Interview / Malik Alston – By Cal Gibson

Discogs describes Malik Alston as “a lifelong Detroiter”. A poet and musician, with a strong church background, he’s played and collaborated with a lengthy list of legendary artists – Alton Miller, Amp Fiddler, Javontte, Jerry The Cat, Mike Grant, … – from the city he calls home. Sydney’s The Jazz Diaries are set to release a collection of Malik`s past work – Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air – this Friday. A mix of jazz, gospel, and house, Cal Gibson gave it one of his “super reviews” last week. Here Cal corners Malik with a few questions concerning where he’s from, where he’s at, and where he’s going.

Interview by Cal Gibson

Can you give us a rundown of your musical track record?

As you may know, I’m a singer, music producer, keyboardist, composer, and DJ. I started out writing music at a young age, around 12-13 years old. I sang in several church, school, and community choirs – including Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and Rejoice Community Choir. The first groups that I founded were gospel, Voices Of Joy and an outfit called Love. I performed as a vocalist in the jazz and R&B worlds, in the early part of my music career.

I started, and led, a jazz and hip-hop influenced group called Planet Pluto and also a house music duo called Dark River Collective. I was a founding member of the jazzfusionhouse project, Painted Pictures. I’ve toured the US with Dwele and toured the US as a founding member of the DJ/live music collective Rhythmic Fusion. I`ve appeared in Tokyo, Japan as a solo artist for the Beatdown Sessions. 

I’ve written and produced original singles, albums, EPs, and remixes. I have produced, written, and performed with many international recording artists. 

I’ve performed solo, and in duos, trios, and quartet formats. My current band is a larger 8 to 10 piece, Malik Alston & The Linwood Ensemble.

What got you started / influences?

My mother was a soprano singer, composer and pianist, and my grandmother played piano and organ. My sister brought me to church with her to keep me out of trouble and encouraged me to join the choir. I love to sing, so music was a good way to build my gifts and talents. I was blessed to be a background vocalist and participate in recording sessions for many gospel greats including Thomas Whitfield, the Clark Sisters, and the Hawkins Family. 

My influences range from my late mentors in the jazz world such as Harold McKinney, Marcus Belgrave, and Al McKenzie. I’m influenced by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Miles Davis. My vocal influences are Ella Fitzgerald, Al Jarreau, Rachelle Ferrell and Lalah Hathaway.

What is the influence of Detroit in your music?

Detroit is always a major influence in my music. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I live. The passion, heart and grit of our residents is something that I love. We have all genres of music in Detroit – gospel, jazz, blues, hip-hop, R&B, soul, Motown, techno, house, funk, rock, alternative – the list is endless. Our city is blessed to be so very rich in music and we are fortunate to share our sound with the world. I’m proud and humbled to be one of the many great artists from Detroit, and contribute to our beautiful legacy of music and the arts.

What is the genesis behind the LP? Who is on the LP?

I wanted to go into the vault and release tunes from Painted Pictures, great tunes that deserved to be heard. A lot of love and hard work went into these songs many years ago, and I am very grateful and thankful to the band. We are very fortunate that The Jazz Diaries also felt that the tunes should be heard, and we’re so excited and blessed to have this beautiful project released in vinyl and digital formats. The members of Painted Pictures on Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air, include: 

Malik Alston, keys/vocals; Badriyyah Wazeerud-Din, Yaminah Brock, Yolanda Day, lead/background vocals; Howard Wazeerud-Din II, trumpet, background vocals, key bass; Josh Crilley, drums, percussion; Craig Huckaby, JoVia Armstrong, percussion; Matthew Mueller, bass; Maurice (Pirahnahead) Herd, guitar. 

What are your musical ambitions? Are there people that you’d like to work with? What are your future plans?

I`d like to do movie scores in the future, and it would be really cool to be a music supervisor for films. Artists I would love to work with include Rachelle Ferrell, Lalah Hathaway, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Esperanza Spaulding. I would love to work with Herbie Hancock, Rahsaan Patterson, Bilal, Luisito Quintero and Chucho Valdes. I want to work with great musicians like Ian Finklestein and :brownstudy. I’m currently working with Osunlade, and I`m really enjoying the collaboration. Upcoming projects include Dirty Digital – a collaboration with Javonntte. I`m also looking forward to being in the studio with my wife, Badriyyah, for her solo project.

Do you have any favourite gigs or venues?

One of my favorite gigs was with my band The Linwood Ensemble at the Movement: Detroit Electronic Music Festival; we appeared live with me on the decks. I enjoyed gigs as a DJ during my residency at the Whiskey Disco, and I made several appearances at the Grasshopper, Motor City Wine, and the Marble Bar. It was a pleasure to spin for the virtual Charivari Festival last year. I had a great time on the decks at the Micro Movement Festival this year, at the Spot Lite. 

Currently I’m having fun with my radio show online on Universal Rhythms, called Melody & Rhythm. The show is giving me a chance to go on a musical journey  – spinning my personal favorites, new music, and dance floor gems. It’s a blast.

I’m really fortunate to do what I love musically. I am so glad to have had success at what I’m doing, and I strive to do more creatively as an international recording artist – to produce and write new music. Moving to a higher level, and getting to travel again to share my music with everyone, is what I’m looking forward to. It will be wonderful. My birthday party, a few weeks ago, at the Spot Lite was incredible! I was so fortunate to spin with the talented Alton Miller and Osunlade and have stellar vocalists Maurissa Rose and LaRonn Dolley for a beautiful celebration that raised the roof!

You can catch up with Malik on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

The Jazz Diaries release Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air on Friday. 


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