Finding Creative Flow with Jamal Cali and Evan Kennedy

Watching these two work is like getting lost in some alternate universe — where English isn’t the first language — instead, it’s filled with music notes, experimental rhythms and ridiculous lyrical patterns. Jamal Cali and Evan Kennedy are two Dublin based music producers whose way of life revolves around nostalgic beats.

It was certainly a privilege to get to see how they work together, tucked away in Jamal’s room with a keyboard and two MacBooks. Honestly, I think they captured an essence of the simplicity found in finding your Creative Flow — hitting home that you don’t have to be in this fancy studio to find flow. Music runs through both Jamal and Evan’s minds in the same way you and I think the most random of thoughts, like what to have for breakfast. The way in which they work is very a quick pace, as they jump from one song to the next inspired by a certain beat that crops up in their minds. Dublin was certainly good to me in how I was introduced to these lads because they are truly inspiring to watch and listen — a quality I don’t think they’ve yet realised they possess.

Our chat was genuinely eye-opening, as they introduced me to a lot of music and artists that I’d never even heard of, or would have even had the opportunity to discover if it wasn’t for this Creative Flow conversation.

I brought it back to the beginning, asking both Jamal and Evan where their love of music began and who was the ‘big’ influence that led them to music being at the fore of both their very being.

Jamal sat back in his chair and I watched him reminisce on different parts of his childhood to answer this question. “My earliest memory of music was when I was a kid living with my parents in a flat in Parnell Street and they’d always be listening to Bob Marley. I love the nostalgic feeling about music, that has to be my favourite thing — there’s just some songs that you’ll listen to and it’ll bring you back to somewhere else.” Jamal also reflected on his influence from his step-dad, who was a DJ in the 90s, “I was always surrounded by music but it wasn’t until I started DJ’ing properly in college as a Hip-Hop DJ that I realised how much I consumed as a kid.” When Jamal then met Evan last year, that’s when he really realised how much he loved music and finding his feet as DJ certainly attributed to his love, devotion and passion to the art.

Evan, whose dad is a music engineer found himself constantly surrounded by music, even before he realised what was going on around him or what he was soaking up. “I’ve been going to gigs since I was pretty much born until this year with my parents. I’ve definitely always been picking up bits and pieces from these gigs, which definitely influenced my love for music. I never really felt a pull to play an instrument until I was around 11 and I started to learn the guitar — this led to me later realising that you could create music on a computer when I was 13 and from there, I started to piece things together very slowly… trying to be Massive Attack basically. Fast forward to 24 and I’m still trying to be Massive Attack.”

As a musician, I often find myself being curious as to why a person picked their particular instrument. So, I put that question to the lads, why DJ’ing and producing?

Jamal answered first, “As I mentioned, my step-dad was a DJ and had CDJ’s in Africa — I’d always have been dabbling with them but never really gotten into it. I didn’t feel when I was a kid that I was going to get anything from it and I am cautious with where I invest my energy, especially if I feel I’m not going to get anything out of it. It was only when my friend, Callum, got a little controller because he wanted to start DJ’ing that I got really interested in it – when I’d be hanging out with him at his house, I started messing with the controller and realised it was actually pretty fun. It just kind of escalated from there when I started to borrow the decks and… those decks are still here in my room.” Jamal went on to talk a little bit about TU Dublin’s DJ society, which is actually where we met each-other, “When I joined the DJ soc that was when I got lessons and learned how to play properly from actual DJs. Dan Duffy led a hip-hop masterclass one evening and he was an instant inspiration.” Jamal mentioned a point that I found really interesting about when you’re actually learning to DJ, “it’s in the first couple of months that you probably will learn the most because that’s when you’re most interested in it in a way… like, if I had learnt to scratch back then I’d be doing that now but I was focusing on song structures, mixing in key and loops.”

Evan’s story with DJ’ing is a little different, “I fell into DJ’ing accidentally because my mates from around the corner wanted to do a few bits and pieces and I was like ‘yeah I know how to produce and put a few tracks together’. So, I bought myself a Numark controller because I needed to create scratch sounds and then I guess I started to play house parties simply because I had the decks. I actually used to do the under-age discos around Dundrum back in the day too. From there and doing that hip-hop stuff accidentally in a way just led to where I am now.”

So, I witnessed first-hand how these two work and the word gas doesn’t even cut it. They literally speak in tongues to each-other and next thing you hear this crazy unreal song that is so catchy. I wanted to get the lads perspective on how they find working together.

Both Evan and Jamal agreed that they just go with the flow of whatever comes up on the day they’re working together. Evan jumped in by adding, “working with Jamal isn’t how I would usually work with a lot of other people. With the whole band situation, we’ll work in quite a structured way and there’s a lot of theory — like we might approach it from a classical angle but with Jamal it’s more, ‘yeah.. that bangs’. We let thing really just flow and then the theory and structure usually comes after, which in some ways is probably a better way to work.”

We finished up the interview chatting about how the lads find their Creative Flow.

Jamal talked about how he finds his Creative Flow usually in his room creating music, “I’d nearly always have to have the right mindset to find that flow. Like, normally if I’m upset about something or my heads all over the place, I can’t really manifest anything but the odd time, if I feel quite emotional I can manifest those feelings into something that bangs.. but that’s a rare occasion.”

Evan talked about how when he’s performing it’s like driving a ship type of flow but when he’s in the studio at home, that’s where he finds a real Creative Flow. “Honestly, I find the weather gives me a type of flow as well — like if it’s raining out, I’ll look out the window and meditate on it for a minute before going back into what I’m doing out and lashing out a song. It’s definitely at home or in a jam room playing with people though, that’s where I find my truest flow. It’s never on a stage because everything’s pre-written.” Jamal agreed with Evan’s point on not finding a flow while on a stage but they both oddly agreed that with DJ’ing it’s different. “I don’t pre-meditate my sets, it always just happens. Like, if I’m mixing techno, well that’s the buzz — wherever I’ll be playing will need to get out as many decks as they have in the gaff, I’ll lay all them out, treat each deck as a different instrument and I’ll just then make something mad out of them all together.”

Hand on heart, listening back to this interview that I recorded on my phone was just so interesting. The lads really are such funky souls with the best outlook on music and life. They both are very chill people who believe in manifesting great music from their minds and being in the right headspace to do that. I think it’s an aspect of art that from the outside looking in, you’d honestly forget. Even talking about their DJ’ing experiences and how they contrast with producing so much in a way was really profound.

I really hope whoever is reading this can take away something from it and appreciate these two talented souls and musicians, because they really are so talented.

On a side note, Creative Flow sadly has been interrupted by lockdown but I have the final three interviews planned and I hope to wrap this all up before next year. If that doesn’t happen, so be it. I am just so grateful to have gotten to have to many really fascinating conversations with truly incredible people and to be able to then share their talent makes my heart so happy. I feel grateful for what’s already been created and that my friends have been so willing to be involved in all of this.

If you haven’t already given my Creative Flow chat with Naturopathic Nutritionist, Noelle Crehan a read, then click here.

Till the next one,

Mind yourself & stay safe,