An Interview with Hanif Abdurraqib

January 14, 2021

"My hope really is to ask more questions, to find new music to fall in love with, and to build a community of listeners that I hope you’ll be a part of" says Hanif Abdurraqib. On the eve of launching Object of Sound --a new music podcast and radio show from Sonos and the team behind On Air Fest-- the hosts new host sat down with Associate Producer Babette Thomas to talk about the overlaps between music, poetry and storytelling. Listen to the launch episode on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts. Here is their conversation.

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Babette Thomas:
So, Object of Sound is your most recent and ongoing project, but you’re not at all new to the podcasting or radio world. You produced and hosted Lost Notes from KCRW, a show that takes you behind the stories of some iconic 80’s songs. As a poet and a writer, what attracts you to telling stories in sound? Is there some relationality between the sonic and the poetic? How are those practices intertwined and what is the importance, for you, in telling these types of musical stories through sound?

Hanif Abdurraqib:
I am someone who writes how I speak, and I think there are intricacies that sometimes don’t leap out on the page that can be enhanced and enlivened by the conversational nature of telling stories out loud. I’m someone who meanders, I’m likely to be pulled in the direction of my many excitements, even if they aren’t all the excitements I began with. Every song I have ever loved is a machine of multiple parts, and multiple tales aligning with those multiple parts. I’m always really excited to illuminate the interior that others might find mundane.

BT:
I’m wondering how have your practices, as a music listener, but also a writer and poet, changed in the past year, with the onset of the coronavirus? Now that we’ve been in this for nearly a year now, do you feel as though you’re finding some kind of groove creatively? What are some of the practices that have kept you grounded in this time?

HA:
I think I’ve maybe been listening to more albums in a more structured fashion, simply because I’m not on the road as much as I would be otherwise. I’m not kind of sleeping on planes or exhaustedly dragging myself to hotel rooms or whatever else. There’s a type of stillness that I’m eager to fill with adventurous listening. I seek new music more aggressively than I ever have, a habit I’m hoping to keep up. I like to be surprised and exposed to the unexpected. At first, I found myself averse to that newness, really eager to collapse comfortably into the familiar and then stay there. But every corner I find myself in is a mess of uncertainty, and so what is and isn’t familiar becomes a grey area. This isn’t to say that I don’t still cling to my familiars, but I think being overwhelmed by the joy of an uncertain album that flicks a good switch is worthwhile.

BT:
What are you most looking forward to exploring in your work with Object of Sound? How do you think it might differ from some of your many previous works and writings on music?

HA:
I mostly just love the idea of talking to people -- something that has felt especially distant to me in the past year. I live alone with my dog, and there are days the dog is the only living being hearing my voice. I am someone who can become comfortable with silence, with isolation. But I do miss conversation with others. I miss the dance of it, trying to keep up. Two people grabbing for a single steering wheel. I haven’t gotten to engage in the very plain work of that much, and I’m thrilled for it.

BT:
I read your new column with the Paris Review, Notes and Hoops. Your first article is about Love And Basketball and how your perceptions of the movie’s themes of the tensions between love and play have evolved as you’ve gotten older. Could you talk a bit about that about this column and also the importance that basketball holds for you, culturally and creatively?

HA:
Basketball is something that was the backdrop of my youth. To the point that it didn’t matter how good I was (or wasn’t) at it, it was the language and architecture of the neighborhood I grew up in, and so I played it. It was a way to earn respect from older kids and a way to find community among my direct peers. I’ve long been fascinated by the way basketball is portrayed on film. Not just the actual, literal playing of the sport. But also the way that it is woven into an emotional moment, like the swelling conclusion to He Got Game, for example. There’s something I wanted to uncover and keep taking a crack at. It’s this impulse I have, to keep searching for greater meaning in something I require to be meaningful.

BT:
Are there any other audio projects that you’re particularly excited about right now?

HA:
I’m listening to Wind of Change for my third time now!

There’s a type of stillness that I’m eager to fill with adventurous listening.

Hanif Abdurraqib