With 'Warm Weather Ghost,' Tunde Adebimpe looks death in the eye

"A Warm Weather Ghost"
"A Warm Weather Ghost" is a 70-minute piece consisting of music and animation created by Tunde Adebimpe. The piece will receive its world premiere at the Walker Art Center as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series
Tunde Adebimpe | Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Tunde Adebimpe is a big man who still slumps a little when he talks of losing four people who were close to him in 2012.

Each loss was unexpected. All were friends or family members.

Adebimpe, the artist and musician, was touring at the time with his band, TV on the Radio. When the band went on hiatus, he found himself dwelling on what had happened. He needed to keep busy. Though he's known as a musician, he'd started out as a visual artist — an animator.

Musician and artist Tunde Adebimpe poses for a portrait.
Musician and artist Tunde Adebimpe poses for a portrait.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"So I just — you know, just like I always do — just started drawing and writing," he said. "And the feeling behind a lot of the imagery was to get this kind of earthly sadness away from me."

Adebimpe developed ideas for a film, as well as music. And he began focusing less on his sadness.

"I started thinking about it more in terms of, well, what exactly is that fat millisecond where time kind of slips a sprocket and you are not this thing that you have been your entire life — you know, when that life has gone?" he said. "What does it feel like? What does it look like? Where do you go?"

He collected images, ideas and music. But he set them aside when TV on the Radio got busy again.

When the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series approached him about doing a project a couple of years ago, he immediately knew what to suggest.

Title shot from “A Warm Weather Ghost.”
Title shot from "A Warm Weather Ghost."
Tunde Adebimpe | Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Adebimpe said he's grateful for the opportunity to present what's now called "A Warm Weather Ghost." It's forced him to put a cap on the process and give it a form. The show, which gets its world premiere at the Walker Art Center Thursday through Saturday, is a little over an hour of animation and music.

"There's a story context to it, but it's more just a wash or an illustration of feelings or hopes or wishes for someone who has passed from this realm into another," he said.

"A lot of these songs are kind of like dipping your feet in a river and watching what goes past them," he said. "And you can fall asleep if you want. It's fine."

For Adebimpe, one of the attractions of working on "A Warm Weather Ghost" is that it's very different from a TV on the Radio show. At those gigs people know exactly what they are coming to hear, so they don't have to pay as much attention. For this show, he said, people are going to have to focus, to really listen, in a way that's increasingly unusual nowadays.

"It's a fleeting thing, like more and more and more," he said. "So I feel like walking into a room where the unspoken contract is 'I am going to pay attention to this for this amount of time, no matter what,' it's a nice start."

“A Warm Weather Ghost”
"A Warm Weather Ghost" is a 70-minute piece consisting of music and animation created by Tunde Adebimpe. He was looking for a way to deal with his sadness over losing four people he loved. The piece will receive its world premiere at the Walker Art Center as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series
Tunde Adebimpe | Courtesy of the Walker Art Center

While there are moody, mournful pieces in "A Warm Weather Ghost," there are surprises too. A song called "Oh Death" is not the traditional hymn, but a rollicking song of welcome, which gradually becomes disdainfully mocking of our fears of mortality.

Tunde Adebimpe started all this as a way to deal with losing people he loved. Five years later, has it helped? He thinks yes.

"I realized that this is what they would all want me to be doing," he said. "They inspired me to go as weird as possible, and I hope they are also going as weird as possible, wherever they are."

A thought that clearly comforts him.

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