Bilal Transcends Nostalgia With New Album: ‘Live at Glasshaus’

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In a soulful, emotional revisiting of songs from nearly three decades ago, Bilal invites audiences to experience music in its most magical and purest form: on a live stage. With help from some old pals from his noteworthy career (Questlove, Common, Robert Glasper, Burniss Travis), they use their modern musical instincts to refresh the tracks that cemented them as pillars of the explosive neo-soul movement of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. We recently sat down with Bilal to unearth some of the motivations behind this album, and the contributing factors that led to this heartwarming musical reunion on Glasshaus Presents: Live at Glasshaus.

To truly understand Bilal’s musicality in reference to how he approached the development of this album, we had to get into the root of his musical awakening: his upbringing. Hailing from Germantown, Philadelphia, Bilal got most of his early inspiration from the culture in his own backyard.

\u200bPhoto by Zenith Richards.

Photo by Zenith Richards.

“Philadelphia has such a deep musical history, so there’s a lot of passing of knowledge from the older musicians to the younger musicians, and you feel a lot of the connection to the history of the music,” Bilal said in an interview with Okayplayer. “We all come from the same kind of understanding.”

By forging an intimate relationship with music at an early age, he was unknowingly setting himself for early success in his musical sojourns.

Following his high school graduation, Bilal moved to New York City, and thus began his journey to friendship with some of the musicians featured on this album. He almost immediately became acquainted with Robert Glasper at The New School, and soon after, began working with some of the names that he had idolized. Finding himself in the studio with people like Erykah Badu, J. Dilla and Mos Def, Bilal was living the dreams of many musicians at the time, and from there, his success began to skyrocket.

\u200bCover art for 'Live at Glasshaus.

Cover art for 'Live at Glasshaus.

Photo by Zenith Richards.

“One minute, you’re in high school and the next minute, you’re taking a photo with them and working with them. They were already giants so they definitely made me dream bigger,” Bilal said.

Bilal describes Live at Glasshaus as a “farfetched jazz trio” that came together by pure luck. “It was one of those random things where I was like ‘You know what would be dope? If you could hop on this’, and they were like ‘Actually, I can do that.’ When it came down to doing it, I was obviously excited, but also a little nervous about reimagining the projects of people I’ve been working with for years.” The project features reworked versions of the classic hits that went platinum in households across the country, from his unreleased album, Love For Sale to Common’s Like Water For Chocolate, and the live element makes the affair all the more special.

Being raised in a religious setting is a common thread that many Black musicians share when discussing their initial intrigue to music, and Bilal is no exception to this occurrence.

“I think that the music put me deeper into the spiritual realm, and music is the most spiritual part of our religious and spiritual connection to Christianity,” he said. “Even if you’re not a Christian, you can still feel the emotion.”

With June being Black Music Month, we broke down some of the obvious traumas that come with unearthing some of our most spiritual and musical inspirations, which can be a daunting task for any Black musician who is in touch with their history and the creativity that stemmed from it.

“There is a lot of pain that comes from it, but there’s also a lot of culture that comes from it too,” he said. “Through the struggle, a lot of life came, and a lot of times, that’s what creation is. A lot of that is growth, new civilization, consciousness, understanding. We went through a treacherous path to get all of this amazing culture that we share with the world, and it was almost a rite of passage that we went through so that the others can reap the fruits of our labor.”

With Bilal being one of the more complex musicians of his generation, there’s a clear understanding that his relationship with music is different from what we’re normally used to seeing. While some people make music, he lives and breathes his creations, and Live at Glasshaus acts as a tether from his soul to the world. By bringing in just a few of the people who were with him on his rise to musical acclaim, Bilal not only evokes strong feelings of nostalgia, but also makes the poignant statement that vulnerability lives in music, and we’re all stronger when we let it guide our day to day lives.

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