I always forget that the Congregation is a nice little spot, not too far from where I went to uni. To be honest, it’s kinda tucked away, like many gems in Detroit. But for anyone who’s never had the privilege of sitting in the Congregation, it's an absolute wonder. The bar/cafe stands in what was once the Unity English Lutheran Church, built in 1924 and is significant as being just one block north of the 1967 rebellion’s source-point. We Detroiters know that much of the history here is tumultuous but hold on to this legacy, quite similarly to the now bar/cafe that has kept the interior of the building largely the same.
The seats and tables of the Congregation are open to everyone but on this particular Saturday, I found myself sifting through a community of young, white professionals for my tall glass of hard cider. Please don’t make fun of my drink decisions; it was noon and I didnt want beer breath with the day ahead of me.
There chilling in the back of the cafe was ANA, an artist I’ve had the pleasure of learning more about very recently. Ana Gomulka aka ANA is a multidisciplinary artist that previously gained steam as frontperson for indie soul band Honey Monsoon.
The week before I caught her set at Southwest Fest, which we had previously written on. There I got to get a pretty good idea of ANA’s sound. Jazzy, and intentional is how I would describe it. Raised by two jazz musicians, experimentation with sounds and technology are major components of her sound, with the biggest aspect of “exploring music without boundaries” showing up in ANA’s passion for vocal production.
“I sang before I spoke. Humming church songs before I could even speak. I love the sound of the natural voice, our most original voice and harmonizing was really my journey into production”
I remembered that I was here to talk to ANA about her new single “Vertical”, and connected the dots. The record starts with these harmonized vocal stabs that add a palette cleanse in between each line of the chorus. Almost like coffee beans in between scents. That’s not my first cafe metaphor so just fair warning.
But the record is pretty minimal in terms of what else is moving in the mix, with some synth work hugging a slow groove on bass and light percussion. Mainly, vocal movement occupies a decent bit of the record in both the lead vocals and busy backings. But also there’s a real treat towards the end with a guitar solo. “I miss guitar solos,” she said.
Being a guitarist myself I’m pretty biased, but also the solo adds a bit of dirt to the song that almost signals the cost of making hard decisions about things and people that don’t foster peace and healing. In order for us to take back power, it necessitates a push of sorts.
And that’s largely what we talked about outside of just this record. The push that is being made by black & brown folk to foster nurturing energy and space for themselves.
“Vertical” was written approximately at the start of the pandemic amidst isolation and uncertainty-- things many creators felt last year. And the record is about “taking back the energy that we always extend outward”.
This felt pertinent saying while two of the few black folk sitting in this cafe. I said earlier, seeing the crowd was a bit uncozy for me. But what if there was an experience in this space that was exclusive to me? ----Almost like a force-field of sorts that I could form that wouldn’t cut off my connection to peace and what came before me ----Or at least that’s how I was thinking about it at first.
I think it's significant to mention that ANA is a member of Assemble Sound’s 2021 Residency. We’ve written about the Assemble camp many times on this site but the one thing I’ve never really seen in that time was something specifically in the jazz-inspired realm of music. The effort to push sounds coming from the platform further was something I was somewhat waiting for. Thus I think that this record is timely. And we dug in a little further.
We talked a bit more about the statuses that black women often occupy in our music spaces here. I know that for me, I’ve seen a necessary tonal shift in power but I am also a cishetero black male with admitted blind spots and I think it's important to name that.
This summer I’ve been back to going to shows, after a 3 year vacancy of sorts from them. But what's dope is that this summer I’ve seen more black and brown women performing than I ever did in 2018 at the height of my show-going days. I’ve been content with that. But yet, there’s still so much more work we have to do as a community to foster spaces that are actually safe and truly shared.
I kinda joked about how male art spaces often felt...hyper-competitive.
“Why do you think that is?”
Yeah you read right. I was now kinda in the interviewee spot and honestly kinda stumbled to an answer. It’s something that’s rather easy to talk about but not as easy to put into practice. It kinda flipped the whole concept of an interview on its head if I’m being honest. There’s a particular power dynamic that’s present in an interview where the artist is extending far more than the interviewer. And that’s something we sometimes forget. The conversation---not the angle or the elevator pitch.
“It’s not just about putting women on shows,” she said. Outside of visibility and sharing the stage, so much of what fosters better spaces is a commitment to actual lived shared values and intention. Almost like harmonizing. My mind goes back to ANA’s live set at Southwest Fest, where she shared harmonies with singers Al’Exist and Jade Nicole. It linked back to something that she had said earlier.
“A community of women has allowed me to explore music without boundaries”. Through influences such as Nai Palm and Betty Carter, but also other women creating here in Detroit, there’s a particular musical lineage that’s present in ANA’s music. So much of reclaiming energy can be found in speaking to that musical lineage. Furthermore, standing by those decisions is doubly relevant.
In the span of a conversation, my understanding of energy went from being a “forcefield” to back to why we even write these articles--- community. And community is not fostered in incessant taking and transaction. It's in reciprocity. I went in as a cynical urban studies student as an organizer looking for what I needed to diagnose. I saw gentrification in the location. I saw the public narrative that Altnubian has been working towards in other previous pieces. But I didn’t see the artist. And I think that was what was significant. It’s almost a hypocrisy of sorts. And artists' differing lived experiences all make up this public narrative that we're building.
So it goes without saying that I left this interview with homework. It wasn’t assigned or forced on to me. It was my due diligence after being super upfront about blind spots and what we don’t tend to see. In my homework I embraced To Be, an incredible and experimental album by the aforementioned Al’Exist. I checked out Dani Darling because admittedly it had been a while since I had kept up with her work. These were both artists that ANA shouted out. But also I’ve kinda rethought how we’re re-grounding interviews.
We often hop on our soapbox about how we as artists can be portals into entire worlds of creators and that’s what this record “Vertical” is. Music is not a force field or a pocket universe. It is very much here and very much guided. And there are many actors that contribute to music.
A music video for “Vertical” will premiere on Audio Femme, a NYC based femme/non-binary music and culture blog tomorrow! For calendar fanatics that’s Wednesday September 17! We’ll surely be tapping in and it’d be the absolute best if others did as well.
After all, to enter the congregation doesn't just mean to just show up with your assumptions in hand. It means to listen and then engage. Okay that’s my last cafe metaphor. Curtains
Let’s Grab Crayons,
Listen to "Vertical" here: