Interview: Baba Israel

I almost never bump into Baba Israel in NYC but the past two times I've been in Amsterdam I've seen him on the street. The same street, outside a cafe called Baba's. He's like that. He gives and recieves creative energy equally and, as a consequence, things just seem to happen around him. He manifests opportunity and, as a poet, an artist, a teacher, an emcee and a beatboxer he's always involved in something interesting.

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I am an artist, producer, educator and an improviser. I was raised in NYC and found my creative voice in Hip Hop culture. I was raised in political and community based theatre and that is a big influence on my choices and focus. Specifically I am an emcee, writer, beatboxer, beatmaker, and theatre director. 

Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change?

I have always been an artist and spent the early years doing a lot of free and street performance. When I moved to Australia I learned more about both the commercial industry and the arts sector. After many years as a freelance artist and educator I made the move to the UK and got a position as the AD/CEO of a venue called Contact. I spent 3.5 years running the org and learned a lot about the other side of the arts. My focus was programming, curating, artist development, producing, and directing. In 2011 my father passed and it meant a return to NY and a return to being a freelance artist. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a sustainable artist during my time at Contact.

What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft? How do you deal with that challenge?

The greatest challenge for me is balancing the time it takes to raise funds, book gigs, and build audiences with the actual process of creating and performing work. I am dealing with this by building a team and creating infrastructure to support the business of being an artist. In the past I tried to do everything by myself- management, marketing, fundraising, booking, networking. This did not leave a lot of time to be an artist and limited my reach. I have spent the last year building producing infrasture for my theatre show in collaboration with Leo Kay and his company Unfinished Business and have secured a manager/publicist for my music project. I am starting to feel the real benefits of this.    

Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?

I practice beatboxing all the time. I practice while walking down the street, on the subway, while cooking, and looking after my daughter. I practice freestlying as an emcee in a similar way. I am starting regular practice sessions with my collaborators and its been great to get back in a rehearsal room with a live band. I have built a relationship with Funkadeilc studios in NYC which is a great space to jam.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration through improvisation.. I recently  finished  a music video shoot with Emmy award winning director David Barnes. We decided to make a video.. there were not storyboards.. no long meetings.. we hit the street and worked with the environment..Rhyming in a snowstorm at 4am will get you some great shots.. we developed the Snow Graffiti technique. I also get inspiration from collaboration.. from a meaningful connection with a fellow artists. I like to build community and collaborate with my community.

Where are you when you have the most a-ha moments?

• Shower
• Train
• Plane
• In between sleep and waking
• Walking

What do you do to maintain a creative flow?

I think stress and anxiety are challenges to creative flow- I have been practicing tai-chi and trying to be more disciplined about exercise. I also try to read interesting articles and books, travel, and make a point to connect with older and young artists who give me great perspective. It is also important to go see other peoples work or take time to listen to other music.

How much do you rely on feedback from other to help shape your ideas?

I like to share my creative process informally in conversations, or at open mics and jam sessions, as well as structured feedback sessions. Feedback can be useful but I think its important to ask for it when you are ready to digest it.

What is the greatest obstacle to creativity?


When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?

I try to keep open and wants whats best for the project- if it radically transforms and it feels like the most creativity and intgreity have been achieved! I am cool!

How do you know when you’re done?

Sometimes you just have to be brave and say that's it! sometimes it an intuitive feeling, sometime its simply times up!

How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?

I try to take a process approach, a lot of self-reflection and then get clear on both sides of the issue.. Listening is key and building awareness about the others perspective. Ultimately though you can find some compromises but you have to a line that you wont cross.

What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?

Sometimes to be honest its the money I am earning but I always try to find something I can learn from the project.

What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?

I like pressure.. but when it becomes to much I have mentors I can reach out to and also release energy by playing b-ball

How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?

Utilise the resources that are free or based on exhange- I live in a city full of possibilty and have such a talented and creative community I am not afraid to call on their support when the time is right.

What are the top 3 tools in your creative tool kit? ie. software, pencil, paper, journal etc.

Google drive, headphones, iphone.

What are the top 3 creative habits that have proven to be the most useful for you in your career?

Developing my memory, focusing on the fun of it all, and building community.

If you could offer a single piece of advice to a budding professional, what would it be?

Develop a team and learn how to delegate while maintaining a long terms vision and strategy.