“The Other Black comes from the idea that music should help,” says Denver musician Wesley Watkins. “People are very afraid of the unknown. I’ve spent a lot of time as an outcast in my life — in the black community, specifically, in Denver, but just in the community. I’ve had some very unconventional things happen to me in my life, and with all this election and everything, I really want to encourage people to love themselves so that they can start to love others.”
Maybe that sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but, damn it, maybe we need a bit of that right now. It’s particularly great to hear such a positive message from Watkins, who has been shrouded in uncertainty himself in recent months after he dropped off a tour with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, with Rateliff releasing a statement that read, “Due to personal health matters at the start of our current tour, we felt it best [Wes’s] health come first and he take an indefinite leave from the road to address these concerns.”
The trumpeter is back in Denver, and when we mention the Night Sweats and his future with that band, he simply says that he’s unsure where that’s heading, and for now, the Other Black is his main focus. Which is great, because the Other Black is an exciting band. Watkins formed the group about five years ago, adhering to his adoration for Sly Stone and Sam Cooke, as well as his love for old-school hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest and OutKast.
“I wanted a project that emulated the power behind those iconic, empowering black musicians,” Watkins says. “There are some similar sounds out there, I think. You have Kendrick Lamar [for example]. But we’re an eleven-piece, and we have the big soul-band instrumentation. You don’t really have a band doing that right now, doing hip-hop and funk/soul stuff.”
A longstanding and prolific local musician, Watkins is certainly respected and regarded fondly within the Denver music scene, and he loves it right back. He’s seen the scene grow into something eclectic and exciting, though there's still work to be done.
“I’m working on trying to make it more inclusive and more informed,” Watkins says. “Because I really believe that ‘genre’ is starting to die, so I would encourage people to blur those lines a little bit. Just to sound more like an individual instead of trying to sound like a product.”
Watkins is currently putting the finishing touches on the debut Other Black album, Family, and he says that he’s very pleased with the way it’s shaping up.
“I think it’s a very individual sound,” Watkins says. “I can’t say it sounds like this person or this person. I think it’s very indicative of emerging sounds of black artists, or black composers, in that it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve heard so far.”
Watkins elaborates on that point as he discusses his admiration for Beyonce’s recent body of work, and particularly her videos.
“I really liked Lemonade because this video project has an amazing social commentary, specifically with our perception of men and women’s roles in life, which has been really misconstrued, especially here in America,” he says. “And then I also like that she has a full script for an album. She doesn’t have an album that has stand-alone songs. The entire album has a full script, and it’s become this mass-media project.”
Watkins, who is also working with local groups M.Florea, Midget Wizard and Izcalli, will be performing a set with the Other Black at Syntax Physic Opera on November 19, though he’s adamant that this will be no ordinary show.
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“For the first time in my life, I did not book an opener,” he says. “We’re playing two sets, all original music, and we’re bringing out Wheelchair Sports Camp and more to play with us. Across the board, everyone is reaching out to the community, seeing if they would come and perform with me. We have a star-studded lineup, all original music, and it’s two sets, so it’s three hours. That’s unheard of, particularly in the Denver scene right now.”
It certainly sounds like there will be a lot of people on stage at one time. But then, that’s what Watkins is all about: peace and unity.
“I want the music to be about empowerment; I don’t want anyone to be victimized,” Watkins says. “I see a lot of fear and uncertainty out there right now, and I want to be in a place where they can remember and celebrate who they are. Just to really encourage especially our younger generation to remember that it’s okay to be an individual.”
The Other Black plays at 9 p.m. on Saturday, November 19, at Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, 720-456-7041.