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Kansas City's 'cosmic music collective' wants to free your mind with revolutionary beats

ARQuesta del SolSoul performed at the Ship during KKFI's Crossroads Music Fest on Aug. 27.
Todd Zimmer
ARQuesta Del SolSoul performed at The Ship during KKFI's Crossroads Music Fest on Aug. 27.

ARQuesta Del SolSoul takes inspiration from jazz, hip-hop, Afrobeat, spoken word — even science fiction writing.

ARQuesta Del SolSoul has a big goal. As they state on their Bandcamp page, the group wants to "decolonize and spacetime bend indigenous sounds."

“And we represent voices that perhaps aren’t necessarily in the limelight,” said percussionist, vocalist and songwriter Jessica Ayala. “So it’s beautiful to be able to have people who support us say ... ‘I see myself,’ or ‘I feel like I’ve been heard.'"

Their new self-titled album, released on Aug. 16, starts with a celebratory tone. But it doesn’t take long for the ensemble to delve into tough conversations about race, immigration and more.

In fact, that’s the intention of ARQuesta Del SolSoul, which performs a mix of Afro Latino music, hip-hop, R&B, soul and spoken word.

"To me, it's always been about the live show," said producer and vocalist Les Izmore. "Recording is alive, but it ain't as alive as coming to see us play, feeling the sweat, getting to smack hands or something like that."

ARQuesta del SolSoul is known for their improvisation during live performances. Here, vocalist Les Izmore styles some rhymes.
Fally Afani
I Heart Local Music
Vocalist and rapper Les Izmore, shown at right during a June 16 concert in Lawrence, Kansas, styles rhymes for ARQuesta del SolSoul. The band is known for improvisation during live performances.

Izmore and percussionist Brad Williams, who calls himself the "general vibe curator," are longtime collaborators in groups like the Afrobeat party band Hearts of Darkness and The Buhs.

Ayala sings and performs spoken word in Loose Park with the Kansas City Rumba Collective on Sundays in the summer, as well as with the Latino Writers Collective.

She first connected musically with Izmore and Williams in 2018.

“It just so happens that the three of us were creating music in a living room,” said Ayala. “And that grew from us starting to meet at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, and continuing to create vibes, curate vibes.”

“From there, we invited others to be a part of the process ... a part of the experience,” she added.

ARQuesta Del SolSoul launched in 2019. These days, the ensemble includes Izmore, Ayala, Williams, as well as Daniel Dissmore, Hadiza, Chalis O'Neal, and Jade Green, also a member of The Black Creatures.

ARQuesta del SolSoul's Jessica Ayala is a spoken word artist and poet.
Jessica Ayala
Three of the songs on ARQuesta del SolSoul's new album are drawn from Jessica Ayala's poetry collection, "Huelga."

They take inspiration from a long list of musicians and artists, including Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone — even sci-fi writer Octavia E. Butler.

Izmore, a “freestyle king,” describes the collective as “African futurist genre-benders.”

“We’re continuously trying to build communities and unite communities and create a new world, and trying to end this world that we are living in now,” he said. “So we're making revolutionary music. We're talking about stuff with substance.”

Ayala’s family moved from Colombia, in South America, to Kansas City in the early 1980s, when she was 3.

“What we are doing in our band is reclaiming and taking up space and showing up, just as the ancestors wanted us to show up,” she said.

She’s also worked as a community organizer, and three of the songs on the new album — "HUELGA," "Mama No LLores," and "REINA" — are drawn from her collection of poetry titled “Huelga,” which means “strike” in Spanish.

“As to the beauty of what's happening is in this group,” Williams said, “even though the music sounds fun and you may be even able to move and dance to it, like, the realities of the words are like very much poignant and important.”

He said the music is a way to keep people thinking about issues that impact people of color disproportionately, like deportation, safe drinking water and oil pipelines through tribal lands.

For the song “Six Second Sunz,” Izmore used a midday storm on a gloomy day as inspiration. He wrote it while sitting on his front porch at 55th Street and The Paseo in Kansas City, Missouri.

“(The) sun popped out,” Izmore said with a snap of his fingers. "That's an inspiration, that's a positive thing. Like — hey, you know! — in the dark comes a light. ... If you don't know the dark, you don't even know yourself.”

“So we're pushing that in the world,” he laughed, “the dark matter-type stuff. This is a cosmic music collective.”

It's a reminder, Izmore said, that there’s always space for change and creation. Lucky for fans, ARQuesta Del SolSoul plans to continue exploring those themes through their music.

ARQuesta Del SolSoul will perform at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Plaza Art Fair, and during SolSoul Fest at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30 at Lemonade Park, 1628 Wyoming St., Kansas City, Missouri 64102.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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