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Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble is a Chicago group led by visual artist, educator, and musician Damon Locks. Bringing together singers, jazz improvisors, and dancers, Black Monument Ensemble is a considerable presentation, with as many as 18 people sharing a stage, a song. Their records are dense, persuasive declarations, focused on illumination, refusing daydream, and revealing new visions and harmonies with every listen.

The sound of Black Monument Ensemble, built from the different backgrounds of the members, is deeply welcoming and simultaneously unconcerned with genre. There are entry points for jazz lovers, for people who adore gospel, for hip hop fans and punks. Locks proudly notes that in April 2021, the Black Monument Ensemble LP NOW was included in Bandcamp’s “Best Jazz” and “Best Punk” lists. This abundance reflects the experiences of the band members, which crisscross devotional music, African dance, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Blues, no wave, and beyond. This exploration is perhaps best personified by Damon Locks himself, whose 35-year musical career spans from the dynamic punk of Trenchmouth to the roaming clash of The Eternals, to the avant garde ensemble work of Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra.

Black Monument Ensemble has released two LPs: Where Future Unfolds (2019) and NOW (2021), both issued by International Anthem Recording Co. They have performed nationally and internationally, with highlights including “Where Future Unfolds — Flowers for Chicago” at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago (2018), “Portraits in the Park” at the Washington DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago (2021), and appearances at Big Ears Festival (2022) and the EFG London Jazz Festival (2021).

Special thanks:
Damon Locks
Phillip Armstrong
Angel Bat Dawid
Mary Branch
Monique Golding
Dana Hall
Claudine Ise
Tramaine Parker
Richie Parks
Erica Rene
Damien Thompson
Eric Tre’von
Bryonna Young
Sue Anne Zollinger
International Anthem Recording Co.
Move Me Soul

“Oftentimes when I tell people, you know, ‘I’m in this group, we just finished a record or we’re going on tour, yadda yadda yadda,’ they’re like, ‘oh okay, I definitely want to check it out. What type of music do you make?’ And I always say something different, there’s never any consistency in what I’m saying. I had asked in rehearsal, ‘What kind of music do we make y’all? Can we please figure this out?’ Because I have a hard time telling people. So we had the conversation and what came out of that was the genre is just Great Black Music. I think also that Chicago, being the home of gospel music and the great migration, so many people nestled here and came to this place with their own sounds. Like Muddy Waters inspiring the Rolling Stones, how rock came out of the blues, how Chicago has been the melting pot of all these different things. I don’t see there being another name for the type of music we make other than Great Black Music, because there are so many different facets of Black music in this one group.” – Erica Rene, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble performing at the Washington DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, July 17, 2021

Erica Rene is a singer in Black Monument Ensemble

“When you think about Chicago and the cross pollination that exists here, particularly over the last, say, 25 years, I would say a number of Black musicians have resisted categorization, resisted the notion that they are aligned with one particular camp or a particular genre. And they’ve embraced identity and their ability to move in different circles and still be themselves. So when you think of Jeff Parker, when you think of someone like Damon Locks or myself, there’s this sensibility where you could be as informed by Max Roach as you are by Afrika Bambaataa as you are by emergent punk sounds and Bad Brains. You could be into all of these different styles of music and hear the connections between them. And find your own personal voice in these sounds.”  – Dana Hall, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks, preliminary drawing for artwork to accompany the single release of the song “Stay Beautiful” 2020

Dana Hall plays drums in Black Monument Ensemble

“We are all connected. The energy in Chicago, I feel that vibe here and I definitely feel that vibe with Damon Locks and my Black Monument Ensemble family. I feel that our reason for coming together is one single purpose, and it’s just for being in the moment. Being Black in the moment, being accepted in the moment, being beautiful in the moment, and remembering to always be that when we can be that.”- Monique Golding, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble, “Keep Your Mind Free” from the album NOW, released by International Anthem Recording Co., 2021


Monique Golding is a singer in Black Monument Ensemble

“Black Monument is important because I can be there and be myself. We can all be ourselves together. It’s what we do. It’s what Black people do. It’s not a special thing, this is what it’s for. That’s what Black Monument is for, that very reason. Black music, the music we call Great Black Music, all the ones you know of, the genres we call gospel, soul, hip hop, jazz. Music that came from Black Americans who are enslaved here in this country. Afrofuture, whatever. It’s not a genre. It’s not even a music like the way we look at music as music. You know, you have protest music, you have cooking songs, you have work songs. Our music is just a part of life. It’s not to sell an album. Us coming together is a necessity. It’s not a ‘let’s try to put out an album,’ at least for me. It’s a necessity. Black Monument exists not because it’s on a record, it exists because it needs to exist.” – Angel Bat Dawid, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble performing at the London Jazz Festival, UK, November 15, 2021

Angel Bat Dawid plays clarinet in Black Monument Ensemble

“Chicago can feel like different planets in totally different spaces. And there are opportunities and lack of opportunities and disinvestment, and all these things that keep people in place and keep people from moving from space to space comfortably. So, what I think is important to the group is that there are people participating from all different parts of Chicago. And I think it became obvious to me when the Garfield Park Conservatory show happened, where I was able to see it from not being inside of it, I could look at the video or listen to the recording and just kind of take it all in and go, ‘Oh, these are Black people from all over Chicago, that have different histories and different motivations and different lives, but have all come together to create this.’ The fact that it is far from homogeneous in terms of influences and where people are coming from makes the conversation. The fact that we don’t all agree on a particular thing, or our impetuses may lie in different places makes for a more realistic conversation in sound and music and movement. So I think it’s a privilege to have such a rich tapestry of conversation happening within the group, I think that it’s important, and I would be disappointed if that changed.”- Damon Locks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Billboard advertising Black Monument Ensemble’s performance at Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, November 15, 2018. Photo: Bryonna Young

Damon Locks is the bandleader of Black Monument Ensemble

“Working with the Black Monument Ensemble has been great. Because a lot of the Black Monument Ensemble lives south and a lot of Move Me Soul lives west, we rarely got to work as a full team. Damon would come to our rehearsals and we’d use his music to warm up and to move around, reacting to different creations. For the most part, us dancers would create what we feel would fit best and Ayesha [Jaco, co-director of Move Me Soul] would fill in the rest. Damon would give us ideas on what he’s envisioning with certain parts of the music especially relating to direction or spacing. We do talk about the mood, but it always starts with us listening and feeling it on our own. This has always been what it was. Damon is extremely open and respectful when it comes to working with others. He always makes sure we have a say in what we do.” – Bryonna Young, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Move Me Soul with Damon Locks and Ben Lamar Gay at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, April 21, 2017

Bryonna Young is a dancer with Move Me Soul, who collaborate with Black Monument Ensemble

“I met Damon in the scene, I was playing drums and percussion with a post punk/no wave group called Watchers and Damon was in The Eternals. At that point, we would just see each other at shows, there was always this really fun energy between the two bands. You know, Damon was always just this force, this person that everyone sort of looked up to and admired. I would say there’s always an affinity between the Black kids in Chicago that were doing this kind of music that was avant garde, and showing up in the scene, from Rob Lowe to Ralph Darden. There were only a few of us, so I think in some ways Damon was supporting me and looking out for me.”- Damien Thompson, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Poster for The Watchers record release concert with The Eternals, 2003. Artwork and design by Ethan D’Ercole

Damien Thompson plays percussion in Black Monument Ensemble

“Damon was working on a project and he needed some singers. Initially, I thought it would just be a project, I don’t know if everyone knew it would evolve into what it is now. Music has been a part of me since I can remember, I started out at four years old in the Chicago Children’s choir as a kid. Some of the things I do now are a little bit different than what we do with Damon, it’s more classical music, more pop, and church music, like contemporary or traditional gospel. But it is on the same wavelength, it’s all music and it touches the soul.”- Tramaine Parker, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Members of Black Monument Ensemble visiting Knoxville College, Tennessee 2022. Knoxville College is a historically Black liberal arts college founded in 1875 that recently re-opened its doors

Tramaine Parker is a singer in Black Monument Ensemble

“I had this idea for a couple of years that I would connect to singers and put something together with singers, by hook or by crook I was going to do it. And for me, that was going to be the end-all be-all of it. You know? Like if I could pull that off with five singers, then that’s as far as I could think. I’d been building toward it in this series of performances, solo explorations with electronics, turntables, and samplers. I’d written the song “Sounds Like Now” as a closer to this more collage, aural soundscape. I had my friend Damien perform with me. I thought, ‘okay, we’ll do this kind of soundscape with texts from other people playing on record, Angela Davis or Black Vietnam soldiers, or whomever. And then at the end, I’ll do “Sounds Like Now.”’ So Damien was involved as I developed this thing, finally getting to have singers. It was me and Damien with Philip, Tremaine, Lauren, Allie, and Joseph, and that was at my then studio at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. I just opened the doors and put chairs out and we performed. I was like, ‘Okay, this is it! We did it!’ And then we were asked to play another show a few months later.” – Damon Locks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks and Damien Thompson performing “Sounds Like Now” at Art In These Times, Chicago, December 20, 2015

“Damon asked me if I wanted to be a part of an art show performance that he was working on using found sound. He wanted me to come up with some percussion that would work along with that. That was called Sounds Like Now, and that was our first foray into what would actually ultimately become Black Monument Ensemble. And I would say from that very first practice it felt like something really special, something powerful. Like I joined Watchers, and you know I was the only African American in that group. I enjoyed bringing African based rhythms into that group, but you know, it wasn’t a Black band by any means. So when Damon and I got together I was like, ‘Wow,’ I said this to him, like, ‘quite honestly this is, I believe, the Blackest thing I’ve ever done.’ And I think he might even have agreed at that moment.”- Damien Thompson, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Flyer for “Sounds Like Now” performance, 2015 with artwork by Damon Locks

“I got involved with Black Monument through Phil Armstrong. I was singing with Phil at Cityside Spiritual Center. I remember Phil coming to me one day and saying, ‘Hey I have this opportunity for you that’s going to be mind-blowing.’ And I knew it would be, like anything coming from Phil, because he’s an incredible, gifted curator. We met up with Damon, and we listened to some of the music and just vibed with Damon. It was such an organic experience, we were talking about the topics of Damon’s art, and what inspired Damon. We probably sang over some things and we were just like, ‘Yeah, we would love to do this again.’ The very first performance we did together was the performance back in 2018, which ended up becoming the first album, ‘Where Future Unfolds.’ That was mind blowing for me because I was new to the community at that time, in Chicago, definitely new to the singer community. So that was very huge, to have such a high-end performance. And at the same time, it ends up becoming an album. And not only did I perform, my daughter, who was seven at the time, had the opportunity to perform.” – Monique Golding, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble performing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, September 14, 2019

“Here is the recipe. It is Monique and Eric and Erica. I’ve known all these individuals for years and different levels. Many of them sang in an ensemble that we had outside of Black Monument that was more centered toward the gospel and spiritual music. Monique and Eric, we sang every Sunday together at a church that we were attending where I was the minister of music. And then Erica, I’ve known her since fifth grade, and we went to the same university together. Tramaine is vital! She’s our soaring songbird and glue. So already with my ear, I know their voices, what they sound like together. The capacities. And it’s a blessing because each and every one of those voices are there. It’s like grocery shopping, you have to be very particular. Every voice can do so many different things. And I knew that that’s what Damon was looking for in the style of his music, in this Afrocentric and Gospel Jazz, this fusion of genres. I knew that he needed voices that were going to be able to do more than just the simple three-part harmony.” – Phillip Armstrong, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Erica Rene and Phillip Armstrong leading the class “Young Black Voices, Great Black Music.” The course was developed for students in grades 3 through 6, and executed and co-curated by Arif Smith, percussionist in Black Monument Ensemble. Photo: Sulyiman

Philip Armstrong is a singer with Black Monument Ensemble

“He asked me to come through to his studio because Ben LaMar couldn’t do a show. They had this big show that’s the first album, actually, and Ben LaMar Gay couldn’t do it. Damon was looking for another instrumentalist and he was like, ‘Why don’t you come to my studio?’ which is Hyde Park. Hyde Park is like the hub of Chicago. If you really want to see that cool spot of just Black creativity, go to 53rd in Hyde Park and the record store is like a hub of everyone. Damon had a residency gallery and I came by, brought my clarinet. And we just played music. We did improv for awhile and were having such a great time. Then a random woman came through, she just came in and was like, ‘You guys sound so great!’ Then I knew, me and Damon looked at each other and okay, I knew I was in. So we’re doing the performance at Garfield Conservatory, which is a beautiful conservatory here in Chicago. I recommend everyone go there, it’s just beautiful and peaceful. I’m like, are you kidding me? I can play this great music in one of my favorite spots in Chicago? Yes. With all Black people? Yes. And it’s just been a wonderful journey since then.”- Angel Bat Dawid, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks and Move Me Soul performing at Locks’s Hyde Park studio, 2019

“Thinking about this Afrofuturist, I don’t want to call it an ideology, but certainly the ways in which we position people of color in the now and in the future, imagining them and creating spaces where they have agency and voice. I think that’s a large part of what this project is about. And what that means is the ways in which we embrace the acoustic and the electric living side by side. And I think it’s easy to overlook that. Even though we’re hearing all these different samples, we’re hearing all these different beats. And we look at the stage and we see a table with some machines on it and acoustic musicians and voices, right? But we don’t make the connection that these things are living in the same world. And I think that we take that for granted. When we think about this type of music, and Black music more specifically, we don’t really align this acoustic and electric dynamic. With dance music, we think electric, you don’t think about the acoustic element. Or jazz, we think it’s blasphemous to have them in conjunction with one another. But it’s a combination of the two living together and really needing and leaning on each other. Everything that Damon does, I’m signifying and co-signing, and wrapping what I’m playing around that, and Arif is doing the same thing. And the ways in which we’re trying to complement voices that are really connected to something that is old and spiritual, and a part of our cultural identity. And then the horns just being as abstract as they possibly can be, in the face of all of that. That’s something that’s really important about this group, at least as far as I can hear it.” – Dana Hall, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks and Damien Thompson performing “Sounds Like Now” at Art In These Times, Chicago, December 20, 2015

“Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble’s new album NOW was created in the final throes of Summer 2020, following months of pandemic-induced fear & isolation, the explosion of social unrest, struggle & violence in the streets, and as the certain presence of a new reality had fully settled in. Set up safely in the garden behind Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the music was recorded in only a few takes, capturing the first times members of BME had ever played or sang the tunes. For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together to commune and make art than it was about producing an album. In his words: “It was about offering a new thought. It was about resisting the darkness. It was about expressing possibility. It was about asking the question, ‘Since the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’” – From the International Anthem Recording Co. description of NOW

Black Monument Ensemble, NOW LP, front cover. Released by International Anthem Recording Co, 2021

“When we started working on NOW, we were just so happy to get together, like oh my gosh, we just wanted to see each other and create. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we wanted to make this music. So when he asked me, I was like, ‘Damon, yes! Let’s do it.’ I was so excited, just ecstatic.”- Tremaine Parker, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Rehearsal for NOW, 2021

“When we had our first sort of, sit down to discuss NOW,  we all had safely gathered at a park in Chinatown to listen to some demos. The title track, “Now (Forever Momentary Space)” only had a few instrumental pieces and lyrics, it was being played out of Damon’s boombox. I could not wait for Damon to send us the demo because upon first listening I could sort of see and hear the harmonies in my mind. At the end of the first track on the album you can hear the group chanting “now” over each other with different harmonies and phrasing. That is the part I arranged as well as the vocal harmonies throughout the song. I brought my vocal demo to the group and they were in full support of using the vocal arrangement. It is the undeniable support that reaffirmed we are people who care about each other and what everyone has to offer. We rehearsed the parts in Phil’s church, shaped up some loose ends and brought it to life. A truly touching and enlightening moment for me. I felt community. So turning off our individual artist identities is not a necessity because we see each other as our whole selves and use that as assets to our creative process.” – Eric Tre’von, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble, “Now (Forever Momentary Space)” from the album NOW, released by International Anthem Recording Co., 2021


Eric Tre’von is a singer with Black Monument Ensemble

“The biggest thing that I loved about recording was the fact that we were outside. During COVID we were forced inside of our homes, right? But we were also forced outside to just be outside. Not to be in buildings, not to necessarily be working, but the safest place to be, to still feel like a human, to still get air, was outside. You have to go to the park, to the beach, sit down. And the fact that we were outside in nature recording this work, I don’t think that was an accident. I believe it was a blessing. And I also believe that it was the in-person, live, physical example of the album itself, the setting of the album itself, how that made people feel. Particularly speaking to ‘The Body is Electric’ and how we need to connect with the dirt, the soil, the grass, the sun. There’s no refuting that or disputing that in any way. Whether you are talking about traditional medicine, western medicine? That is a fact. Being able to sing that particular tune outside, there was a moment where the cicadas were singing with us. And then they stopped with us. And it just felt like a very intentional, purposeful reason that we were there.” – Erica Rene, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Recording NOW at Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago, 2020

“The thing I love about music, and creating in general, is that although the tools and methods may be similar, the process always blooms into a life of its own. We held a practice a few days before the recording where we learned our individual parts and agreed on how to shape the delivery. We recorded our rehearsal so that we could listen back and let the music sink into our skin leading up to the day of the recording. We recorded over a period of two days and we had sheet music to reference all the songs. All the vocalists and Angel were arranged in a circle so we could hear and see each other better. This created a warmth that sustained us until the very end.” – Richie Parks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Rehearsal for NOW, 2021


Richie Parks is a singer with Black Monument Ensemble

“This is spirited sounds, right? That is the reason why I feel, and I believe in energy, I believe in the power of our ancestors, their voices, you know, everything that they have wanted for us. Everybody’s ancestors, right? Yours included, we open up that space when we think about them and we pray about them. And I think that we are opening up so much space within ourselves.”- Philip Armstrong, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Members of Black Monument Ensemble visiting The Highlander Research and Education Center, Tennessee, 2022. The Highlander Center was founded in 1932 as a social justice leadership training school and cultural center

“The sounds and the words mean a lot more to me now. I have been singing for a very long time, and sometimes we can get lost in the routine of learning music: these are the notes, these are the lyrics, go ahead and sing them. It’ll feel good for a minute while you’re singing it and you’re performing. But I think, honestly, because of COVID, I mean we all have a choice to do whatever we want, but to sit down and reflect on the actual terrible things that have been happening, in the midst of the pandemic, right in your face, you have nowhere to go, nowhere to commune with people and talk through ideas. None of that. So you just have to sit and you are forced to think about these things. I think the lyrics of “The Body is Electric” coupled with the fact that we have to be outdoors I think the connectivity there is no accident, joining our location with the lyrics that we’re saying.”- Erica Rene, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

“The Body is Electric” lyrics, taken the liner notes for Black Monument Ensemble’s NOW, 2021

“That was pretty much the longest amount of time that I’d gone without being in the same room making music with people. It’s sort of difficult to think about that period now. I was really isolated. But still making music, still trying to find ways to make music, whether that was sharing files with people or doing things collaboratively and dealing with the lag through video. Recording NOW, there was still a lot of reservation. You know, we were not vaccinated, it was still a very unknown sort of situation and there was still a certain amount of stigma attached to being sick. So I think that even in that moment of us recording, there was a lot of discussion about, ‘Okay, how can we do this safely? What is the airflow in this space? Who’s going to be in the room with us? How much time are we doing?’ So there’s a lot of questions about that. When I reflect back on that difficult period, I think the music that we made, to be perfectly frank with you, is so far removed from my consciousness. I don’t remember what I played. I remember all the preparation and the conversations, the discussions that we had leading up to actually being able to make the music. It was just a weird time to think about being in the same space with people that you don’t live with. And since I live alone, that was one of the first times I was in the same space with people, let alone making music. I just wanted to be in there, do what I had to do, be creative, and leave and be safe. Which is a weird way to think about being creative with people, you know? But I was more concerned about my safety and my health, and the health of the people that I was in the room with, than really trying to figure out something to do creatively, which is probably why, for me, it’s challenging to listen to this recording. Because I don’t feel like I was in the clearest mental space to be as creative as I could have been.” – Dana Hall, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Arif Smith and Dana Hall recording NOW at Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago, 2020

“For me, it isn’t necessarily a matter of if it’s worth my time but a matter of defining time. I believe our experiences shape time around us. We all have a reference for observing and interacting with the world and creativity is a method by which I shape language to pinpoint those experiences. NOW has helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the present moment as a reference for where we’ve been and where we plan to go. We bring ourselves to the canvas and only when we impose ourselves do we get feedback to guide our next movement. For Black people, our imagination is all we have and all we have had for as long as we can remember. How we see ourselves has been a direct result of persevering through welcome and unwelcome change. So when we create, it isn’t a statement about our productivity but about our bandwidth to expand our imagination of self. Our bodies are sacred archives rich with knowledge, truth and discernment. We aren’t limited to the constraints of the page for a reason, in the same way we are not limited to “time” as we understand it, collectively. To me, creativity is an invaluable compass by which I am happily guided. It has saved me at every turn and will continue to save me as long as I live.”- Richie Parks

Detail from the liner notes for Black Monument Ensemble’s NOW, 2021

“I’ll be honest with you, if you had just approached me about this, like, ‘hey Angel, I want to do something with you,’ I probably would have said no. And the reason for that is because I just feel like I don’t really want a lot of white people having my narrative or telling my story, because even if you tried to tell it your way, if you try to frame it your way, there’s still just like this racial, implicit biases that come up. So I would say no, the only reason I’m doing this is because I love Damon, and Damon feels it’s important to have his voice on here. So for real for real. That’s where I’m at, because I’m very hesitant. I feel like I don’t need you to tell my story. I can tell my story. I’m on my own platform. And then I’m always interested in what you want to do with my story. And why do you want these particular people? What are you getting out of it? You know, those are questions and they’re rhetorical questions. But they’re questions that I have to ask myself as ideals as being a Black artist. That’s why Black Monument is very important. Because it’s a Black institution. You know, it’s a monument of that.”- Angel Bat Dawid, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble, NOW LP, back cover. Released by International Anthem Recording Co, 2021

“I came up with the name initially because there was a lot of conversation around Southern monuments, like white monuments, and people pulling down monuments. A certain Blackness was asserting its irritation with that history, with how and what and who gets honored. And I thought Black Monument would be an incredible name. The group is singers, me on electronic samples, a percussionist, you know, I was like, does it actually sound like a band? I knew that I wanted to have dancers included at some point too. So I felt like I should call it an ensemble, because it’s such an unusual collection of things. But I think over time, the ideas around the name have fallen into place. I feel like the Black Monument Ensemble really became an embodiment of an idea, like what would Black Monuments be? I think the Black Monuments aren’t in concrete or marble, they’re the monuments that we’ve always created. In dance and music, song, visual art. Email. So this is actually an ensemble of all those monuments as well.” – Damon Locks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Move Me Soul rehearsing at Damon Locks’s Hyde Park studio, 2019

“I have to keep making note of the dynamic in this ensemble, because it plays a huge factor in our synergy. Many of us are good/close friends if not all of us. As Black people we actively experienced the evolution of this virus while demanding authority over who and what keeps us safe. Even as I formulate this response the violence against Black people of all walks of life is being tested and change is like an email drafted hundreds of years ago. Leading up to recording, we were having conversations, acknowledging each other’s concerns while also loving each other, cracking jokes, and expressing our frustrations with this country to put us in the frequency we needed to reside. Because Black people define safety beyond what the country tells us is safety, the ensemble created the safety we needed to make the album happen. The definition of safety (as with most revolutionary terms) needs to evolve in America and fast.” – Eric Tre’von, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Advertisement for Black Monument Ensemble’s performance at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2019, designed by Damon Locks

“We all had conversations where we were like, ‘this isn’t just a project,’ like this is actually active, this is the active thing. It’s not our abstract art project, this is a thing that needs to actually be happening. Like, it’s not by accident that I felt like I had to put together all Black band, you know? This is needed in this moment.” – Damon Locks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks, ‘Getting out of dangerous environments,’ 2021 (detail). Ink,matte gel, pencil on paper, 50 x 28.5 inches. Courtesy the artist and Goldfinch

“It’s always a state of perpetual uncomfort. Uncomfortability. So I have to make spaces for me to feel comfortable in the way I feel. Look, if I’m going to be uncomfortable, you for sure are going to be uncomfortable. We’re going to be uncomfortable together. That’s our unity. Let’s be unified in how uncomfortable we are about this. Let’s be unified in that because I’m very uncomfortable. And I’m very passionate. And I have a lot of rage. And I want to see you destroyed. Yes, I want to see your whole system destroyed. I don’t want to live in this white world. I don’t like what you have to offer. This isn’t a consolation prize. If I’m gonna give my story to you, I’m going to tell you that you’re going to be gone, your whole structure is going to be gone. Period, write that down. It has to go because it’s disgusting. And you’re a part of it and you have to take responsibility for that.” – Angel Bat Dawid, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble, Where Future Unfolds LP, front cover. Released by International Anthem Recording Co, 2019

“We have a song called “Barbara Jones-Hogu and Elizabeth Catlett Discuss Liberation” and I can’t assume that everyone knows who they are. And hopefully someone will be curious enough, if they don’t know, to look them up. At this point I have a vehicle in which to insert information, so that’s a fun thing to know that people might be. I think with Trenchmouth and The Eternals I did this to a certain extent, but I knew that I was communicating with a small amount of people, most of which I know. So if I can send out influences or messages to people, it’s like throwing seeds out, you never know what’s going to happen. I would be so happy if someone discovered Barbara Jones-Hogu or Elizabeth Catlett, or you know, Octavia Butler as a result of this. That really does come from olden days of Thank Yous on albums. You would put all your favorite bands in the Thank Yous, you know, the ones that helped you out, and other people will pay attention.”- Damon Locks, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Detail from the liner notes for Black Monument Ensemble’s NOW, 2021

“Damon is the kind of artist who’s always looking for new ways to show up. His visual art, a lot of it is collage based, you know taking these things and editing them and pasting them together to create these really fantastic pieces. And each one has a very thought-provoking story. And I feel like it’s a similar sort of thought process with Black Monument, from the very beginning of Black Monument it was this sort of digging up of these artifacts. Like how do you get those sounds and those ideas out to the world? You don’t want to say all this stuff yourself, like the best way of representing those artifacts is to just play them for people. And then Damon being a DJ as well, it’s a way to incorporate this medicine along with the sugar. It’s like what a comedian does. How do you get someone to listen to the harshest news? And I think Damon does that really well.”- Damien Thompson, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks, ‘More Than Important,’ 2021. Ink, pencil, photocopy/xerox, matte gel on paper, 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy the artist and Goldfinch

“The “resource room” or reading room, as I thought of it, felt like an essential part of Damon’s first exhibition with us and very much connected to Damon’s practice in life and via social media like Facebook and Instagram, of sharing not only his influences but the things he is looking at/thinking about/watching/acquiring right now. To me that sharing process is at the core of how Damon’s art operates whether it is musical, visual, educational, or all three at once—he brings different things together in one space as a constellation and a conversation. You see this in his music performances—his weaving in of archival recordings of things said by important figures in Black cultural history is an example—and this bringing in disparate pieces from culture is also evident in his collage methods as well as in the graphic novel page format that many of his drawings take. In terms of the resource room featured in “A World is a Different Place,” yes people really did sit there and look at things and take it all in. I don’t recall anyone staying for hours and hours, it was more like they were invited to make themselves at home for the time they wanted to spend with the materials. The books and albums that were laid out there were materials that someone could go home and borrow from a library themselves, or hunt down in a vinyl record store, etc., so that same journey of discovering influences and references could continue for each person individually once they left the exhibition. And for sure, you’re right, Damon isn’t about obscuring his influences and sources, quite the opposite: he lifts them up, holds them up high so that everyone can see and recognize them, and if a person wants to read more/listen more on their own, they now know exactly what it is they’re looking for.” – Claudine Ise, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

View of the resource room, part of “The World Is A Different Place” an exhibition by Damon Locks at Goldfinch, 2018

Claudine Ise is the Owner/Director of Goldfinch, a Chicago art gallery that has hosted two exhibitions by Damon Locks

“I think what’s so brilliant about it is that it’s not hate created out of hate to cure hate. It’s truly wise to bring it back like they used to do in the day and have conversation and sit down and talk about the issues, the things that are going on in the world, and we’re not going to fight about it. Instead, we’re going to sing about it, we’re going to play about it, we’re going to dance about it.” – Philip Armstrong, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble performing at the Washington DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago, July 17, 2021

“Damon always had a natural spirit to be happy and to make sure that everyone feels comfortable. So as far as dancing, I would say definitely I feel like he wanted to add a new element to his element, to where we can create something bigger and fantastic. Revolutionary. Let’s add more things that can make it look more powerful, make your blood pump. I don’t want to compare it to, you know, sitting in the classroom listening to a lecture all day. But you’re still getting the message, you’re not just watching someone do movement.” – Mary Branch, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Damon Locks, artwork for the insert accompanying NOW (in progress), 2021

Mary Branch is a dancer with Move Me Soul, who collaborate with Black Monument Ensemble

“There have been times in both Move Me Soul and in the music created by Damon where I just stopped and thought, this is oddly different and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable or the thoughts of “what if I look dumb” comes to mind. But by putting my trust into Damon and Ayesha, I saw that they can create such beautiful art. Literally never seen before. So yes it was daring and scary, but the end results always made it worth it. They make taking risks exciting and rewarding.” – Bryonna Young, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Choreography rehearsal for Black Monument Ensemble + Move Me Soul performance, 2021

“Maybe sometimes in our human minds we forget what we’re truly able to do when we free ourselves. So when we’re inspired by somebody else freeing their spirit, it’s very transformative. It can transform you. It can make you feel like you can do anything, advance and understand yourself.”- Philip Armstrong, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Still from “Now Is the Time” 1967, starring Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The film, compiling readings from the writings of Langston Hughes, Lucy Smith, Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin and others, was described by Damon Locks as one of the inspirations for the Black Monument Ensemble album NOW

I just want for every listener to understand that we are grateful for the time people have taken to listen to NOW but remember that this is an ode to the resilience of Black people. Black people need to be reminded that we are not invisible, we are not a commodity, we are not alone and we deserve to define peace for ourselves. NOW is like a spirit, and the ritual to please this spirit is to be present, we have to see the ugly for what it is in order to imagine a world where the language is new and the equations are sustainable. Let this album be the call to never settle, acknowledge your brother and sister and their experiences, learn from them, know who your enemy is because it surely is not Black people, and it is not your neighbor. I still believe in us!” – Eric Tre’von, in a 2022 interview with Know Wave

Black Monument Ensemble performing at the Chicago Cultural Center, June 2, 2019