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“Every revolutionary act is an act of love,” says Matthew Payne. With this statement, inspired by the words of the late Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, the 26-year-old musician seeks to describe the essence of his Washington-based progressive soul band, Moya. Named after the ancient Sumerian word for water, “[Moya] came together out of the love for music,” explains Payne, the seven-member band’s lead vocalist, who also serves as occasional piano player and songwriter. “We have the understanding that music is a healing tool, a way for us to express love for God and life.”
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Begun just two years ago in Payne’s English basement off U Street NW, Moya was conceived when Payne and single-named local bassist Babatunde decided that they were writing enough songs to justify forming a band. Today, that band consists of Payne, Tony White on drums, Zach Cutler on electric guitar, Jabari Exum on the djembe and vocals, percussionist Hodari Faraja Wali Barazahi, and Skai Shadow, who plays both the cello and percussion instruments.
Payne was raised in Chicago by Presbyterian-minister parents and graduated from high school in upstate New York. He moved to D.C. to attend Howard University in 1992 with plans to become a filmmaker, but he dropped out in 1994. Then he rediscovered himself and his purpose in music and poetry, he says. Along with three creative friends, Payne started the Movement, a spoken-word and jazz night at Bar Nun, in 1997.
These days, Payne and his groups are ubiquitous. The Movement has evolved beyond being just an entertainment event, though the Bar Nun night continues to draw fans. The group also produces arts workshops for local schools and is active in organizing concert festivals, such as Black Love Day and the anti-violence street festival One Common Unity Day.
Moya members describe their band as a very spiritual group.They believe that music is essential to revolution and strive, through their work, to provide meaningful social commentary. The band played in front of the White House during the April protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in D.C.
Though the group has played just about everywhere on the 14th Street-U Street circuit since 1998from the Black Cat to the Metro Cafe, from State of the Union to the Garagethe group is only now releasing its first single, the self-produced “Underwater,” which should be available at select clubs come Dec. 1. In the next few months, the band plans to perform at BET Soundstage and Da Verse City, a special poetry, soul, and hiphop night at the Black Cat. Says Payne: “Anything that deals with soul, we go therehiphop, jazz, R&B, blues, funk, rock#whatever#I listen to everything.” Maori Karmael Holmes