Art and Life
Omar Clemetson's downtown Miami apartment is an exacting, austere place. Neatly arranged on one side of the room are a mixing board, an Akai 3200 XL sampler, and sundry other studio equipment, along with a bookshelf filled with records. There are a few boxes, products of his one-man job running the Metatronix label, stacked in a corner. Clemetson himself, a striking Jamaican of 28 years, is clad in black -- black shoes, black pants, black shirt. No frills.
But what to make of the recordings that emerge from this place? As Supersoul, Clemetson makes music that resonates with power, from the crisp drum patterns clicking away beneath the electronically transmuted melodies to the echoing vocals -- "This generation rules the nation and creation," shouts a boy on "Krsnaloka" -- floating eerily above the beats. These dub tracks, an archipelago of hip-hop, downtempo, and jungle riddims, hearken toward modern sound alchemists like Mad Professor as well as old legends like King Tubby. But instead of crackling with analog instruments like horns and scratch guitar, they sparkle and gleam with electronic textures and sampled drum breaks. There's no bass bleeding out of the rhythms in copious, unseemly amounts and no overdubs muddying up the beats.
Clemetson's debut album as Supersoul, 40 Acres and a Moog, was released through Metatronix early this year. Its press release described Supersoul as "Miami's best kept secret." It's true: Other local producers like Edgar Farinas of Push Button Objects and Phoenecia have garnered more ink, but Clemetson has been making tracks for national labels ever since the early Nineties, when his "Moments of Bliss" was licensed by the Los Angeles-based dance label Moonshine for its influential 1994 compilation The Trip-Hop Test Part 2. But there are other reasons why Clemetson stands alone among the architects of the fledgling "Miami sound," a scene that is slowly gathering steam in electronic music circles around the world.
First of all, he doesn't get out that often. You probably won't find him spinning at local clubs because, as he puts it, "I like to create a [singular] experience. I don't like it when there's techno in one room, hip-hop in one room, and drum and bass in another room, then me doing my thing in another room." Of course he's not the first one to criticize the buffetlike nature of the local music scene and how it forces innovative musicians to hustle for attention.
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"I was born in Jamaica and I moved here when I was nine, so I've been here for a long time," says Clemetson. "It's always been electronic and hip-hop, ever since day one ... but I don't think the record stores and the college stations in particular really rep that the way they should." The situation makes him look wistfully toward West Coast cities like Portland and San Francisco. There, he claims, people support their local musicians, resulting in thriving dub reggae, electronic, and hip-hop scenes. "When I do shows in other cities, mainly up and down the West Coast, I feel like that's my family," he says, noting how random members of the audience often approach him to say they own his records. But here in Miami, Clemetson feels he always has to explain what his music is about. Maybe it's because, he says, "people in Miami don't buy records."
Clemetson is also a deeply spiritual person. He is an avowed follower of Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, an espouser of the Krishna faith from India, and calls him "my master." Clemetson, whose spiritual name is Anadi Krsna Das (Sanskrit for "without origin or beginning"), tries to meditate at least an hour a day, but he admits, "You don't always have that time every day to sit and spend by yourself." Though he declared himself to the guru only two years ago, he has always been passionate about metaphysics, particularly Vedic philosophy, and eschews alcohol and drugs.
Veda, or an aspiration to learn what is divine and sacred, composes much of the Krishna worldview and is credited as an influence on other, better-known religions such as Islam and Christianity. It also inspired much of Supersoul's 40 Acres and a Moog, most literally through song titles like "Her Name is Radharani" and "Soma-Rasa" (Sanskrit for "juice from the sacred soma plant"). Much like another local label, Beta Bodega Coalition, espouses its political beliefs through incendiary music and cover art, Supersoul practices spiritual direct action with 40 Acres and a Moog, tipping off the listener with a chant printed on the CD's inner sleeve: "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
"Basically, man, my spiritual life is a big deal," Clemetson explains. "As much as I try to keep it separate from my music, I can't help it sometimes because that is my main influence. That's my main influence in life."
Just as tellingly, though, are the album's clues that Clemetson is tiring of cloistered grace. "Sound Clash," a jam session involving MCs Judah Manson, Dynas, and Skam; DJ Infamous; singer Juliet; and producers Supersoul and Push Button Objects was Metatronix's biggest-selling record when it was originally released as a twelve-inch single last year. Yes, Clemetson still believes he doesn't have much in common with Miami musicians. But he's beginning to find kindred souls like Judah Manson, for whom he's producing an album. He also just released Metatronix's first record by an outside artist, Miami bass veteran Diamond Ice's Funk 4 Da Trunk.
"I feel like I said what I wanted to say with instrumental music, and now I'm working with vocalists," says Clemetson. "I've always been into [the idea], but I never felt like I'm ready to do it. Working with vocalists, working with MCs, that's the new experiment for me." Perhaps Clemetson has realized that the best demonstration of faith is a willingness to teach and spread the word.
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