AfroVelvet and Nate G. of AV+NG are names you might be familiar with, but for an assortment of reasons. AfroVelvet is a multimedia artist whose work is composed of creative direction, fashion and design, while Nate G. is a prolific artist in D.C.’s music scene. At the beginning of this year, they offered up their Not Just a Body EP, which is a meditative purgatory, urging listeners into reflection about the state of our world as we perceive it today and necessary actions for change. Encapsulated by an entrancing soundscape, AV+NG celebrate the grace and beauty of the black body mass, while lovingly expounding upon points where ignorance may prevail. I recently had the chance to speak with AV+NG regarding their musical heritage, vulnerability and the symbolism held within black life.
D.C. Music Download: How did you come into music? Did you all come from musical families?
AfroVelvet: I came into music through church. Growing up, I was in church–what felt like every day of the week–singing. Eventually, I directed the youth choir, and my love for music developed more and more over time. My family is definitely super musical. My mom sings and also directed the older choir. My sister sings as well, and one of my brothers plays almost every instrument by ear and also sings, so it definitely runs in the family. Overall, I just love a good melody, a difficult run and a melting harmony. Music feels good.
Nate G.: I didn’t come from a musical family. I came into music because I saw someone reciting a rap acapella and it sounded like the most beautiful poetry I ever heard. I decided that I wanted to sound like that. Then, I chose to start expressing myself through my words. It wasn’t until much later that I began to actually rap.
Talk to me about your cover art for Not Just a Body. It’s very striking and graceful. What inspired this vision?
AV: We were in New York and trying to figure out what we were going to do for the cover. We didn’t want to do just anything–we both expressed wanting to be vulnerable and naked. We also watched Avatar the night before waking up and decided to start shooting at daybreak. We tried out a couple poses, and that’s the one we settled on. We felt like it captured the vulnerable parts of the music and also the parts that talk about strength and unity. We knew we wanted it to turn heads and start dialogue.
NG: I know that we wanted the album to be visually striking. We wanted to create a cover that would make you feel something. We strived to make it like an artistic photograph. There are many statements that come to mind when you see the words and the cover. We wanted it to go against the abuse and overuse of black bodies in America. The cover and the title embodied many of the principles and issues we addressed in the EP.
How important is the visual/performance aspect of your work as it relates to your music? AfroVelvet, I know you are a designer and stylist, so I’m sure you take great care with the images you project. Why is imagery so important to you all? I’ve seen you all perform the EP and it’s a striking, mesmerizing experience.
AV: Thank you! The visuals were definitely my baby. I chose three colors that I felt represented the three songs. Orange for the imprisonment of our creativity and our culture. White for the freedom that starts to come with knowledge and walking into the future with a blank slate. Blue for the calm that comes with knowing we are able to control the way we see ourselves, how the world sees us, and how we choose to control our own culture and life experiences, for the calm water and the new waves. That’s the progression of the EP.
We also portray visually the messages that flow through the music. I incorporated things like the chains for the feeling and sound that would come over a person when seeing/hearing them, because it’s most of our reality. Whether we are in literal or figurative chains, we are always fighting to be free. The barrettes and bows I use capture black culture and forge a sense of unity and relatability within the culture. They give a sense of pride, specifically for people within black culture, and lastly will cause another black individual to walk up to me and speak, breaking the normally silent passing on the street or in a social setting, which is what we want. We want more conversation, more love, more opportunities to encourage our culture. The tulle serves as a mirage; a barrier on the opposite end. It gives off an extraterrestrial experience. So, in a sense, you understand our uniqueness, our delicateness. Why we are in the state we are now. The tulle is the magic that separates us from the world. It’s what everyone wants to touch, but what no one takes care to appreciate from afar.
NG: The imagery is important because, as an artist, there are many processes that one goes through in creating a piece. Just as we sought to make a compelling audio landscape, we sought to do the same visually. We wanted the live performances to be a one-of-a-kind experience so that, even if people didn’t have an ear for what we were saying, they could see it. So there’s no escaping the message.
Why Not Just a Body as the EP’s title?
NG: The title, like the cover, was intended to be a statement that generated many thoughts on to themselves. In 2016, we saw the murder of black men, women and children become a “trending topic.” This mass slaughtering became sensationalized in the media and our response was to march, riot and hold our hands up proclaiming “don’t shoot.” Never in human history has marching or appealing to oppressive powers changed anything for the oppressed. Not Just A Body is a spark to a way of thinking. Not Just A Body, the title, is intended to start a dialogue among black people about our treatment in America and what we need to do to change it.
AV: The title first forces you to think beyond what you’re normally viewed as—just a body—and reverses that into a negative. We are bodies. But that’s not all. And we will either choose to regain control of ourselves or succumb to the right society feels they have over us as a unit. We aren’t even seen as individuals, but “blacks” are grouped into one. No one will rearrange this for us. We have to do it. But it’s gonna take more than appealing to a system in which we are continually three-fourths of a person.
What other collaborations do you two have planned?
NG: Well, we are working on a full Not Just a Body album, so stay tuned for that! For now, people can find the EP on Bandcamp.