June 26, 2023

Lonnie Holley + Mourning [A] BLKstar

artwork by Carl Breitkreuz


MELBOURNE: SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 23 @ MAX WATT’S, with special guest LEE BAINS (USA). Tickets on sale here.

Mistletone and Triple R proudly present the return of cosmic American musical and visual artist, Lonnie Holley, performing in a massive ensemble with Mourning [A] BLKstar, a multi-generational Black Culture collective who bring an emancipatory, rejoicing jazz / gospel choir energy to Lonnie’s mystic, soulful songs. Stirring in one moment and a balm the next, Lonnie Holley is a magical performer who weaves jazz, poetry, folk, blues and hard-won wisdom into a visionary sonic tapestry of pure joyousness.

Recent RRR Album of the WeekLonnie Holley’s new release Oh Me Oh My was produced by Jacknife Lee (The Cure, REM, Modest Mouse) with collaborators Michael Stipe, Sharon Van Etten, Moor Mother and Bon Iver serving as choirs of angels for Lonnie’s message: Thumbs Up For Mother Universe. That’s also the title of a new documentary film about Lonnie’s life and work, a story of survival, endurance and triumph which has much to say about race, social class and culture in the American South.

Oh Me Oh My was named Best New Music on Pitchfork and has won universal acclaim. Both elegant and ferocious, stirring in one moment and a balm the next, Lonnie Holley is a magical performer who weaves jazz, poetry, folk, blues and hard-won wisdom into a visionary sonic tapestry of pure joyousness. 

  • “At 73, the outsider artist has made his most ambitious and approachable album: an extraordinary aural memoir that tells a cosmic story of survival” – PITCHFORK – 8.5 BEST NEW MUSIC
  • “Holley has an almost shamanistic quality, as if he possessed all the wisdom of the universe” – THE NEW YORKER
  • “For Lonnie Holley, every performance is a spontaneous creation. Arriving late to fame, the Alabama-born artist has an almost childlike ability to make a song out of anything he imagines, like a freestyling MC crossed with a jazz improviser. Fusing on-the-spot poetry and cascading piano, he plunges us into deep pools of memory – his own and that of his ancestors in the American south – in order to emerge spiritually recharged” – THE GUARDIAN, 30 ARTISTS TO SEE LIVE BEFORE YOU DIE

Lonnie Holley‘s masterpiece to date, Oh Me Oh My, details histories both global and personal. Lonnie Holley’s harrowing youth and young manhood in the Jim Crow South are well-told at this point — his sale into a different home as a child for just a bottle of whiskey; his abuse at the infamous Mount Meigs correctional facility for boys; the destruction of his art environment by the Birmingham airport expansion. But Holley’s music is less a performance of pain endured and more a display of perseverance, of relentless hope. Intricately and lovingly produced by LA’s Jacknife Lee (The Cure, REM, Modest Mouse), there is both kinetic, shortwave funk that call to mind Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the deep space satellite sounds of Eno’s ambient works. But it’s a tremendous achievement in sonics all its own. 

It’s also an achievement in the refinement of Holley’s impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. On the title track, which deals with “mutual human understanding”, Holley is able to make a profound point as ever in far fewer phrases: “The deeper we go, the more chances there are, for us to understand the oh-me’s and understand the oh-my’s.” Illustrious collaborators like Michael Stipe, Sharon Van Etten, Moor Mother and Bon Iver are proof of Lonnie Holley as a galvanizing, iconoclastic force across the music community.

click below to watch/share the video for “Kindness Will Follow Your Tears (feat. Bon Iver)”, which depicts Lonnie’s wondrous visual art creative process;

Lonnie Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of five, Holley worked various jobs: picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state fairgrounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.

Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events. Lonnie Holley’s music and art distil a lifetime of struggle into a triumphant display of perseverance, of relentless hope, of Lonnie’s mantra, ‘Thumbs Up For Mother Universe’. As a visual artist, work is now in collections of major museums throughout the world, including  The Met, The Smithsonian, and Art Gallery of NSW.  His work is on permanent display in the United Nations, and has been displayed in the White House Rose Garden. Lonnie’s work features prominently in the 2023 exhibition, Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He has also experimented with film, photography, and video throughout his career. His directorial debut, the short narrative film I Snuck Off the Slave Ship, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The 2023 podcast, Unreformed: The Story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children, follows the history of the infamous reform school in Alabama (which many refer to as a “slave camp for kids”) and profiles Holley’s early life and the struggles he and so many others suffered at the hands of the state of Alabama. 

In 2022, Lonnie Holley was named a USA Artist Fellow. His visual art is represented by Blum & Poe Gallery (Los Angeles) and Edel Assanti Gallery (London). He continues to make art and music from his home and studio in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lonnie’s sublime music includes stream-of-consciousness lyrics delivered in his deeply expressive, world-worn yet beautiful voice. His debut album, 2012’s Just Before Music, was his first studio recording, following several years’ worth of home recordings unheard by the general public. Following its release, Holley began touring with musicians such as Bill CallahanDeerhunter and Animal Collective, in addition to making more collaborative studio albums, including 2018’s politically charged MITH and 2021’s Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection, with Matthew E. White

To quote a review from Lonnie’s recent Big Ears Festival artist-in-residency performance:

“It was a joyous affair, filed with hard-won wisdom and alternate perspectives on race, social structures, and the odd bit of divinity. He was backed by genre-bending collective Mourning [A] Blkstar. More shaman than frontman, although he’d likely prefer to be called a preacher, Holley ‘s performance was a treatise on enlightenment through sound. He sang of hardship, revelation, and love — and he did so with a joy in his heart. That was evident from the moment he took the stage” – BEATS PER MINUTE

click below to watch/share the trailer for Thumbs Up For Mother Universe, thenew documentary film about Lonnie’s extraordinary life and work:

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