Tut Asante Amin is preparing to unveil what he considers has been the most challenging project of his life so far:
The 30-year-old Bed-Stuy resident and jazz musician was chosen to direct an 18-piece orchestra and score the music for Soundtrack ’63, a multi-media showcase highlighting the events of 1963, presented by 651 Arts and featuring Blitz the Ambassador and Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets, opening Friday, February 8, at the Irondale Center.
Originally, Robert Glasper was fingered for the role and Amin was supposed to understudy. But Glasper had a scheduling conflict. So the show’s curator turned to Amin.
“He said to me, ‘you’re a producer, you can do this,’” recalled Amin. “I hesitated for a second, but it wasn’t something I could think about too hard; I just had to do it.
“This project represents a life-changing opportunity for me, because I’m required to push myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself, make deadlines, be creative and step into a leadership role I’ve never had to step into before.
Considered by many to be somewhat of a musical phenom, Amin, a New Orleans native, admits he has knack for connecting with audiences through his music.
“Really good musicians have to be listeners of the universe in order to hear and see what’s under things… It’s a little hard to explain, but I can see beneath the surface of things.”
Amin said he really started listening to what’s underneath the surface at around five years old. He remembers, he was on a road trip with his father who was playing Stevie Wonder’s “The Secret Life of Plants.”
“I remember hearing birds chirping and insects in the music, and I asked my father, How did he get nature into the music?” said Amin. “It really fascinated me, the whole concept that sounds – whether it be dogs barking or screeching doors or even people’s voices – all are instruments. I realized then that ultimately, everything is music.”
Amin awoke to the power of music that day. But still, when his parents tried to get him to take piano lessons, he recoiled.
“At first, I wasn’t interested because it felt like a chore,” he said.
Eventually, at age 14 he picked up his father’s saxophone. He was a natural. Initially, he started playing by ear and then eventually taught himself how to read music.
Almost immediately, it was clear that he had a natural talent for music.
In college, he added the flute to his musical repertoire. At that same time, he became inspired by music producers Manny Fresh and Doctor Dre and decided he also wanted to produce: “Manny Fresh’s sound was so beautiful to me, because it sounded like a hip hop, digital version of second-line music.”
So in a twist of irony, Amin returned to the instrument he first rejected and began studying piano. At age 22, he moved to Brooklyn to broaden his opportunities in music and joined with other musicians to form the band Sankofa Soulz.
In addition to his band, he’s juggling five projects: He works with the New Media and Arts Program at 651 Arts, helping young people score a documentary; he’s also a music instructor at a youth organization called Quest; he was awarded two Met Life Media Composer grants with which he now is helping troubled youth produce an original song and video on issues that affect their community.
Also, he is working with the New York City Housing Authority as the organization's music instructor for its senior citizens choir; and of course, he’s the music director for 651 Art’s upcoming Soundtrack ’63.
Still, with all of those commitments, Amin believes he’s not doing enough!
“Like Michael Jordan said, it’s not enough just to be talented, because we all know a gang of talented people in the 'hood, on the corner, working at McDonalds or who are incarcerated and who are not manifesting their highest potential,” said Amin.
“So it’s really important to have a crazy ridiculous work ethic with your talent and your brilliance, or it can easily amount to nothing. I know I can push myself harder, do more.”
Amin says working on Sountrack ’63, however, has helped stretch him in a way that has challenged his own perceived limitations.
“I love what I’m doing right now for this project. We had to figure out how to paint as complete a picture of history as possible through music. Because the elders may appreciate this, but we had to come up with a way to really stimulate the young folks.
“This whole experience has been like, ‘wow.’ But the more I worked on it, the more it made sense and began to come together… until finally, I am like, I got this.”