Features

Maryland Record Label QODESH is Giving a Platform to Experimental Musicians of Color

image2

Some of the most exciting local projects of the year were birthed from an up-and-coming experimental record label called QODESH, headquartered just outside of D.C. in Maryland. But the term “record label” carries a certain connotation that QODESH founder Machell André would like to avoid.

“I actually don’t call it a label. I really want it to be like a garden,” André clarifies. “We grow each other. Just as the gardener grows the garden, it’s vice versa. We usually put ‘Garden, studio, family’ [as our tag].”

We’re sitting in Shaw’s Tavern, and André’s charisma is palpable every time he flashes a smile. He does so often, especially when talking about QODESH’s collaborators. The current artist roster shares roots in Huntsville, Alabama, where the four members–Twin Jude, Echelon the Seeker, Smeek, and André (who records under the moniker MA///)–were classmates at Oakwood University, running in overlapping circles in the music and poetry scenes.

The four went their separate ways after school, but reconnected in the D.C. area in 2016 and bonded over music as André positioned himself as a self-described “extra hand” to help his friends piece together projects. The group’s output was prolific, and André released many of their songs under the QODESH umbrella. In early 2017, Twin Jude and Echelon the Seeker released two full-length albums that have more than justified Andre’s decision to create the project.

Twin Jude’s release, MĒM, is an experimental album dominated by ambient vocals and an oppressively melancholy atmosphere. Echelon the Seeker’s self-titled album is a distinctly modern ode to the massive sounds and melodies of ‘80s pop and rock, bursting with exuberance. The freewheeling, genre-bending energy that unites the two projects is indicative of QODESH’s future output, according to André. He mentions that QODESH’s future releases will be influenced by spirituality, although perhaps not as overtly as the gospel-tinged pop music that is currently topping the charts.

“The truth is that most of those other genres were birthed from [church music],” he says of the trend. “My end goal is to help someone be inspired and find [that] their perspective is shifted. Not because of something I did, but because of something they experienced.”

Still, while QODESH’s existing releases have referenced R&B, hip hop, and soul, the unifying theme has been experimental, a vast genre that people of color have traditionally been underrepresented in.

“The further you get into experimental music, you see less people of color and more white people,” says André. That exclusion helped inform André’s development of QODESH into a no-pressure launchpad for artists of color who might otherwise struggle to find a platform.

“I was trying to figure out, ‘how do I bridge the gap between [supporting] experimental sounds by people of color and have people of color perceive [our music] as theirs?'” he said. “Because I’m still using elements of black art, black music, indigenous sounds. I want an independent label for people of color.”

He leans back in his chair, pausing. “And in that, we’ll be able to tell our story the way that we can tell our story.”

He smiles: “This is a garden where people of color are harvesting.”

Listen to QODESH’s recent releases via Bandcamp: