The New York City-based duo of Sefu Kafele and Rachel Burrell joined forces to form X Black Superheroes. Together, Kafele, the Malcolm X-inspired lyricist, and Burrell, a singer and poet with Tracey Chapman mixed with Lauryn Hill style and sound, use their music to raise awareness of people, political, and social issues that often do not receive the attention they deserve. Read their interview below to find out what they think it means to be heroic.
1) How do you describe yourselves as artists for those who don’t know you?
Rachel: As an artist, I’m about passion, love, hope, frustration, pain. I like to tap into all basic human emotions because really everyone can relate. Sefu brings a straightforwardness and honesty as well and I connect with that.
2) How did you two meet and form X Black Superheroes? What is the meaning behind your name?
Rachel: I used to co-produce an open mic named, “Pieces For Revolution,” and Sefu came in and performed one day. His piece was so alive with emotion that it grabbed my attention right away. We clicked artistically.
Before, you know it we were working on tracks together!
I will let him tell you about how the name X Black Superheroes came about. (Go to question 8).
3) Who are your main influences?
Rachel: My main influences are Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Motown, Mariah Carey! The truth is I’m all over the map as far as genre and style. I appreciate good storytelling.
Sefu: Main influences- life, mistakes, Malcolm X
4) Rachel, why did you give yourself the name, “The Storyteller.”
I titled my first solo project, Rachel Burrell is The Storyteller and it just kind of stuck! The truth is I think all artists are Storytellers, but the separation is in the content of the story.
5) Sefu, you previously had an album called, “Hood Dharma,” saying it was “the affirmative answer to Hendrix’s inquiry, ‘Are You Experienced?’” How has Jimi Hendrix influenced you as an artist and that album?
Jimi influences me because he had his own vibe style, that he took Blues and played it to stadiums. He made love funky. I felt a vibe of peace when I was doing that CD; for once in my life I did not only depend on books to give me the answer, I learned the answer was within me. I just had to be real and know how to listen. The dharma that i wanted to bring about started with me; Jimi taught me to live in the now — not the past, not the future — live this very second and become stronger than the mind.
6. What is the meaning behind your album name Ike and Anna Mae, a reference obviously to Ike and Tina Turner?
Rachel: I think I’ll let Sefu answer this because the album title was his idea, though I definitely stood/stand by it.
Sefu: Ike and Anna Mae seemed like the perfect choice. At first the storyteller was not feeling it, she had her feelings towards Ike, but I explained Ike Turner is the father of rock and roll, Ike and Tina was like an underground act. Raw – that’s our energy! We don’t set out to make a song, the song just comes and its raw energy. The storyteller sings from her soul like Tina, me, I make it funky like Ike. That was the vibe of that CD.
I wanted to do an Ike and Anna Mae Part 2, but the universe took us in another direction. The new CD is titled Life Iz War, about the struggle one has in a society in a world where I feel we don’t fit anymore. Kind of like tigers and lions, most life on this planet is dying, everybody is becoming European, that’s why crackers will never have to worry about losing power. Everybody say the Chinese coming up, but look where we set our standards that’s our god. I was looking at some old footage of a United Nation meeting, it looked like a star wars movie — all different nationalities in their garb — now everyone is starting to wear suits and ties. Like 400 years of slavery created a race of people that don’t fit into this European shit…….
7) What is the importance of knowing your history in your work, like in songs “Emmett Till” and “Song4U,” and to
use it to create a different world?
Rachel: I think some people have become accustomed to candy coated/sugar coated music. Music that doesn’t offer anything more than a catchy beat. Our history is so rich! There are so many stories swept under the rug!
Our niche is education. The truth is I’ve become more inclined to study since working with Sefu!
Sefu: History. I feel history, if real history, was taught, it could wipe out racism. People don’t know each other. Emmett and Romona are two people that touched my life; the songs are about them and more. I feel artists, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers need to step up and confront the people around them. That’s what Mr. Till’s mother wanted when she ain’t let them put no make up on him for his funeral; she forced the world to see themselves. I feel that’s what we did with those songs in different ways. I feel, for me, I can only make myself a better person. I can’t create a better world, people choose to be sheep. Like Malcolm, Marcus, Huey — all these people done spoke, people chose to be ignorant in their bliss. Sometimes I wish I ain’t know all the shit I know but that’s Malcolm’s fault — I read his book at 16 and he killed the Amerikan dream for me, but i still love him.
8. In “Who Iz U?,” you said that we need black superheroes. How do you define superheroes? Can you expand on why black superheroes are important?
Rachel: A superhero to me is someone who dares stand up for his/her beliefs even if and when standing alone. Black Superheroes are needed because our community needs something positive. We need hope! The images/content that are thrown our way are mostly degrading! The togetherness and fight for something better seems to be slipping away! We want our people to love each other, stand up together and build as a community.
Sefu: I was at a group meeting called SWAP — Sisters and Sons With A Purpose — and this sister, my friend, said we need black superheroes. Wow, nice name, and that was it. I feel like in the movies, superheroes are not seen — a mother working 2 jobs to buy a child a PlayStation, father working day in and day out to keep a roof over their kids’ heads, doing the right thing not the wrong when you could get away with doing the wrong thing, correcting people when they do the wrong shit. Just the other day, I was in my car with my comrade and I could look at the girl and see she was like 15 16. My boy tried to roll down the window to talk to her say something, I’m like what the fuck are you doing, that’s a child! But not only him, I see that shit more and more. It’s crazy; that’s whats acceptable, but a superhero is one that does whats right even if that shit cause you to get stoned like Jesus.
9. What are your future plans and where can listeners contact you?
Rachel: We are currently working on the finishing touches for our second album!