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Interview: Hanif Abdurraqib brings his dream music series to BAM

With some of these pairings, were you literally introducing them to each other for the first time? Yeah, and Adam Shore, who worked with me on this, did a lot of that lifting in terms of going out to people and suggesting the pairs and making sure they worked. But I think all of the artists have been so open and excited about sharing the stage with the people they’re sharing the stages with. And it just wasn’t difficult. The difficulty was only in schedule wrangling, that kind of thing, where it’s like, everyone’s going back out on tour, so dates are tricky. But in terms of people being excited to play music at BAM, that part was easy. And the results of that so far, the show on Friday is near sold out there, [Dev] Hynes is pretty much sold out, and Moses Sumney I think is entirely sold out. And that is incredible. As we get closer to these shows, they will begin to sell out more and more. And that’s really thrilling, because there was some anxiety I had, [because] I assume that everyone was where I was, where there’s anxiety about actually coming to a thing, and being present at a thing. But it does seem like we are at a place where people are feeling open to an experience like this. And I’m glad that I get to play a small role in that.

I reported last week about venues during this transitional period, and it sounds to me that with a lot of places, people are making their decisions the day of, whether or not they’re going to go out. So a lot of venues were saying advanced ticket sales were slow, but then they were having hundreds of people showing up at the door. So it was a really promising sign that things are changing right now. Oh yeah. I’m on the same shit, you know, I’m no different. I live in Columbus, Ohio, there’s a show happening next Monday night, and I’m going to be here. And I’ve been on the ticket page off and on for weeks — like, aw man, do I get the tickets, do I show up and get the tickets? So I have that same impulse; that is where I’m at, so I can relate to that. And I wanted to create a series of shows that felt undeniable, where I could tell people: look, you can show up day of, but it might not work [laughs], you might not be able to get tickets.

And I have appreciated the response so far, while still being very empathetic to the reality that… there’s an uncertainty to the world of live music still. And the one thing that I think has propelled me through the ongoing pandemic is this mantra: I hope this can happen the way that I’ve dreamed it. And that goes for everything. Because early on in the pandemic, I tried to make plans too large to be interrupted — but there were no plans too large to be interrupted. So this is like everything else, where I find myself saying: well, I’ve done the best I can, I’m very excited, and I hope that this can live in the way I’ve intended it to. And so far, it seems like that will be possible, which is exciting.

When you spoke to the artists, did you give them free rein over what they wanted to present, or did you give them any sort of structure? No, I told them the whole idea of this was giving artists access to BAM’s stage and resources. And simply saying, I will be here to offer what I can in terms of any questions you have. But really, the stage and space is yours to dream up what you want to dream up. And a lot of folks took to that really generously, like Moses suddenly has built a whole show around a broader idea of what he wants his work to do. I have told myself that I want to be as surprised as everyone else, so I haven’t even really asked what Moses is going to be doing as much as I’ve kind of been just eager to see it unfold.

And that’s really exciting. The dream was to say to people: you have the resources and stage at BAM to make an experience, any experience that you would like. And we’ve gotten really lucky, I think, in the amount of people who have just really leapt at that, and people who wanted to use it to try new things. I’m really excited that so many people are excited about using it to try new things and play new songs and all of that.

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