"I want to honor those that came from nothing but just wanted to play music." 

October 2, 2015
interview by Madeleine Campbell
photos by Ryan Michael White

Camae Aweya writes and performs under the name Moor Mother. Based on our recent conversation and her immense creative output - she’s released nearly a dozen albums in two years and recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of ROCKERS, an annual four-day music festival she co-founded and continues to curate - it’s clear she has unstoppable energy that keeps her in constant motion. 

How did you start producing and rapping?
I’ve always been a fan of music. I’ve been rapping since I was a little kid. My parents took me to a lot of concerts. Patti LaBelle to Public Enemy to Beastie Boys. What’s important is that all of that music is highly political. Malcolm X was my childhood hero. At my birthday parties as a kid, we’d watch Malcolm X movies and shit. Growing up, hip hop got a little dance-y. I felt like, “Oh no, the politics are leaving! Everything is so soft.” That’s what led me to punk. I was searching for music with more of a meaning. Later I went to college in Philadelphia and met my friend Rebecca at a party. She was rapping and it made me want to rap right after her. We hooked up again in the dorms and rapped together more and took it from there. 

What kind of stuff did you do together?
We formed Mighty Paradocs in 2005. We rapped a lot but I also showed her all the punk that I liked and she loved it, too. Sometimes when you’re a rapper, you’re not able to hit as hard as you would if you had a full band behind you. We didn’t really know how to push the aggressive side of our music hard enough so we got our first band behind us. We’d play shows and everyone was so surprised by how angry we were which is funny because that wasn’t the case. We were just goofy kids who were trying to say something.

When did you start working under the name Moor Mother Goddess?
I started that project about two years ago. 

Two years? You have such a large output.
Yeah, I went crazy. I had this idea that if I showed people my work ethic that somehow they would take me seriously. I made over one hundred songs pretty quickly. I just felt like I had to keep creating.

What are you using the make your songs?
I use a sampling program called Beatmaker which gives me a bunch of pads. I sample. I play my own drums and synths and bass and go from there. 

So you do everything yourself?
Yeah, I do everything myself. With each EP I release, I learn more and more about the program and about building songs from nothing. It’s kind of like learning on the job, ya know?

Definitely. I learn new stuff in the studio every single day. 
Because there’s so much you can do!

illustration by Elly Dallas

I was reading about your music online and I love that you have so many different ways of categorizing it. If someone who had never heard your music before asked you what kind of music you make, what would you tell them?
I usually say I have a bunch of different sets. Every Moor Mother Goddess show is different. One set is five punk songs. I play guitar. I usually play bass because I think I’m more in tune with the low sounds, but when I picked up the guitar it was like I had a machine gun in my hands. It’s such a powerful thing to play. At a recent show, I had kicked the mic stand over and I had Katy [Otto of Philadelphia-based band Trophy Wife] hold the mic while I was singing. I got about two lines in and I was about the barf all over her. It was that intense. I had to drop my guitar, run to the bathroom, barf, come back out and continue. There’s so much energy and power that comes over me. That’s one set. Then I have a set with a DJ, my friend DJ Haram, where I do a straight up hip-hop. Then I have my poetry set. Then I have my more weirdo, noisy beats sets. 

I’m glad you mentioned that. I was listening to some of your tracks recently and I could feel major noise influences in there.
That’s cool to hear. Thank you. I kinda just label my work as things that I like. I’m into the occult. I’m into handmade instruments. Things that were before. Things that people could make wherever they lived. The music that comes from those things. I didn’t have a guitar growing up. I lived in the projects. Jimi Hendrix was the only guitar player that I knew. I didn’t know where to go to find more. I used to play on a broom, but I rocked the hell out of that broom so I like to honor that. Even though I wasn’t strumming any chords, I picked up the feelings. I want to honor those that came from nothing but just wanted to play music. 

I want to ask you about your work with ROCKERS. How did it get started?
The same friend I was talking about earlier, Rebecca, and I had a hard time finding a place to play our music. We felt like people were either scared of us or uncomfortable watching our sets. We started this event called ROCKERS for friends of ours in bands doing the same thing who couldn’t get booked or noticed or weren’t a part of these cliques. I had to realize the hard way that Philly is a bunch of cliques. That’s how we’re separated. With ROCKERS, I want to bring all of these groups together. The punk houses in West Philly, the downtown, the South Philly scene. I might book a popular white band with a band of color that not as many people know about. I might book a show with a friend’s band at a place where we haven’t been before so those two crowds can get to know each other. It’s still a struggle but I’m trying to show people you can do this without anything. You can make it work. We just had our fourth four-day music festival. It happens every August.

I really want to make it out there next year.
You should. It’s a fun time. 

What would you say to a young person who wants to make their own music and perform but isn’t sure where to start?
Just remember that you can start from nothing. You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to write meaningful words. The word "success" doesn’t have one single meaning. You don’t need much to stay genuine to what is happening in your life. All of your experiences are important. 
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Since this interview was published, Camae has co-founded additional critically-acclaimed projects -
Irreversible Entanglements - a liberation-oriented free jazz collective
700 Bliss - electronic duo of Moor Mother + DJ Haram
Moor Mother X Mental Jewelry - a collaboration between two Philadelphia producers about systematic violence and racism

- Women in Sound 2019 -