Jake Blount

The Afro-futurist Instrumentalist

Jake Blount talks about his music and coming to Eugene

Multi-instrumentalist Jake Blount’s musical journey began while growing up in Washington, D.C., where he began playing electric guitar at 12 years old. He later learned fiddle and banjo.

“I had this fateful encounter with the band Megan Jean and the KFB when I was in high school, and at that show was the first time I’d ever seen somebody play clawhammer banjo, which is the style that I play now,” Blount says in a telephone interview.

After the show, the banjoist in the eclectic duo explained that the banjo was descended from African instruments.

This new knowledge influenced the music that Blount plays, and he will showcase this in Eugene. Blount will perform at 7:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 12, at Tsunami Books as part of a tour for his newest album, The New Faith.

Later, Blount, now 27, discovered the fiddle.

“After I started playing banjo, I started listening to music that involved the banjo,” Blount says. “I realized that I kind of liked the fiddle more sometimes.”

Blount’s music is a mixture of genres, ranging from American folk music to African influences. His music, he says, is part of the Afrofuturist movement.

Afrofuturism “describes multi-genre movements amongst Black creatives to discuss the relationship between blackness in science and technology and time,” Blount says. He cites several examples of Afrofuturism, including the movie Black Panther, the jazz composer and pianist Sun Ra and author Octavia Butler.

“Even though people hear that, and they don’t exactly know what sound I’m describing, they know exactly what I’m trying to do with my work, which almost feels more important,” Blount says. “So, I have been leaning into calling myself an Afrofuturist musician.”

Blount sprang into popularity with his 2016 debut solo album, Spider Tales, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart. His latest album, The New Faith, was released Sept. 23 and combines American folk music with strong African influences. NPR has described him as “an Afrofuturist in roots-music garb” and American Songwriter has dubbed him “the king of roots.” 

Blount says he hoped to show people the banjo’s African influences, including on one of the album’s tracks, “Once There Was No Sun.”

“The banjo part on ‘Once There Was No Sun’ comes from manuscripts collected by a man named Hans Sloane with the aid of an enslaved African man named Mr. Baptiste from 1687,” Blount explains. “So, I’m taking really the oldest banjo music that we have.”

This is all a part of Blount’s take on Afrofuturism.

“What I’m doing is restoring the original context that it was originally designed for, which again, is part of that Afrofuturist bent,” he says. He adds that it’s all about “devising this future that is very deeply rooted in aspects in the past we’ve erased and forgotten over time.”

Although Blount has written his own songs, all of his released output to date has been arrangements of traditional work. Some of those songs had never been recorded before. Two — “The Angels Done Bowed Down” and “Give Up the World” — are on Spider Tales and The New Faith albums, respectively. “Give Up the World” could be from the 1800s, and “The Angels Done Bowed Down” may be from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Blount is excited for his upcoming performance at Tsunami, a bookstore with a small stage.

“We played there once before and it was great,” Blount says. “I don’t think the point of folk music needs to be on the biggest stage possible.”

For Blount, the smaller space is perfect for his show.

“On a smaller level, it can be really easier to interface closely with an audience to make sure that you’re getting what you need to get across,” he says.

Jake Blount will perform at 7:30 pm, Saturday, Nov. 12, at Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette Street. Tickets cost $20. More info at TsunamiBooks.org and JakeBlount.com.