How family, funk, and the desire to uplift shape his work…

Montclair artist Topaz Jones has created a true body of work with his album ‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’. Music full of funk and soul, that acts as deep-dive into his childhood, hometown and what made him the man he is today.

When the album wasn’t enough to communicate his art, he then turned it into a short film. One that went on to win a Sundance Short Film award. The film further looks into his hometown whilst focusing on those who are helping build communities. It makes for an educational and thought-provoking piece of art.

Clash had the opportunity to speak with Topaz on his new projects.

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Congrats on the album and film dropping. Have you enjoyed the reception so far?

I think the response from people engaging with both the album and film has been great. I feel that the response for me has been qualitative rather than quantitative. I used to trip out about numbers. But now I’m able to relax and feel a bit better because the people who are tapping into it for real are getting a lot out of it. Which all you ever want as an artist I think.

At the end of the day, it’s whether you’re happy with the outcome of the work?

Yeah and I’m definitely more proud of the work I’ve put into this, than for any other project I’ve worked on in the past. Not only was this a watershed moment for me creatively, It also coincided with me discovering myself a bit more and finding out more about myself as a person. So I think I’ll always have a soft spot for this project going forward because it taught me more about the way I wanted to approach life as an adult.

So did this piece of work help you grow up in a sense?

I feel that I was basically ‘grown up’ you know, but I think that the last chapter was to really go back and kind of revisit the past and everything that led me to this point. I think before that I did a lot of just looking forward towards this destination, without being able to appreciate all the ups, downs and factors that made me who I am.

I’m just getting to that point now at 27 years old where I can look back on my childhood without any objectivity and more of an understanding.

Yeah, so it’s like accepting the past.

Yeah for sure, you have to engage with it. This was like therapy to me. I used to rather see where I wanted to be in five years, instead of dealing with my past. But I actually made my best art by sitting in the present and past.

The album includes voice clips from members of your family. Does it feel good to be able to put your family members into the art you create?

Absolutely and I think it made sense because they are a big part of why I make music in the first place. I’m a musician because I love music, but I love music because my dad used to be a musician. My great aunts were in a Motown group who then showed my dad how to make music. Even my mom, she’s not a musician but took me to my first concert at the age of seven to see James Brown.

The appreciation for music in my family is the biggest love language, and I think to be able to include them in this project was to give some of that love back.

Your film uses the letters of the alphabet to cover topics. Were there certain subjects that you wanted to cover from the start? Or were they more influenced by the album?

They were definitely influenced by the album. I had ideas, themes and concepts that set the tone for what I wanted to do. This was also the most intentional I’ve ever been working on something. Because I was so intentional, they were consistent. By the time it got to the film, the album already touched on so many things so obviously we would cover this in the film.

Is that how you chose who featured in the film, from the likes of your old teacher and the fresh food activist?

I wouldn’t say that those weren’t planned from the beginning, but definitely made sense as we were putting everything together. I also wanted to be true to my own experiences. Even through watching the film with all the cutaway moments. A lot of what helped me find myself was interacting with the people in my community who were doing the work and who had committed themselves to being the change that their community needed.

So we all thought it was important to include people who were actually doing things in their community. I’m an artist, not an activist so I wouldn’t want to portray myself to be something that I’m not. I’m learning things myself as these people were talking to me.

I think that it was cool to have this opportunity and platform to give these people a really good open space to speak about the work they’ve been doing and the issues they’re trying to help.

Was there a scene you enjoyed filming the most?

One of the scenes had all my friends from childhood. So I got to see all my people, and they also got to see me in the element they haven’t seen me in before. With this big production, cameras, wardrobe. It was a really nice full circle moment.

Also, speaking with my grandmother was a big thing for me. That was the last thing we shot of the whole film and I’m just very excited about having that moment immortalised. So for when I’m older and have kids, I’ll be able to show them this beautiful representation of who my grandmother is as a person.

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‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’ is out now.

Words: Joe Hale

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