2020 and have a record out for tour season. For my last two records, I would drive to Nashville with my wife and my children, stay there a couple of weeks, and then drive back home. When they started talking about lockdowns, I just said, “Okay, I’ll just fly down on my own.” Easy-peasy, right? [laughs]. And then, no, nobody’s going anywhere. My first reaction was like, “What the heck? This is my moment. This is supposed to be my opportunity.” I had all these songs ready.

I spoke to my mentor about it and he talked to me about how pivotal this moment is. The one good thing about this pandemic is that we are all experiencing it together. We’re all stopped right now. So just keep preparing yourself to get on the other side of this – because there’s going to be another side to this. So that was when I went back inside myself, looking at my songs again, and considering: are these the best songs? Is this the message I want to give? Not like the songs I switched out were bad songs – some of those songs I might use in the future – but I just felt like: if this is my last record, are you saying everything that you want to say? So, I wrote a couple of new ones for the record. My favorite song, “Say It To Me,” was written during the pandemic, as was “Coldest Fire.” A few of the other ones were refined and touched up a little bit.

So, Prospect, in terms of the technical side of getting it out, it feels like a long time coming. The first thing I penned on this record was in 2017. “Until You” was the first song I started writing and it had like three different titles and the lyrics were all changed. You have these songs for that number of years and you’re just sitting on them and waiting to record them. Finally, in August of 2020, Canada allowed flights to Nashville. The first flight was August 1st, and I booked that flight. I got to Nashville, and we started tracking the album at Paul Mabury’s house. You got to meet Paul at his house that night; and so, you know how great he is…

I think this is the first time in my career where everybody was working together.

QRO: Oh, undeniably one of the most incredible men, not just producers, I’ve ever met in my life. What a genuine and visionary guy! And what a special atmosphere in which to bring this project to life because I do think Paul’s warmth and bright energy infuse every tree leaf and ray of light at his place.

AHI: It was a beautiful process. It was a very needed time for me in my life. Everybody who worked on the record brought something special to the record, not just talent. They all wanted to see the best for these songs. They all wanted to see the best for my voice as a singer. I think this is the first time in my career where everybody was working together. Not to say that people weren’t working together before, but people think that every artist loves their music, you know, because they released it. But there are so many artists, Grammy-award winning artists, who are like, “I hate that record. I can’t listen to that.” I’m not saying I hated anything I’ve done; I’m more so saying that this is the first time where I felt like I’ve absolutely adored everything I’ve done. I felt like if I was on the other side as an audience member, even as a strong critic of music, this is a great record for me, you know? That was an overwhelming feeling.

QRO: That’s the dream, isn’t it? To make something that you are thoroughly and unequivocally proud of from every angle. I can only imagine the joy and relief of that! What led you to choose Paul Mabury to produce for you?

AHI: I was on the road with an artist called Lauren Daigle for about two years prior to the pandemic. Paul Mabury is her music director, her drummer, and the producer of her last two records. We got to know each other really well and I got to perform in these beautiful spaces like Radio City Music Hall, Red Rocks, Greek Theatre, and many of the Orpheum theaters. It was a glorious experience but I was eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after-show food and not really being active at all. I noticed myself getting a little bit winded a couple of times when I was out on tour with Lauren.

There are people that deal with depression-depression, you know? And I think we all deal with it in portions, like everybody deals with depression or something that gets us down in increments. I deal with some anxiety issues sometimes, and some slight depression issues, and I could just see those things fall by the wayside once I had time to work out a little more and take better care of my body. Unbeknownst to myself I was also preparing myself for the studio as well because one thing I wasn’t doing a lot of in my life was cardio. When I went into the studio, believe it or not, it helped me sing better. Because singing is all about breathing and breath control, right? So, if you’re taking weight off and you’re exercising your lungs more, you can breathe better and you can hit notes better. If I’d done this record in April, I would’ve just been jumping straight from tour to recording.

You feel that community and that energy on this record in a really cohesive way.

QRO: Right, and so you feel that would’ve cost you something that you actually gained and were able to then pour into the album due to having that unexpected time.

AHI: Exactly. We think that major label artists are busy all the time, which they should be because they tend to have a bigger following, If you’re an independent artist in the way that I am – where I run my own label through Thirty Tigers and The Orchard, I do my own manufacturing – all these components, I have my hand in every single part of them so you’re never really allowed to take the time to breathe. This is the first time I’ve been able to think of the overall messaging of an album in the way that maybe a team would build a marketing campaign on a major label – because I had the time. I know we’re all tired of talking about the pandemic, but there’s no way not to notice what it gave to this record.

QRO: It’s integral to it, I think, because it has shaped the outcome and the content. So, it sounds like that also played a part in who was available to work on the record with you?

AHI: Yeah, I got sidetracked a little bit in what I wanted to say about how I came to work with Paul. So, we talked about him being Lauren’s music director and we were on tour together. It was my birthday night and I don’t really celebrate my birthday on the outside, just internally in my own mind, but something special always happens to me on my birthday. I met my wife the day before my birthday many years ago. So, we were all standing outside by the tour bus after a show, everybody’s talking, and Paul and I just started talking. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about before, but it made me ask him: “If you were producing my record, how would you produce it?”

Paul started talking about what he would do and comparing me to other artists, which led him to bring up Lorde. He was discussing how everyone today wants to pump sonics into their music and make everything so loud, so dense, and so big. Lorde came out and she did the exact opposite and it caught everybody’s ears. Paul said, “That’s what you’ve got to do; you’ve got to let your voice be the star of the show and let your songs stand out.” From there I asked him, “Do you know anyone who could produce my record like that? Would you produce my record?” [laughs]. Now, in all fairness, I know Paul from the contemporary Christian music scene, right? So, I always thought he was amazing but never thought he would be the one to produce my record. I didn’t look at him until that moment as a producer without that “contemporary Christian” label. And just like that he said, “Of course I’ll produce your record.” So, that’s how that connected.

Because of the pandemic, a lot of the people that should have been out on Lauren Daigle’s world tour were at home not working. We already had all this camaraderie from being on the road experiencing some of the highest times of our lives together. The last show I did before the pandemic was in Hawaii, and then months later we’re all back together again for my record this time. I’m just the guy that opened up for them with my acoustic guitar! And they’re all so happy to be there. You feel that community and that energy on this record in a really cohesive way.

With prior records, I was meeting the musicians and the producer for the first time while I was making the record. They were guns for hire, which is the Nashville way in a lot of respects. You’re trying to get to know each other and learn each other’s language while you’re making something in a short period of time. Whereas this one, we all had emotional moments together for two years. We cried together, laughed together, got annoyed at each other – we experienced all that already! When we came into the studio, there was no guesswork about “Who is AHI?” “Who is Paul?” We all knew each other! That is so invaluable and it’s not something you can always come by, especially as a solo artist.

Everything that I sing about is about how to foster pure, genuine relationships and to value the impact that those relationships have on you.

QRO: Yes! And I remember you talking a lot the day I met you about the sense of community that the record itself is attempting to foster – like in the global sense – of how we need to treat each other better and be kinder. That vibe is all over every single song on this record. If you had never said that unity was a part of your wish for Prospect, it is absolutely sonically latent. Anyone that listens can hear the brotherhood.

AHI: That’s literally what my name means! “AHI” is a Hebrew word which means “brother.”

QRO: Wow! No way! Thank you for telling me that because I didn’t know!

AHI: Yeah! As an artist, I’ve spent a lot of time alone and in solitude, but I do value relationships, especially with my wife and my family. Everything that I sing about is about how to foster pure, genuine relationships and to value the impact that those relationships have on you. So, for us to all be back in the studio….this was the first time that a lot of these guys were recording again! And at the same time myself and Lauren Daigle were recording a single together called “Hold Onto Me,” and that was the first time Lauren and Paul were back together in the studio since her Grammy-winning record, Look Up Child. It was just emotional and intense on so many levels, but it was like life support for a lot of us.

And then we went back into lockdown…[laughs]…but that oasis in the middle of a pandemic, it was something that was so valuable, and I think everybody there needed it. The beautiful thing for me was just watching everybody doing everything they can to get my visions to come true and come to life. That has never happened before with me creating music.

QRO: Did you come in with fragments of songs or tracked demos, or what did you bring?

AHI: I just brought my acoustic guitar and vocals. I’m a writer; I like to write, so I had a lot of production notes and some reference tracks. Paul went through every bit of my notes and we talked about the meaning of the songs and what I’m trying to get across.

QRO: I definitely know you to be an artist who puts the soul and the messaging of the song ahead of anything commercial, which is one of the things that makes you so rare these days.

AHI: I appreciate that so much. I always point to that guy over there [indicates a picture of Bob Marley]. You see that wall of CDs behind you? I used to have that myself. I had like every Led Zeppelin CD, I had An American Prayer by The Doors, The Mars Volta, and I had all the Bob Marley records. I got rid of everything except for Bob Marley.

I want to make something that helps people get through what they’re struggling with and helps me feel uplifted as well. That’s the primary reason I make music.

QRO: Interesting! You kept the master!

AHI: Right! The reason was An American Prayer. It’s a great record, but I got to a point where I was like “I don’t know what this guy is talking about! [laughs] It’s cool but it doesn’t do anything for my soul and my heart.” I felt like with what I was going through at that time, Bob Marley was the only music, of that era or contemporary, that was speaking to my soul. So, I said to myself: “If there’s no music coming out right now that is speaking to my soul, I want to create that music!” I want to make something that helps people get through what they’re struggling with and helps me feel uplifted as well. That’s the primary reason I make music. I didn’t become an independent artist to have people tell me how to create. If I wanted to do that, I’d just sign a deal or something, you know?

QRO: Sure, and become another pre-packaged item on a shelf.

AHI: Yes, there’s a lot of that – and if you’re paying your bills and buying a house with that, great. But if you’re not, what did you do it for?

QRO: Absolutely, and I would argue that even if you had the bills paid and the house bought, what you gave for it you can’t get back. And it’s very interesting to me to hear you say Bob Marley because the two references that immediately came to me when I got home from Americana with your record in tow was Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. Not to corral you at all, but those two men have an essence to them that is so powerful that I think you could be a person who doesn’t even speak the language they’re singing in or have any experience of music and you could still get the feeling. That’s very much what comes across to me in Prospect.

AHI: Marvin Gaye I’m a huge fan of – What’s Going On? – that’s somewhere up there! I still have that CD! [laughs] With Marvin Gaye you could really tell that he didn’t care about material things; he just cared about message and emotion – so I totally connect to that. He’s one of my favorite artists. I wrote a book a long time ago and one of the characters is based off Marvin Gaye’s father.

QRO: Hang on, how do I – the crazy book girl – not have a copy of this book already and why am I just finding out that it exists!? [laughs]

AHI: You don’t want a copy; it’s really dense! Let’s put it this way: I didn’t become a novelist; I became a singer, right? [laughs] There’s some cool ideas in it, but it’s very rough!

QRO: Okay well, I’m going to harass you for a copy of that until I get one, sir! Talking about Marvin Gaye and in terms of one of the things I think is most fascinating about him as an artist, is that people who didn’t really pay a lot of attention or were maybe just “party listeners” to music, they think of Marvin Gaye and they think of these grooves and these slick vibes. When I think of Marvin Gaye, I think of how political he was, how socially alert – but the industry wanted to put this shellac on him – like ‘here’s this product,’ which nobody that was thinking bought that but everybody’s not thinking, right? So that’s why I think it’s very cool that you’re taking all that by the reins and saying “No, there will be no shellac here. You’ll just see the message, the truth, and feel the vibe too.”

AHI: Absolutely! And it’s never about not making commercially viable music. It’s just about not putting that before what you’re trying to create. Paul was very careful with that on this record, even more than me in some ways. I’ll give you another story that I found interesting: The first song on the record, “Prospect,” I had an idea where I referenced “You Got Me” by The Roots. Just mostly for the drum and bass, particularly that breakdown after the bridge. I just like that syncopated feel and I thought we could enter that territory a little bit. Not too crazy because I don’t want it to sound too Hip-hop and I don’t want to be judged as being like “the Black artist” or whatever. Paul said something fascinating to me at that. He said “Man, that’s an American issue.” You know Paul’s Australian and he was like, “We just make music, man, we don’t even think about that. That’s something you’re only thinking about because of the American music industry.”

I try not to say “love” in my music so that I can express these feelings without saying the obvious word.

QRO: That’s the truth! Did you and I talk about my world-famous Australian madness, my total obsession? That’s my favorite place in the world, and one part of it is for that reason. Those artists – pretty much across the board – there’s no concept in their minds of these compartmentalizations that America likes to enforce. He couldn’t be more right about that and obviously knows that far better than myself.

AHI: And I never thought about that until he said it! Just make good music. There I was trying to protect myself – like, you don’t want to sound ‘too white’ but you don’t want to sound ‘too black.’ Trying to put myself into some kind of space. So that was the first time I said, “Let’s go; let’s just see where this goes.” That was an important moment on the record and the record kind of hinges on that song, “Prospect”. That was the moment Paul and I established “Prospect” as the cornerstone of the record in terms of how it’s going to define the sound for the rest of the record and where it’s going to allow us to go. By the time you get to “Coldest Fire,” we’re kind of testing the limits because this is not a linear folk record. You have moments where it takes you different places, but there’s this thread that runs through every song that brings you back to center.

QRO: Yes, it’s that essence that I was talking about – that feeling! I don’t know really what to call it, but it seems like a charisma between all of you and your spirit – all of that is very audible. Also, “Coldest Fire” has your little ‘brrrrrr’ sound in it – these little authentic moments. That’s you!

AHI: [laughs] Yeah, and there’s even maybe a little Bill Withers in there.

QRO: Oh yes! Did you hear the tribute Keb’ Mo’ did recently? He did a “Lean On Me” tribute and I cried like somebody had shot my dog. Keb’ Mo’ being another of those Nashville wonders, down there killing it every day!

AHI: I will absolutely take a listen to that. I saw a Bill Withers tribute at Carnegie Hall that Bill Withers was actually present for, and Keb’ Mo’ was one of the performers there. The thing about Bill Withers – which is a little bit of a contrast from Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley – is that those two had a little bit of an otherworldly element. It’s almost like they’re speaking from a more ancient place. Whereas Bill Withers has this very present, personal, grounded, earthly feeling. I got to meet him before he passed, which was awesome. His music brings a lot of community as well. He sang songs about things like his grandmother. Who sings about that, you know? – the idea of singing about regular relationships and not having everything be about heartbreak or love songs. I try not to say “love” in my music so that I can express these feelings without saying the obvious word.

QRO: The lost art of nuance and depth, AHI! [laughs] Now, would you say that those guys are your primary vocal influences as well?

AHI: I have to say – and it’s going to be surprising but someone brought this to my attention many years ago and I had never realized it – when we were young, my aunts and uncles used to come over to my parents’ house to visit for family parties and stuff and they used to always make us watch Paul Simon’s Graceland (QRO deluxe edition review) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There’s a vibrato they use and the way that they chant their vocals. I love South African music a lot, like Miriam Makeba. There’s something there that just doesn’t feel like it’s from this planet. That’s an early-early influence I think I internalized before I was even a singer. Believe it or not, Like a Rock by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. These are unconscious things that you just hear all the time growing up and it informs how you think about singing. Getting older, I would say Bob Marley, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, absolutely. Some of the 80s guys too – like Phil Collins is in there. I love Mahalia Jackson. She’s one of the greatest singers of all time, period. Then there’s Son House – I’m a huge fan of Son House. A lot of singers are training their voices and thinking about influences from a young age; I didn’t do that. I came to it really late in the game.

I think everybody can sing–that’s something I really believe!

QRO: What age did you start trying to train or hone your voice?

AHI: It’s probably only been the last ten-eleven years, honestly. Prior to that, I always loved singing and had a couple of moments where people told me they thought I had a good voice, but it was only right before my first record that I went into overdrive and started teaching myself how to sing and doing vocal exercises regularly. I’m still learning how to use my voice, every day!

QRO: Well, the voice is an unwieldy instrument, isn’t it? It’s not like the guitar – you pick up the chords and then you have them. You can sing on a Tuesday and come back to your voice on a Wednesday and it’s a totally different thing! I think that’s very inspiring that you feel you came to singing later. It’s cool that you’ve done it as a man, rather than a boy.

AHI: I think everybody can sing – that’s something I really believe! Not necessarily everybody can sing like Adele or Michael Bublé…

QRO: Sure! And I think some of the best singers are not necessarily the powerhouses like Adele, you know women and men that were just born with a gift, but you’ve got your Bob Dylans and Willie Nelsons – whom some say can’t sing at all! I adore them both myself but it’s all, as you say, about the character of the voice and the stories you are telling.

AHI: Nina Simone is another one…

QRO: Yes indeed, and another that I just love! Switching subjects just a bit: what about travel restrictions for you in Canada now – are you able to tour Prospect?

AHI: Yes, there is travel now, though restrictions change all the time. I’ve got a tour set up for February 2022 and, if all things go well, I should be on the road by then.

QRO: And that will be American, Canadian, or both?

AHI: Oh, both! So excited about that.

Sometimes people can be offended on someone else’s behalf without realizing that they might be getting in the way of that person’s blessing.

QRO: Fantastic. Well, you know I’ll be there glitter-squealing on the front row! [laughs] Can I also ask you to share the story of “Danger”? That’s a special one, I think.

AHI: Yeah, so I dream music all the time, very regularly – and some of it is good and some of it is horrible. [laughs] One night I was having this dream about being at a venue in Toronto called Massey Hall, a very popular and iconic venue in Toronto. It was a sold-out show and I was singing “I feel danger” to the audience, who were all singing it back to me.

I woke up knowing this was a good one so I sang the chorus that I heard in my dream and then I sang a little bit of the verse that I thought could go with that. The next day I go and write the song, and I wrote it all really fast. I played it for my wife and the children were loving it, and you know you just get that feeling when you write something special.

The song is about a young man who is a victim of gun violence and the mother is at home wondering where he is, why he hasn’t picked up his phone, and she’s going through her emotions worrying about this child. I had been scheduled during the pandemic to shoot a video anyway and so I told the director I wanted to do “Danger”.

We reached out to a reverend in Toronto who was going to help us consult for the video with mothers and people who have lost children to gun violence. The reverend was going over my lyrics and she told me that, when working with these mothers, a word that could trigger them is “shot” or “shoot.” So, the first line of “Danger” is “Timothy was shot on Adelaide.” She asked if I would mind removing that word and I said, “My music is for healing so of course I’ll do that.” I changed that line to “Timothy was left on Adelaide,” which I actually like better because sometimes when you don’t spell it out for people, it pulls them in a little more.

So, then she goes on to my second verse, which is “Evelyn stood by the window pane,” and asked if this song happened to be about Evelyn Fox, a mother who lost her son in a similar manner to the gun violence I was singing about. I had never heard of this lady and didn’t know her story; I dreamt this song. The reverend thought I should maybe take that name out also in order not to offend this mother, which of course I would never want to do. But even as I agreed to it, I didn’t feel right about it because when I chose the name “Evelyn,” I had tried a bunch of names and it definitely sang the best. It just fit. August rolls around and I’m in the studio with Paul when my wife calls to say that she has done some research on Evelyn Fox and found out her son had been taken by a stray bullet about five minutes from Adelaide, the street in Toronto that I mention in the song.

QRO: Wow. It sounds like you were super connected into that divine energy.

AHI: I feel like we all are! It’s there for all of us to receive when we aren’t so focused on self. Just sometimes we hear it better than others. That’s the conversation Paul and I then had in the studio. He was like, “This is a gift. I don’t think you should take it out.” Sometimes people can be offended on someone else’s behalf without realizing that they might be getting in the way of that person’s blessing. Fast forward to a three-hour Zoom call I’m having with my mentor, who does musical treatments for shows like Big Brother, American Idol, and so on. They send him treatments all the time and he works in a really assembly line way where he’s not really attached to the stories in the briefs, and he had recently gotten 12 or 13 briefs called “Loreal: Women of Worth”. The video that they sent him to work on was Evelyn Fox telling the story of her son.

This record is about the spirituality that connects us to the past and the future.

QRO: Unbelievable!! Just what is happening…

AHI: Right! So, before I ever even dreamt this song, he had this video. I was like, “I have to reach out to this lady now.” I wrote her this long email that she actually deleted because she thought it was spam, but I’d had my wife reach out on Twitter as well so we made contact. She told me that she had cried and cried hearing the song and the crux of her response was: “You gave me a voice when I didn’t have a voice.” We got on a Zoom call, met each other for the first time, and just talked like we had known each other our whole lives. She ended up being in my music video for the song, she’s come to my shows, so what this song did for me was show me the way we are all connected to each other and the responsibility we have toward each other.

I always knew the album was going to be called Prospect, which means a lot of different things. In NBA basketball, it means someone is watching you to be selected for a team. For me it was like, “Hey, I’m here, and I’m selecting myself to be the next prospect.” But it was also about the future, choosing your destiny, and choosing what you’re going to become in this life. Without trying to sound hippy-dippy, we’re all connected in ways that we don’t fully understand and what the brain can do is beyond what we can understand through science.

QRO: It’s not hippy-dippy at all – you’re talking about universal truth, and I completely agree!

AHI: Right, and we don’t plug into that enough because we are so distracted by our day-to-day lives. It’s amazing to me knowing that I wrote this song and now this lady and I are going to have a friendship for the rest of our lives. All of that then connects to the song “Prospect” and the situation at the Canadian border. I got turned back twice within a couple of hours trying to get to Americana, for reasons that were completely based on wrong information. I ended up in this area called Tilbury and Chatham-Kent in Ontario, about an hour and a half away from the U.S. border. So, I’m driving around after stopping to get some food, trying to get back on the highway, and I see this road called “Prospect Street.” I thought, “How cool, let me just get out and take some selfies; this could be some great B-roll for something in the future.”

QRO: Holy cow at the serendipity and synchronicity!

AHI: Oh, it gets better. I’m just meandering around there and I see two different signs with footsteps and a star on my road. It’s weird, but I called my wife and she googled it to find out that these are the signs commemorating the exact paths that former slaves took on the Underground Railroad. My wife is a sixth generation Black Canadian, making my children seventh generation Black Canadian. It just blew my mind that, had I not been turned away at the border, I don’t think that I would have stopped in this city ever in my life.

I got so emotional and pulled over the car near a cornfield in the middle of nowhere. Can you imagine being a slave, traveling from the South, across the United States by foot over the course of months, possibly barefoot, minimal clothing. You get to a river that you can’t cross because it’s frozen and have to turn back to find another way forward. I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to Americana this year, but the amount of times these people got turned back and what they had to endure – it was just a very clear sign to me, and I feel this so deeply in my heart: whatever burdens, whatever mental issues or depressions that are stopping you, keep going. Because if your ancestors didn’t keep going, you wouldn’t be here right now.

That became the full-circle moment for what Prospect really meant. This record is about the spirituality that connects us to the past and the future. We are the thread that aligns us with our ancestors and our children to come. I was missing the bigger picture even though I had written the bigger picture into “Prospect” the song, “I just want to live like someone before my time is counting on me/And walk beneath the wings like someone from another life is looking out for me.” It all culminated in that moment and that sign.

You can’t change history unless you confront it with an open mind.

QRO: As in: you are the actual prospect of your ancestors – you are what they were dreaming of. So beautiful. And it has got to be said, from a literary perspective: the fact that they were actual signs! Not interpretive signs…

AHI: Literal signs, yes! I wish I could make this up and pitch it as a movie! [laughs] This is all about the impression you leave on this planet and others. I don’t usually get into politics, and this may be controversial, but in America specifically the people that were holding onto the master/slave mentality never got to have the conversation about why they were holding onto those things. I don’t believe in cancel culture. Tribalism is not an American phenomenon; it’s something encoded in us for all of human history. I believe in letting those people have their opinion and letting them voice it without judgment, not so that they could collude to bring back these antiquated ideas, but because the best way to convert someone to a better opinion is to allow them to see why their current opinion is not the way to go.

QRO: That joins seamlessly with one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in life, which is that people who cannot communicate think everything is an argument.

AHI: Right, wow, that’s so well said. You can’t change history unless you confront it with an open mind. I’m passionate about human interaction and human behavior. I always say that there’s no objectivity without compassion and, mind you, there’s a point where if you don’t change your mind about things, history is just going to leave you behind regardless of whether we’ve had the conversation or not.

QRO: And you become a relic, absolutely. Well AHI, as for conversations, this one has been from-another-world amazing – just stellar. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today and sharing so much about your beautiful record, Prospect!

AHI: I have loved this! I love talking about this stuff and when anybody else wants to hear me talk about it, it gives my wife a break. [laughs] I really do appreciate your voice and depth, and how thoughtful your questions and writing are. This has been awesome, thanks so much.


AHI




Many special thanks and glittery hugs are owed by the author to Cheryl Moore at Thirty Tigers, Taylor Perry at Shore Fire Media, and Paul and Maggie Mabury, all of whom gave beyond generously of their hearts and time to help make this feature all that it could be for both QRO and AHI.

-photo:Will Payne Photography

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