Through song, story, and the power of the planets, this first altar unfolds over 14 weekly digital installments. When you sign up, you will be notified with each release to spend a little of your time with the altar as it unfolds. Altar no. 1 is a site to return to—to replenish, to reflect, and to contribute to a growing archive of shared inspiration.
Collected on the site (url), each installment will feature one of the hymns from the forthcoming Jomama Jones album, also entitled Aten. These are offered as the sound-score for your journey, intended to conjure an ancientfuture realm for contemplation and to plant seeds of reflection. We will share a gorgeous new music video for each track. We’ve also curated a constellation of touchstones surrounding each of the celestial bodies featured in the album. These include:
Finally, at the culmination of the installments, all participants will be invited to a live virtual event to celebrate with the community of makers and participants and launch the vinyl and digital release of Aten, which will be available for sale at a discounted price.
I have always built altars. Consciously or unconsciously. At first it may have been as simple as my seven year old self placing a postcard of California, an action figure, and a flower picked from the yard on the ledge of my window as an assemblage to help me dream my future. But, I also learned to discern altars in the world around me. The moss-covered spine of a fallen tree at the base of a living tree, both dappled with sunlight reminding passersby of cycles of death and rebirth. The neon red tag spray painted on the side of a store in a gentrifying neighborhood marking history, resistance and endurance. The portraits of MLK, RFK, and JFK framed together and hanging on the wall in many of the homes I entered as a child, syncretic markers of hope and loss, trauma and resilience in the generation that raised me.
Altar building is a core practice in many earth-based spiritual traditions and is especially common among those who actively maintain connection to ancestors. For those only accustomed to altars as architectural features of houses of worship in the Abrahamic religions or in Buddhism, I make the distinction that the altars of interest here are those temporary structures made with a set intention. Celebrated artist Sharon Bridgforth notes, “Altars are reminders. Visual, cellular, spiritual reminder to surrender and be available. [An altar can] remind us that we are loved, that we are not alone, and that somebody else did way more than we’ve done.” These altars draw our attention, invite our contemplation, and stir the invisible forces that engender transformation. I’ve been particularly influenced by those altars born from the Black American experience, that often straddle the secular and the sacred, and sometimes hide in plain sight. The work of visual artist Betye Saar was hugely impactful to me and my collaborators early on in the development of this work. It falls under the heading of the afromystical, a term I use to describe work rooted in Black aesthetic practice that intentionally engages and conjures the numinous.
At this time in particular, I wish to emphasize one of the great lessons that altar-building has taught me: we make a temporary whole out of disparate elements, and activate it through our attention and energy, our intention made manifest. This practice is timeless. It is echoed in those creative practices animated by improvisation, be they about making music or making community (if the two are in fact different) particularly the deep reach of Black cultural production wherein so long as you take breath, you are wholly holy. That we contain our irresolvable contradictions, weather storms of loss and bound by the gravity of our being, as we keep hurtling, ever-changing thorough spacetime is worth remembering.
That is to be revealed. And that it is to be revealed is exactly why.
Join us. While we will reach out weekly during the span of the altar-building, you are entrusted to move at your own pace. At the conclusion it will all be gathered on the site for your continued exploration and engagement. But absolutely, Altar no. 1: ATEN is a temporary offering that invites you to remember yourself whole.