David Boykin, one of this year’s three artists-in-residence at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park, got a late start in the music world. He only began playing music seriously when he picked up the clarinet at the age of twenty-one. The arrested development of the musician, however, only makes his current accomplishments more impressive: Boykin, who is now forty-four years old, has grown into a highly influential composer, multi-instrumentalist, and leader of his own jazz collective known as Sonic Healing Ministries.
Boykin describes his collective as a “free jazz storefront church.” When asked if he sees himself as a pastor of sorts in his Ministries, Boykin’s answer is no. “The ritual formalities of church aren’t here. Our intent is about personal spiritual evolution. We try to recreate the sound of the harmony of the universe. Everything in the universe is vibrating, even though we can’t hear it. It’s through sound that things come into existence,” he says.
The “storefront” aspect refers to the difficulty of finding a sizable space, or any space at all, in which to perform. Boykin’s residency at the Incubator has now provided him with a studio space, but before this year he was no stranger to the struggle of the working musician. “There are only so many slots open in the music business and there are more musicians than well-paid opportunities,” he says.
Despite the lack of paying gigs, Boykin has nonetheless emerged as one of the most prominent next-generation jazz musicians currently working on the South Side. This Thursday, Boykin will be playing tribute to Sun Ra, the avant-garde jazz musician and bandleader who famously claimed he was a member of an angel race from the planet Saturn. One hundred saxophonists will gather to celebrate Sun Ra’s 100th birthday with a group rendition of “Happy Birthday” at the Washington Park Forum, where Sun Ra was a fixture in the fifties. Sun Ra espoused what Boykin describes as “astro-black mythology,” which incorporated ancient Egyptian history and culture, occult sciences, and esoteric teachings. These teachings also seem to resonate with Boykin’s own life and work including an upcoming
Summer Solstice concert Boykin will lead on the afternoon of June 21, featuring his five-movement composition “Solar Suite: Midnight, Sunrise, Midday, Sunset, and Enocturnal Sun.” The solstice is of key significance to Boykin. “Culturally, I identify my heritage as ancient Egyptian, and we are people of the sun. We see the sun as the life-giver to all on the planet and a source of energy,” he says.
Finally, Boykin will participate in the collective show “Testimony,” the culminating exhibition for this year’s resident artists at the Logan Center from July 9 through August 30. His piece will be a sound installation that comments on drone warfare by blending the testimonies of drone attack survivors into the sound of a drone. “It’s such an unbelievably inhumane, violent, blatantly murderous, and terrorist act being committed by the U.S. government abroad that seems to go unchallenged because it’s killing people other than white Americans,” he says.
Boykin’s outspoken challenge to systems of power shows that his ambitions go beyond pure sound. As he continues to craft his music and his art, Chicagoans should keep their ears open, and listen closely to what this emerging artist has to say.