“I Wear My Art on My Sleeve”: Exploring Mood, Meaning, and Process with OBUXUM
Toronto-based producer OBUXUM believes creativity is an essential part of life — a quality that all human beings possess but don’t always get a chance to access. “I feel like every single person is born creative, but not many people have the opportunity to explore their different creative niches and then turn that into art,” she says. “For me, art means everything.”
Since picking up Native Instruments’ Maschine when she started her production journey in 2011 and later switching to the Abelton Push, OBUXUM has channeled her own creative niches into killer live performances. And though she’s been rocking beat showcases and shows for some time, she needed to hone her craft for a bit before she felt ready to put out her first official release.
With no cohesive project for listeners discover prior to 2015, OBUXUM realized she had to drop something official to help legitimize her skills. “Just because I say I do something or I’m an artist, what actually validates your art is by putting something out,” she explains. “That’s how people measure you.”
A major turning point in the evolution of her first release happened while reading a memorable book during a trip to Cuba. “I went to Cuba in 2013 and it was my first time traveling,” she says. “While I was in Cuba I was reading a book by John Carlos about his life and that really inspired me. One of the main things in his book was the concept of knowing where you come from and doing it because you love it.”
“I wear my heart on my sleeve and I wear my art on my sleeve.”
Between OBUXUM’s trip and Carlos’ inspiring memoir about his experiences as an activist and athlete, the seeds of her 2991 EP had been planted. A collection of beats composed between 2011 and 2013, the album signified a creative crossroads for OBUXUM— an important step in the transition from aspiring artist to professional.
As OBUXUM worked through the process of selecting the beats for her first release, she decided to add a personal layer to the project by recording interviews with collaborators, mentors, and fellow artists about the meaning of art. “Sometimes I really like organic authenticity, so I recorded all the interviews on my phone,” she says. “The questions that I asked everyone were, “What does art mean to you?”, “Why is it important in your life?”, and “If you could give advice to creatives, what would you say?”
Sprinkling the inspiring responses throughout her debut EP to give the album an added sense of cohesion, 2991 shows the listener not only what art and music mean to OBUXUM but also how they hold meaning for a broader creative community.
“When I would get frustrated, I would just reverse the sample. And it would sound a lot better.”
Beyond the music and vocal samples, the 2991 title also has a symbolic purpose. “I was born in 1992, so I flipped the title,” she says. “I decided I was going to name it after the year I was born because it was kind of an introduction to me as a creative putting something out. I wanted it to be very meaningful.”
Making art steeped in meaning and emotional transparency is something OBUXUM strives for with each release. When she puts her full self into her work, she often finds the process makes her a happier person. “I’m someone where I wear my heart on my sleeve and I wear my art on my sleeve,” she explains. “2991 really helped me through depression and so on and so forth. Just making beats in general, when I first started learning, it just helped me, mentally.”
Though the 2991 title marked a creative introduction of sorts, the idea of flipping 1992 to 2991 goes deeper than merely playing with number order. Going backwards informs everything from album and song titles to the way OBUXUM structures her beats — even her producer name is her real name, Muxubo, in reverse. “I really like flipping samples backwards,” she tells me. “I put it in a lot of my current music. There’s a point in the beat where everything goes backwards.”
“Every single person is born creative, but not many people have the opportunity to explore their different creative niches.”
Featured prominently on songs like “ABAYO, DANCE.” from OBUXUM’s sophomore effort Luul, these ear-pleasing and often surprising reversals started as a creative workaround when she would hit a wall while composing songs. “The problem I had is the chops would be good, but when I would play it back it wouldn’t sound like what I thought it should sound like in my head,” she says. “When I would get frustrated, I would just reverse the sample. And it would sound a lot better, even though I never expected it to sound like it did.”
Even though such techniques are no longer necessary in helping her complete beats, OBUXUM continues to enjoy playing samples backwards as a way to expand the sound and texture in her songs. She also believes the reversals have helped her elevate her ability to alter the mood of audiences and listeners — a key component of making a lasting impression. “As I started progressing and learning different techniques and thinking about arrangement a little bit more, I wanted to create different moods,” she explains. “I found out that if I reversed a particular melody it would have a cool rhythm that I never expected. But also, it also throws people off because they don’t really expect me to create a mood that’s so kind of in your face — everything switches up out of nowhere.”
Whether it’s layering interview snippets into an album, messing with musical elements by playing samples in reverse, or perfecting her live shows with her trusty Ableton Push, OBUXUM will continue to explore the artistic process through music for many years to come. We should expect nothing less from someone whose stated mission is to “create art as a means of healing and survival.”