Black Monument Ensemble

NOW (International Anthem)

Contact Jacob Daneman, Jessica Linker about Black Monument Ensemble

Originally conceived as a medium for Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks’s sample- based sound collage work, Black Monument Ensemble has evolved from a solo mission into a vibrant collective of artists, musicians, singers, and dancers making work with common goals of joy, compassion, and intention. Galvanized by Locks’s conceptualizing, poeticizing, and guiding vision, the contributors come from all facets of the diverse wellspring of Black artistic excellence in Chicago, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to uplifting, anthemic, and highly animated musical performance.


BME is a genuinely multi-generational collective; ages of the members range from 9 to 52 years old. In addition to Locks, current and consistent BME members include: musicians Angel Bat Dawid, Ben LaMar Gay, Dana Hall, and Arif Smith; singers Phillip Armstrong, Monique Golding, Rayna Golding, Tramaine Parker, Richie Parks, Erica Rene, and Eric Tre’von; and dancers Raven Lewis, Cheyenne Spencer, Mary Thomas, Bryonna Young, Tiarra Young, and Keisha Janae.


Locks has a stated interest in work that explores “The Black Nod” which, as he explains, is “an unspoken acknowledgment that happens often out in the world – a sort of ‘I see you’ moment exchanged between Black people.” His work with Black Monument Ensemble attempts to do the same. Fronted by a jubilant 6-person choir and backed by a 4-person drum & horn section, BME embraces a kind of socially activist, street level gospel originally heard in the 1960s from bands like the Voices of East Harlem and on albums like Max Roach’s We Insist; or originally seen in the photography of Kwame Braithwaite and the art of Emory Douglas. Merging influence from the subsequent half-century of artistic & technological evolution, Locks employs a cyber-punk palette of disparate implements (including beatbox, boombox, telephone, and megaphone) to make narrative compositions of mined sound, beats & archival speech (a laMadlib or Supa K) which are brought to life by the ensemble in electric, improvisational performance. It’s a truly multi-dimensional sound that spans mediums, genres, and generations; past, present, & future.


BME’s debut album Where Future Unfolds was recorded live in Chicago at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory and released in 2019 by International Anthem. The recording documents the first time that the project was presented in a fully expressed format, where Locks debuted his BME large ensemble and turned his poetry, collages & compositions into a soaring experiential performance. The album was received with glowing praise, landing at #3 on Bandcamp’s “Best Albums of the Year,” #25 on WIRE Magazine’s “Best Albums of 2019,” and being repeatedly dubbed “The Best Album of 2019” by BBC/Worldwide radio titan Gilles Peterson.


In the Summer of 2020 Locks and BME completed work on a new album, titled NOW, which will be released by International Anthem in Spring 2021.


Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble’s new album NOW was created in the final throes of Summer 2020, following months of pandemic-induced fear & isolation, the explosion of social unrest, struggle & violence in the streets, and as the certain presence of a new reality had fully settled in. Set up safely in the garden behind Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the music was recorded in only a few takes, capturing the first times members of BME had ever played or sang the tunes. For Locks, the impetus was more about getting together to commune and make art than it was about producing an album. In his words: “It was about offering a new thought. It was about resisting the darkness. It was about expressing possibility. It was about asking the question, ‘Since the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape…what happens NOW?’”