Reflecting on the releases in a year like 2016 can often lead you to hone in on specific moments.

Unable to fully comprehend the scale and importance of landmark releases as and when they come out, certain sounds or elements become emphasised and amplified. As mainstream music becomes more politicised, unpicking the methods and creative individuals involved becomes more intriguing. 2016’s cast of collaborators are diverse in a number of ways. Some provide a creative bedrock, others are only heard in passing – appearing for fleeting moments which seamlessly blend into the larger tapestry.

Here, 13 collaborators from some of our favourite releases of the year reflect on the roles they played.

Visit 2016.crackmagazine.net for more end of year coverage.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani - Sunergy

Suzanne Ciani: Co-producer

“Kaitlyn and I met by chance at a community dinner in the small town where we both lived. I hired her to be my assistant while I planned my European tour with Neotantrik. Later, she brought Matt from RVNG over to the studio and suggested we do an album in his FRKWYS series, which features a younger artist and an older artist in collaboration. The timing wasn’t right then, but just before Kaitlyn was going to move to LA, we decided it was then or never so set aside a couple of days to record together. It all went very smoothly. We talked about ideas and decided, as a starting point, to use the same sequencer rows that I had used in the Buchla Concerts 1975 that Finders Keepers had just released. I had been working on a piece about the sunrise already for a couple of years and had just realized that it had to be electronic and so that was on the top of my mind.

We looked out the big window in my studio, where the sunrise happens right over the ocean, and felt a shared energy, since she also lived near the ocean in her formative years. I would say that Sunergy speaks of a creative relationship… of a musical sharing in the moment of creation that was spontaneous or planned. We played intuitively, informed by a shared background in live electronic performance. I think we complemented each other’s playing, we found the balance and spaces and stayed in the moment… like painting a moving picture.”

Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

Caroline Shaw: Writer, producer, vocalist (Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2)

“I made a version of Father Stretch My Hands while working alone in a bus-turned-recording-studio in Rick Rubin’s backyard, while Kanye was there working with him. There was such an incredible atmosphere. I loved the desperation in the song. I flipped the lyrics into: “How can I find you / Who do you turn to / Why do I blind you.” It’s really a reference to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, although I never told Kanye that.

There’s also another version of Wolves I made in that bus during those couple of days. It’s not what’s on the album; it’s more of a pairing with Father Stretch My Hands, and it puts a line from Frank Ocean (“life is precious”) right in the heart of the song, which is where I believe it should go.

Sometimes looking at ten different things in 40 different ways simultaneously can yield ideas that could not have grown in any other environment. There are more than than 13 ways of looking at a blackbird.”

Capo Lee - Mud ft. D Double E

Sir Spyro: Producer

“I’d been in the studio all day with Capo. We made a couple that day and it was getting late, I told him I thought it was time to go. He goes, “You know what? Let’s just try another one. If we don’t find anything in 20 minutes, we’ll go”. Mud came out of that. He started with “Everyting mud” and we just built it from there. He’s really easy to work with – he knows what he’s doing.

When I play it at clubs it goes off, and it’s a mellow kind of tune. I think it’s the bass that gets everyone and captures people. It’s completely different to something like Feed Em To The Lions. I just let it happen naturally, I don’t like forcing things ‘cos it never comes out right.”

David Bowie - Blackstar

Donnie McCaslin: Flute, saxophone, woodwinds

“David emailed me in early June, 2014 extending the invite to record. About a week before that he and Maria Schneider had come out to hear us play at the 55 Bar in NYC. They’d been meeting to work on their collaboration Sue, or in a Season of Crime and Maria had mentioned to me that she’d played David a recording of mine Casting for Gravity after he was describing to her what he heard as the rhythmic underpinning for Sue. The email from him came the day after our initial meeting when we got together for the first rehearsal of Sue. David made everyone feel at ease from the beginning and invited us all into the creative process by encouraging us to go for whatever we were hearing.

It couldn’t have been a better environment. His process seemed organic and intuitive to me. I think he was a hard worker who combed over details and refined them until he got things where he wanted them. For my own process it re affirmed that immersing myself in the music, trying to learn it from every angle, and in as comprehensive a way as possible, ultimately helps me to feel freer when I’m playing. I think it’ll be remembered as one of his greatest records.”

Jason Lindner: piano, organ, keyboards

“David said something like, ”I don’t know what this is going to be. Let’s just have fun.” I don’t believe he thought in terms of musical styles – maybe ever – which is part of what made him so innovative. We were chosen I believe for our uniqueness of sound and the energy and feeling we bring.  Not because we are (and this is questionable in and of itself) so-called jazz musicians.  I believe that if David had truly wished to make a so-called ‘jazz’ album he would not have invited us – at least not me, playing weird sounds on synthesizers and effects units!

Inspiration is infectious. We were spiraling off one another’s energy in the studio and taking this home with us each night, dreaming of it etc. until the next day’s session. It was wonderful to discover how dedicated David and Tony [Visconti] were to capturing raw energy and being in the moment. All the songs were first or second takes. Everyone’s ideas were welcomed and most everything was considered good and valid as a starting point. Trust and respect abounded. And the intention to have fun making music. Time will tell. But I don’t think any aspect of Blackstar is anything less than masterpiece.”

Blood Orange - Freetown Sound

Ava Raiin: Backing vocals

“I was singing Dev’s backing vocals for a couple years on the road for Cupid Deluxe and he would have me in the studio from time to time to add finishing vocals to some of the songs. Like most of Dev’s music this album is honest and personal and emotional with a fusion of genres and familiar vibes that feel good. But this one goes even deeper and is super relatable because it speaks to the interesting time we live in with the current social and political climate.

Dev has a unique way of expressing himself honestly and a way of giving voice to some feelings and emotions and challenges that so many marginalised people share. It’s been a cool journey to experience this music from when it was first recorded to now, from loving it back then in the studio to watching everyone else love it the same way now; to watch how it travels and affects people is amazing. Something I’ll always treasure.”

Kaytranada - 99.9%

GoldLink: Guest rapper (Together ft. AlunaGeorge)

“I just so happened to be in the studio with Kaytranada and Aluna at Red Bull Studios London after a festival we were all playing. It’s not often we’re all in the same place together, and magic just happened. Kaytranada is such a special guy and I think that comes out in his work. He’s so knowledgable about music – and I mean music – he cares, and he carefully crafted an entire genre so distinct, it’s changed the landscape of music.

I felt compelled [to do the track]. It was similar to what I was into and everything just clicked. The collaborative effort of three great artists adding three completely different elements to a little three minute song… the beauty that results from that equation is undeniable.”

Skepta - Konnichiwa

Fifi Rong: Vocalist (Konnichiwa)

“I think Skepta came across my music online and we later arranged a session to try something in the studio. It was very positive. It is simply good music with an indescribable and magnetic force which is moving on a human level. It’s grime yet translates universally to everyday people and really speaks to them no matter what their music preferences are. It’s a great honour.

You really can hear the pure passion, the drive, the pain, and imagine the immense energy and ‘in-the-zone-ness’ during the making of it. I’m making my album at the moment. I’ve been writing a lot of songs and producing them. The songs and sound just keeps evolving, so it really occupies my entirety as a DIY one-woman army.”

Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book

Chicago Children’s Choir: Vocals (All We Got)

Josephine Lee, President

“I had the pleasure of meeting Chance at a James Blake Concert in 2011. We briefly discussed a potential collaboration at the time but didn’t officially collaborate until the March of 2016. Peter Cottontale (Chance’s Music Director) reached out and expressed Chance’s request to have the Chicago Children’s Choir record on his Coloring Book mixtape. That was the beginning of this incredible journey with Chance. CCC’s mission is to inspire and change lives through music. We are a non-profit organisation that inspires and unites 4,400 youth from diverse backgrounds to become global citizens through music. Chance aligns with our mission and we love that he is committed to community and empowering youth in this great city of Chicago.” 

Olivia Katz, Singer

“The opportunity to be a part of a Chance The Rapper mixtape is an experience I will never forget. I believe the music Chance is producing spreads a good message across the world, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of that. It was so exciting to participate in a professional level recording and then for my family and friends to be able to hear the choir be apart of Chance’s music. Unfortunately, Chicago is a very violent city and has become more violent recently. Chance’s music addresses the issues that have increasingly troubled our society. He emphasises the importance of different people coming together, sharing their hopes, and refusing to give up. We believe music can bring people together and brake down all barriers no matter what someone’s race, culture, religion, sexuality, or beliefs are. In All We Got, a line that is repeated several times is “music is all we got”. That really speaks to the message of the choir and it means so much someone like Chance The Rapper is committed to the same views and goals.” 

Sydni Hatley, Singer

“For me, singing on Chance the Rapper’s mixtape was extraordinary. Working with someone so humble, passionate, and influential with his art was absolutely fantastic, and I am so thankful to have had that opportunity. I think one of Chance’s missions is to establish clarity in the mainstream media’s interpretation of Chicago and its people. It is no secret our nation is experiencing huge gaps in understanding one another whether that’s socially, economically, or politically. Especially with the negative connotations out there about Chicago, it is so important Chance is helping people in mainstream media understand us as a city. His music not only helps others better understand the people of Chicago for who we are, but he also helps us as Chicagoans better understand and respect one another.”

ANOHNI - Hopelessness

CocoRosie: Sampled vocals (Violent Men)

“As the Future Feminists [a 2014 art exhibition involving CocoRosie, Anohni and Lorraine O’Grady] we sat in circle for days. Mostly we talked, listened, took notes and talked. Sometimes we cried. We poured back over our notes on how to contribute healing solutions to a tumultuous and violent world. We sang Violent Men as a spell, out by a stream, a mediation for the future, hoping to never carry a child to become a violent man, a prayer for the world. We sat in circle.

I can’t get the song Marrow out of my bones. My eyes teared up when Lorainne O’Grady’s did. The video brings a depth to the song which very few music videos have ever done. The words and messages in Hopelessness are fearless and raw. This record is a brave and generous offering in time of some much narcissism and meaningless expression.”

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree

Else Torp: Vocals (Distant Sky)

“Nick Cave put together a compilation of favourite tracks for MOJO Magazine that came out in February 2014. He listed our group, Theatre of Voices, and our artistic director Paul Hillier because of his many Arvo Pärt recordings. Our collaboration only came about in the early autumn of 2015 when my agent in Germany received telephone call from the studio in France where they were recording.

When I arrived at the studio in Paris, the owner brought me downstairs to the editing room where Nick and Warren were working on some other things with Nick Launey. They had already sent me a mock-up track so I could hear Distant Sky and we just sat down and hummed through the melody and text and made a few changes and corrections. The atmosphere was very welcoming and calm.

We talked about the expression and what sort of sound the song should have and recorded it quite easily. Nick was very specific with what he wanted and how, so that made it much easier. We had time to do a first edit during the session time and that was almost the best part. We very quickly found a mode of working and discussed the takes in great detail. The whole experience was very focused on the job, of course, but we also had lots of time to have breaks and talk over lunch. I had long chats with both Martin and Tommy which really helped calm me down. I have to admit that I was rather nervous at the beginning of the session!

At first there was a feeling of slight disbelief…. why me? Would it work? Then in Paris during the first session, I felt I had to stay as neutral as possible. I was there to try and give life to a specific image that Nick wanted to create in sound. It was set up as ‘an experiment’ – just a working day – so that took some of the pressure off the process. We didn’t know if the song was going to be on the album, or if and when there was going to be an album. I tried not to think of the context of the personal tragedy. During the filming in London [for One More Time With Feeling] it was harder in some ways, because we had to perform and record live again in order to recreate the feeling of the first session, but under the conditions of a 3D production. The family was there, many more words were used to create the mood, and we had to do it ‘one more time with feeling’. I feel very grateful that Nick chose to reach out and ask me to sing Distant Sky, and very humbled that l have had the opportunity to help in that small way.”

Solange - A Seat At The Table

Nia Andrews: Vocals (Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It)

“Solange was the sole writer of the interlude and when we recorded it, it was a fully developed idea that she’d already conceived on her own, so my interpretation of the concept is merely that: an interpretation. What I can say is that upon hearing it the first time, I really felt the lyrics and related to them so hard. It was a beautiful reminder to me that who we are and what we have is inherently ours, is always there and isn’t going anywhere.

The Black American experience is very specific and the art black Americans have created as a direct result from the pain of this experience never ceases to amaze me. The timeliness of the project was just so brilliant, and she had been working on it for years. But this year in particular, it seemed that a lot of realities in this country were rearing their heads. I know that people are tired. I’m one of those people. So upon hearing the music… the lyrics brought me to tears. I felt very seen in the music. Her words were very validating to my experience as a black person in this country right now.

It’s such a complete work, and a testament that good music will always prevail. I learned that Solange is very discerning about her work and unapologetically clear in her vision and that is something that I am still learning to take on and own in my budding career as an artist. I knew she was nice with the pen, but what I didn’t know was the depth of her musicianship! I remember listening for the first time and asking her “Who’s playing keys on this?” and she quietly responded, “me”. So that was a new layer that I learned. She’s super humble. I also learned that it’s completely worth it to take all the time you need in creating something. Not to let anyone push anything before it’s ready and that giving a project the space and time it needs to develop and breathe is sometimes necessary to access the spirit of what the music wants to say.”

Drake - Views

Kyla: Sampled vocals (One Dance)

“I was out with my friends and I kept on receiving emails asking for me to get in touch with SONY ATV. Me being me, I didn’t think it was important so thought I would deal with it later when I get home. Then my father in law called to say he had received a call, asking to speak to me and my husband, so I realised that it must be important.

Sony ATV, then explained that Drake was trying to get in touch to ask if he could sample my song Do You Mind, and would I be happy to be a feature, I honestly thought it was a joke as we were so close to April Fool’s Day, he gave me four days and the song was out. It’s been crazy ever since! It’s changed my life massively, it’s made me extremely busy and gave me a huge opportunity to further my music career, it also landed me a huge deal with Virgin Records, I just feel so lucky.

I will never forget this year at all, it has been so fantastic, I have so many amazing memories I will cherish for ever.”

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