Washingtonians can thank WPFW-FM for countless good things — including the very existence of Jamal Gray. The District native’s parents first met at the venerable community radio station back in the 1980s. Mom read the news. Dad spun jazz records. Decades later, their son is making some of the most dynamic music in the city.
He’s doing a lot of it as the bandleader of Nag Champa Art Ensemble, a septet whose hybridized mix of soul, jazz, hip-hop and go-go has allowed the group’s music to drift in and out of different local music scenes with relative ease. But wherever the band plays, Gray always wants to make an impression.
“A lot of people in D.C. think that music is ornamental,” Gray says. “We want to change that, change the approach to how people receive the music.” To pull it off, Gray says that he approaches music in a way that honors his family, his forebears, his community, his Nag Champa bandmates — Elijah Easton, Allen Jones, Kwesi Lee, L.D Lee, Miles Lewis and Dajando Smith — his listeners, even the metaphysical powers of sound itself.
“Down to the name, Nag Champa has spiritual context,” Gray says. “My mom is deep into Eastern spirituality and that’s the incense she would burn when she meditated. So [in Nag Champa], I feel like it’s my spiritual duty to inform people and connect people. . . . We’re freeing people up to want to express themselves, to help them be home within themselves.”
Show: Saturday at Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library. Show starts at 2 p.m. 202-727-1288. dclibrary.org/watha. Free.