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LA's Suite for Ma Dukes and David Axelrod

Legendary photographer B+ makes LA history with the orchestrated magic of J Dilla and the first ever live performance from David Axelrod.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As well as the tiger. Put simply, this monumental concert series is a landmark in Los Angeles music history. The Timeless series of events, sponsored by VTech, is indebted to icons of music - composers and arrangers that have inspired the world’s most celebrated beatmakers and producers in hip hop culture. The cosmic vibes of David Axelrod, Mulatu Astatke, Arthur Verocai and J Dilla with a 40-plus orchestra. On the February 22nd in honour of Dilla and his Moms Ma Dukes, Common, De La Soul’s Posdnous, Talib Kweli, Dilla’s brother Illa J and J*Davey joined composers Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Carlos Nino for a very special celebration in front of a sold out Los Angeles crowd. Check out the Shepard Fairey print. Hip hop photography and film legends B+ and Eric Coleman (under their Mochilla arm) looked after the event and will be putting their almighty stamp on LA with two further events – Brazilian jazz composer Arthur Verocai with Madlib (March 15th) and the first ever live performance from the legend that is David Axelrod (April 5th).

Dazed Digital: These are some pretty epic events.
B+: Yeah, I mean we sat here and wondered how we could make a series of events that would be like a dream for us. Literally, what is your dream show type-of-thing? And of course we never thought that it would be possible to actually do it, but then here comes the biggest home phone company in the world - Vtech - and here we are. Axelrod, Verocai, Mulatu are all huge inspirations for us and Dilla was one of us.

DD: Timeless is about the links between the classic composers and the hip hop producers of today.
B+: Its music writ large. Madlib and Dilla all think of music from the perspective of combinations of sounds. It’s like taking a step back and instead of thinking about one instrument you start thinking about combinations, or voicings they call them. Yes it is done through a drum machine as opposed to a piece of music paper but it’s the same thinking. Axe and Verocai and all of them use the old methods but their vision is timeless.

DD: Can you explain more about A Suite for Ma Dukes?
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: The concert is a celebration of J Dilla's life, what he loved and what inspired him. It is a show of support, appreciation and love for his incredible mother Maureen Yancey, whom I recently had the sincere pleasure of meeting and sitting down with. It is very exciting for everyone, there is a real crisp freshness pervading everything on all levels. This is celebrating the infinite possibilities always before us.

DD: How did you translate Dilla’s beats and rhythms through an orchestra?
MA-F: There are no challenges when we're just having fun! The biggest thing that has freed me is that I am not solely concerned with trying to recreate anything. So, for this concert, the first half doesn't even have drum set. There are four percussionists! But not a drum set. It comes back to the main point which is, we are continuing a dialogue that Dilla was continuing himself. To further answer the question, in every Dilla production, there are all these different elements in it right? All these different elements that he employs to express something. So, in an orchestra, similarly there are different elements. I employ these to express what I feel.

DD: With Axelrod - is this really first time he's performing in this way in LA?
B+: Yup. It really is the first time his music has been performed live here. They were studio records and they never did that well, so there was never a need to have them be live. Obviously sampling changed all that. It’s gonna be a historic homecoming. I think the city will be giving him an award too. Crazy. He deserves it.