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Cleveland Artist Spotlights
1. Describe briefly the work that you do:
My name is Afi Scruggs and I play bass. That simple sentence describes the work I've been doing for the past six years. It's a complete reinvention for me. Professionally I've been known as a writer since I moved to Cleveland more than 20 years ago. I was a columnist and reporter at the Plain Dealer. I still write for several national and local news outlets including theGuardian.com, Cleveland Magazine and The Real Deal. Now however, I identify as a bass player first.
I'm a staff musician at Antioch Baptist Church, and at Progressive Evangelistic Missionary Baptist Church. Both are in the Fairfax neighborhood.
I also play blues, RnB jazz and other secular genres. Just recently, my group "2 + 2" played at the Beachwood library.
2. How did you get introduced to your craft?
I've started playing instruments when I was 6. I'm 60 now, so of course I'm a multi-instrumentalist. I play mandolin, guitar and balaphone, which is the West African ancestor of the xylophone. Primarily, however, I was a gospel pianist. I've played for congregations all over the east and west sides of the county.
But I always flirted with the bass. I'd pick it up, put it down, study for a while and sell the bass. In 2009, I decided to give it one last try, but I gave myself a mission. I would take weeks of lessons and I would find a place to play. So I started up again that June. By October, I was playing for Antioch Baptist Church.
3. Who are your long-standing influences?
I have always loved James Jamerson, whose bass playing helped define the Motown Sound. I like Rocco Prestia, the bass player for Tower of Power. Since playing bass, I've discovered African drumming from Mali, Senegal and Guinea have become unexpected rhythmic influences. That makes sense because I taught and performed dances from those countries for several years. I just never expected the rhythms to inhabit my fingers as well as my feet.
4. What is my idea of artistic success?
That's easy: being able to pay my mortgage from my music, LOL. Seriously.
I am a successful artist now.
5. What is your process for generating new ideas?
I listen to lots of college radio, because it exposes me to a range of musical genres. I make a point of going out to hear live music, so I can learn from my peers and colleagues. I also commit to projects or book shows. There's nothing like a deadline to get my creative juices flowing.
6. How do you want your work to affect your audience?
A bass player's job is simple: make the listener dance. If you're not patting your foot, bopping your head when I'm playing, then I've failed.
More importantly, I want my audience to feel empowered. I know my age, gender, and race make me a role model. I can't tell you how many women have approached me saying, "I've always wanted to (fill in the blank)." I answer with a question, "What's stopping you?"
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