Sean Clements, DJ/Producer/re-mixer speaks on the Tao way, the power of the drum and a shared inspiration.
Sean, this is my first interview for Common Roots Project with a musician/DJ/producer. When thinking about how music can Cultivate Wholistic Nourishment you were one of the first people I thought of who I believe sort of embodies this mantra. I’ve known of you from growing up in Buffalo, NY back in the early 90’s probably. Since I’ve known you I’ve always considered you to be a positive big brother type figure (thank you for that). I’d love to welcome you to become part of the EFECT (Exploratory Flavor Education Collaborative Team). So to start, I was hoping you could in a few sentences maybe try to explain what your “flavor” is? Give us the abstract if you will of what it is that makes you unique.
My flavor changes based on the needs for the day. From traditional percussion, to Jamaican/Puerto Rican dancehall, to dubstep/grime, to bass house music to pop remixes/mashups to a gully street dance playing the latest music for the kids.
When I’m making music to “express myself” & “be creative” (ex. not necessarily “work”). I’m drawing from all these sources & influences that I mentioned to synthesize something new. I don’t think I’ve ever made something TOTALLY new, but I’ve stumbled on some unique hybrids that I’m happy with.
What makes what I do unique is that nobody has ever done remixes of Puerto Rican Bomba. There is nobody else remixing dub/hip hop/dubstep versions of Bollywood songs. I don’t know anybody that is on my level as a percussionist that is also a working music producer/remixer/DJ.
In my opinion finding spiritual nourishment can play a huge roll in the creation of music. Believe it or not, I’ve also always considered you to be a pretty spiritual dude. Do you believe that music has the power to bring folks closer to spirituality and is there a type or style of music that does this more than others for you?
I believe people are spiritual & music can help us tap into that. For instance, I can go there when I drum. I believe the interactions between a drummer and dancers improvising are purely spiritual. Once the blood is pumping, the senses heightened, two or more people can communicate in ways that they both physically react instantaneously & without mediation. For instance, drummers learn to interpret movements by playing sounds exactly how a dancer is moving while she’s improvising a solo. That kind of stuff happens in the spaces between moments & to me are beyond explanation other than “the spirit moved us”.
On some other vibes, did I mention it’s good to hit things? Man nothing can take stress away from you like hitting something for a couple of hours.
Music that opens me up? I love old school gospel & coming from the same source old school reggae. Also from a similar source, Sade. Basically blues. That can be deep house that comes from the soulful side. Oh yeah, I LOVE pow-wow style native singing. I’ll leave “Northern Cree” on BLAST for days sometimes. Lots of different “world” music’s & the different subtleties they have in their music do that to me. I LOVE KORA and balafon from West Africa. Oh & “rhythm and sound” from Germany. But Sade. Whew! Love that woman
Some people have multiple outlets of obtaining a personal feeling of nourishment. If my memory serves me correctly here, I thought you also were a student of the Brazilian martial arts form of Capoeira? If that assumption is correct, could you tell us a little more about that and fill us in on any other outlets you might have that help to bring you inner peace?
I do love capoeira, but I haven’t done that since right after I moved to NYC. Although we did do a class in Ethiopia that was DOPE! That said, I did have a chance to study with Joao Grande & his soldiers while I was here. It was more of a trial run for me though, because it was too expensive for me & there was too much of a scene built up around him for my personal comfort level. No disrespect to the Mestre who was beautiful & welcomed me.
In terms of physical activities that bring me peace, I still deal with Taoist meditation the healing smile, 6 healing sounds, Taoist chi kung & other systems that’ve been taught by Mantak Chia & his universal healing Tao system.
I LOVE to hike in the mountains around NYC. I love swimming. More than anything (besides drumming), I love to be with my family. I have a 6 year old daughter named Love & a wife, Rhiannon. When I’m with them & everything is clicking I don’t have a care in the world.
I still love the sweat lodges. I’ve never really found another one like the Tuscarora nation sweat with Tah-weh-dah-qui, but I HAVE found that going to the spa in Jersey with a BULHANJEUNGMAK (Korean style sauna) is pretty close to the temperature & the place it brings me internally. The sweat lodge was my first (and really only) “church” that I’ve felt like spoke to ME. I’m pleased to have been on this sweat lodge warrior path for so long.
When thinking about wholistic, to me, this not only takes into consideration health and wellness for ourselves but that of our community. As I was checking out your profile recently it seems as though you also have your hands in some community work. Could you inform us on what that might look like for you?
almost all the work I’ve done for the last 20 years has been in black and brown communities in Buffalo and NYC (with a 1/2 year stint in Pittsburgh) bringing drum and dance to young people. I remember a conversation with one of the old spiritual leaders of Buffalo, Baba Simba. He told me that “it wasn’t for me to carry a weapon, but that all I needed to do is to keep playing my drum & all the blessings would come.” That the DRUM was my weapon. Since then, I’ve made it my business to either teach drums, accompany dance classes or teach music production/songwriting. Currently, I work at Alvin Ailey dance foundation, and dance theatre of Harlem. 2 of the most famous dance companies ever & certainly 2 of the most successful black dance companies. I also work for a small non-profit called “music ascension”.
What would you say is your “soul food”? What is the meal or type of food that really speaks your language? That bite that can make you feel like you’re “home” every time you eat it?
Man! I’m still crazy about North Indian food. I’d eat sushi every day if I could. I LOVE gnocchi. & authentic German wheat beers (like Weihenstephaner). I’m currently doing my annual juice fast. In fact, as of this writing I’m 3 weeks deep in a 4 week long fast. BUT that thing that makes my toes curl up & I could have it for every meal ever is probably good ol’ rice & beans. My wife makes me eat it with quinoa these days. I make mine with coconut milk instead of tomato sauce & spice it Puerto Rican style. I usually put an egg or 4 on top & put Siracha, sour cream & avocados to top it off.
There are some people that we meet in life that can really inspire and make a positive imprint on a person’s life. Sean, you and I had a friend in common that I believe may have made an impact on both of our lives. Mr. Muchina Johnson, known to most as Moonie G or Moon G. I first met Moonie at Erie Community College City campus in Buffalo, NY. He was incredibly outgoing and we shared many similar passions such as art, hip hop, dancing and learning about other peoples cultures. We ended up starting the Humanities Club there on campus which I can attribute to being some of the building blocks to my thinking’s in the creation of the Common Roots Project. Unfortunately we lost Moonie to cancer in the early 2000’s but I think it’s a blessing that some of his teachings and energy may live on. Are you able to share some of the ways in which Moonie may have been an inspiration to you?
Moon G was one of the best friends I’ve had in my entire life. At a time when parts of my life were out of control, Moon appeared. By his presence & occasionally his counsel, he helped re-direct, re-focus and diffuse some of that energy. We had a two-way relationship in which we enriched EACH OTHER. His kids & his widow call me “Uncle Sean” they hit me up and ask about my daughter. You know? Its family. Before we met, he’d never been to the South towns (outside of Buffalo, NY). He never walked on a trail, never meditated, never been to an EDM party. I believe he created a solid vision of his life outside Fillmore Street neighborhood (where he was practically the mayor) Though, through our excursions together, I believe seeing me move through different environments, racial groups, social sets, class barriers encouraged him to take the concepts he’d been evolving through the Humanities Club from the club and his close group of friends into the direction of his life. And on the other hand, Moonie showed me what being a great, active Dad and big brother by somebody in my age group looked like. Moonie took me to my first hip hop set AND turned me on to Krs-One. Moon is the one who got me the interview with Marvin at the African Cultural Center which turned into a 3-year job as a percussionist. He was also instrumental in me feeling comfortable enough with myself to understand myself as a multiracial person. He was able to reinvent himself when he moved to Atlanta & became a suburban dad for those last few years. He brought his kids out to live with them & they had a big old “Brady bunch” family which is how he lived out his last years.
Above all, Moonie and I LAUGHED AND LAUGHED at each other, with each other, through agonizing pain, and through silly situations. The power of charisma, humor, strength and confidence. This man was the real deal & I am blessed and honored to have had known him & to be truly loved by this great friend. Truth be told, I still talk to him today.
So what’s next for Brotha Sean, AKA DJ Ceiba? Where do you see yourself in the not so far future?
I’ve been investing heavily in personal development & business acumen. Especially in time, effort and money. I study online marketing for music producers. I’m at a place where I want to sell drum classes online with a team of partners. I’m also interested in selling my music productions to various media such as artists, films, video games, commercials and so on. I’m considering moving to Portland to join their industrial farming sector (I’ve already been making connections in their EDM & traditional drumming scenes). My physical and mental health of my wife and the social and intellectual health of my daughter are MAJOR factors in that decision. Also, another positive is that I’d be moving right into a gig there. The west is the mecca for the healing of the nation. I believe that as laws change across the country that having knowledge, experience and expertise in that industry can make the difference in the type of life I lead and the legacy I’m able to leave to my next generations.