Veve and The Rebels is a D.C.-based afro-folk band, led by singer-songwriter Violet Marley. “Afro-folk,” a relatively new category of folk, that's focused on the diversity of the black experience. The band represents a unique cross-section of the United States: Violet was raised in Texas; Jay Sun, who plays the cajon (a Peruvian drum) is a native Washingtonian; bass player Warren Pendersen II is originally from the Virgin Islands; and lead guitarist Ajene Harley grew up in New Orleans.
Soothing rhythms of the cajon accompany downtempo acoustic guitar arrangements, leaving ample room for Violet's sultry blues. Their most recent release, simply titled “The EP,” is a five-song excursion into reflection and resistance. Perhaps the most poignant song, “Black August” is a reaction to the systemic oppression of black people in the United States, as the world saw Eric Garner murdered, watched Mike Brown's lifeless body lay in the street, as well as the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter, a movement that originated on Twitter, that has already influenced the platforms of presidential candidates from both parties.
The band talk their origins in D.C., how a jam band found afro-folk, and why their music is good for the soul.
How did the group come together?
VIOLET: Well I've known all of them for a long time. A year ago, I said I have to have a band. I wrote some songs, we jammed, and we formed organically.
Did you all meet from jamming together?
VIOLET: Basically. We met at college, at Howard. We lived in a musical house, where we just jammed all the time and that's where we met Jay Sun. Through Jay Sun, we met Warren, and just played different shows with different artists, throughout the years. Five years ago is when we had all had met each other.
How did you first form that musical bond?
JAY SUN: So Aj and Violet were at Howard University, and they were in a band together, called Dreaded Experience in D.C. There's also an artist coalition called MOUSAi. Violet and I lived in the MOUSAi House. There, my collective which was called SE3, would go to the MOUSAi house to meet more musicians, to jam out, because it was a music house. SE3 has been in existence since 2003 and we said hey there's these folks who over there in northeast who just jam out all the time, and you can find musicians and get songs done. I had already been working with Warren, who has VibeLive Productions, producing one of our other artists. At the MOUSAi House is where all of the forces united like Voltron – different pieces of different groups and cultures. The MOUSAi House allowed everybody to meet. Throughout these relationships, Violet knew she wanted to have a band of her own. She always had music and songs in her mind; writing, playing and learning the guitar the herself. In order to express her own thoughts and visions, she felt she needed a band of her own.
VIOLET: It was kind of like a social experiment too. A year ago, it seemed like bands were getting to be the new thing. So I said I need a band behind me, and then maybe people will catch on to this music. I was already doing afro-folk music. If I have a band, and it's a black band, full of musicians, that's kind of unseen, that may catch people's attentions.
What are some of your influences? On songs like “Black August,” you reference social issues.
VIOLET: I feel like I'm a storyteller. I went to school to study anthropology, so that informed a lot of my views on the world, and that's how I connected with Jay Sun and SE3. I was doing interviews for D.C. artists, trying to figure out the diaspora. If all of us come together, what kind of new sounds can we create, if we're all from different places. Five years later, this band is the manifestation of that. Warren is from the Virgin Islands, Ajene is from New Orleans, Jay Sun is from D.C., and I'm from Massachusetts by way of Texas. So we're all from different areas, and we bring different cultural backgrounds together, creating this new sound that's afro-folk.
Why did you decide to pursue the sound “afro-folk,” which is relatively below the radar.
VIOLET: I think to create music that's conscious and a new sound, a new energy in music that isn't there. I don't know necessarily listen to popular music right now because it doesn't feed my soul in the way that I need with all this crazy stuff going on in the world. As a black person, I feel like we need some type of music to get us through these crazy moments. That's what I hope afro-folk can do for other people.
What attracted you to the band and keeps you inspired?
WARREN: For me, it's something old, but something new at the same time. You get to put new ideas into something that's completely different. I don't think anyone has heard of afro-folk before. It was something new musically, and artistically. That's what drew me in. Violet is a terrific songwriter, and for the most part she comes out with the progressions, the chords and everything. I like her ideas, and we add our own ideas on top of that
AJENE: It's fresh and it has meaning. That's very important, especially today.
Ajene, coming from New Orleans, did you play in bands while you were there?
AJENE: I didn't play in any bands or any substantial musical background until I moved to D.C. This is a whole new experience.
JAY SUN: He picked it up really fast!
Was Violet the catalyst for it?
AJENE: It happened all around the same time. It was around the same time that we met that we started to take music serious.
VIOLET: We both got into music heavily. We jammed all day, every day.
AJENE: That's a big part of the whole matriculation of the whole musical process. At least between she and I.
VIOLET: I just like to jam. I think MOUSAi put that in my mind, of that's what music is to me: jamming. With Dreaded Experience, we have ten-minute long songs. We were basically a jam band, so that's how I see music as fun. I just make him jam with me, and that's how we've been able to have the type of energy with each other. We play with each other a lot.
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