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2021-2022 Fellow: Talon Bazille

Talon Bazille is a rap artist/poet from the Crow Creek Dakota and Cheyenne River Lakota tribes of South Dakota. A University of Pennsylvania alum, Bazille graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s in psychology. Bazille is currently the head of Wonahun Was’te’ Studios (“Good, healing sound of music”—Ciye’ General ThunderHawk), providing recording studio access around central South Dakota. The studio was supported in 2019 by First People’s Fund’s Cultural Capital Fellowship. He is currently working on his next release, Ghost Plant, which features artwork from Sicangu Lakota artist Tani Gordon. For more information, visit www.BAZTK.com.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW

Common Field (CF): Between then – when we were originally talking about your Fellowship project during the Convening – and now, how has your project changed or evolved? How did the Convening and relationships with Common Field’s Network impact the project?

Talon Bazille (TB): Since the original talks, my project has evolved to being multiple projects and different opportunities for collaboration. I went from originally working on Ghost Plant and finishing Amethyst Flower (two solo albums to finish out the GARDEN series of albums that I have been working on since 2016) to adding on Taku Sni – a project created via collaboration with visual artist Ray Rockboy Janis, who created the cover art for the project. This led to collaborations with Kyle Mesteth of Ground Control & Lakota Skateboarding via a music video for a song in the project, and a collaboration with Witko via his clothing company Trap Tipi – featuring Ray’s text artwork from Taku Sni as the focus of design. Common Field has not only financially helped, but has also assisted with encouraging and empowering me to take these projects seriously and try even harder in creating them.

CF: As an artist, you take a multifaceted approach towards your art–your musical releases contain multimedia components, and you’re often working on multiple projects simultaneously. Can you share more about the inspirations behind your work, and the process you’ve undertaken?

TB: I consider myself a fan of many things, and try to retain that energy of being an eager fan as much as possible. I gather this fandom energy around things like graphic novels, pro-wrestling, retro and current video games, horror films…and the list goes on. And I’m not just listening to hip hop/rap, either. I often explore jazz, soundtrack compositions for video games and film, various forms of heavy metal, mood music, soul, and more. As I enjoy all of these things, I find inspiration for structures and themes in my projects. I’ll focus in on a theme or signifying element of a potential album/project, and try to explore it as much as possible while I create songs, lyrics and beats.

Taking this into consideration, I find myself slowly curating playlists and pages and/or text documents together that seem to fit the topic I choose. I keep doing this until I feel like I’ve found my beginnings, middles and ends to whatever thematic/metaphoric story I’m trying to express.

CF: Given the ways you engage the community of artists you work with, collaboration seems central to your project and practice. Would you elaborate on the role of collaboration in your practice?

TB: I think it’s mainly that I try to be very intentional with my collaborations. I don’t seek out artists just to fill space or time, but rather, because I seek to connect in an attempt to make concepts I’m exploring more universal in reach. I don’t want to make art that only one kind of audience can get, and at the same time I want to celebrate and demonstrate my uniqueness. So when I collaborate with an artist, I try to reassure them that their art is powerful – and that them being their true, honest self will serve our collaboration best.

For example, before I collaborated with Tani Gordon, a Sicangu Lakota artist from Mission, SD, I didn’t know her (or, to be honest, many artists in South Dakota) at all. In early 2019, I was asked to perform at Racing Magpie in support of Natalie Stites Means, a mayoral candidate in Rapid City, SD. It was my first time visiting the space, and they had an ongoing exhibition featuring the work of several artists. Unbeknownst to me, I actually ended up performing in front of an artwork by Tani. I remember feeling in awe of the art, and sensing a deep connection to it. I remember my brother Taran (R.I.P.) and my cousin Scootz (R.I.P.) and her son were in awe of it, too.

Tani saw a video of me doing this performance in front of her art, and said she’d felt similar. This led us to meet – where we talked extensively about rabbits, and how art depicting them had the potential to convey really special messages in the world. This conversation led to our first collaboration Mastincala, a 7-track EP complemented by a piece from Tani. Our next collaboration, Ghost Plant, was then made in a similar way soon after. I only had one or two songs prepared and only one or two songs written when we first spoke about each project, and Tani had sketches and ideas that were already related to said topics. So, we built upon those foundations together to create pieces that could blend as much as possible.

CF: Is there anything folks should know before engaging with the Ghost Plant project more deeply?

TB: Please understand that this is a project with heavy topics built from some heavy personal experiences. The first song, for example, is from a conversation I had with my cousin. She and another relative were joking around – “Well, for my funeral I want Aunt Karen to make all of my salads. Mmmmm!” It was soon apparent the proximity we’ve both had to death in our lives – natural or unnatural. So much so that we could joke about who we’d want to cater a special event like a funeral – as opposed to a wedding, graduation, anniversary, celebration, cookout, dinner. So the song is about the need for us to celebrate each other as though we are already dead, instead of waiting for tragedy to strike to realize how much we love one another.

“So turn it up like it’s my funeral, and play the songs that you remember me for. Turn it up like it’s my funeral, that’s all we got until the day that we go.” It was just a few months ago that my cousin who inspired the song passed away from post-COVID complications, which she fought for 3 months in hospitals prior to passing.

This is just the first song off Ghost Plant, and, in roundabout ways, each song is in dialogue with death and concepts of ghosts.

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For more around Bazille's work, visit www.BAZTK.com and bazilledx.bandcamp.com. And stay tuned when he takes over the Common Field Instagram account, next Wednesday, August 17 and Thursday, August 18, 2022.

Learn more about the rest of our 2021-2022 Fellows here.