"...When I’m thinking about publishing as a tool, I’m not just thinking about the exchange of a book. That’s one part of it, the foundation. I like to broaden my thought process almost to the point of exhaustion. There’s always more to think about with publishing."_Yusuf Hassan
Interview : Yusuf Hassan from BlackMass Publishing
_Please introduce yourself and BlackMass Publishing.
Peace. I am Yusuf Hassan, the founder of BlackMass Publishing. BlackMass Publishing is an on going project that is interested in research of all forms. It’s educational, not just for us, but for those who are interested and willing to participate through shared dialogue.
_How did you start publishing and what inspired you to set up BlackMass Publishing?
Publishing is a universal expression. Zines are a unique way to convey that. It allows everyone to take part in the experience. Zines are what keep the heart of this project alive, especially the fact that anyone can make a them.
_What do you actually do with your zine to "share dialogue amongst the exchange"?
Creating meaningful conversations around the things that interest me, but more importantly inviting those who are interested to also share their thoughts and experiences through publishing.
_What were the dialogues like in practice? If you don't mind, can you tell us about any episodes that impressed you?
BlackMass has been invited to many universities. Each invite brings about different things. Sometimes we organize workshops or give lectures to students.
As for our participation at the MoMA PS1, we built out an installation called the study hall. This installation was designed for the purpose of providing space for everyone to sit with the publications we published over the course of 4 years. What was so special about that project was that we also continued to make publications during the duration of the show. We dropped them off at random times, which meant that you would have to return to see new zines. That kept the work open and engaging. Also included in the installation was the mail-in program. It was developed and composed by Kwamé Sorrell. I love this program. During the show, envelopes were provided to guests to take so that they could submit items to the PO Box address provided. So many things happened in the study hall, and it was a very beautiful highlight for BlackMass Publishing. While the dialogue is open and very interesting, you know I’m more of a student. I’m constantly looking to learn and to understand what’s taken place. What impresses me is when meaningful conversations around publishing happen more often. When I’m thinking about publishing as a tool, I’m not just thinking about the exchange of a book. That’s one part of it, the foundation. I like to broaden my thought process almost to the point of exhaustion. There’s always more to think about with publishing.
_"I'm more of a student," you said, but is it possible that through dialogue you learn and then another zine is created?
Yes I am a student at heart. When I visit students I always thank them for allowing me to share in their space. I feel privileged to share. Humbly, I remain a student. We can lose touch once we feel there’s no more left to learn. I’m mindful of this, it encourages me to remain curious.
_Okay. So your zine are not just for readers to browse through, but also for people to express their opinions and engage in dialogue while using these zines, and in this way the reader's participation in the zine is an important part of the process of the zine?
The zine is my favorite part about publishing. It can do many things at once. It provides information instantly, as well as allows for discourse. Let’s take music for example, when I make zines about music it’s so much freedom in this particular subject because music is not just limited to sound. Music is a feeling. I’ve composed many different publications on music because of the depth there.
_Can you tell me a bit more the zine about music?You produce a lot of different zines in the series 'The poetics of music'. In these zines I feel that combining different things in one zine creates a new expression.For example, the 'Aretha Franklin' zine.Aretha Franklin's lyrics and Nikki Giovanni's poetry appear together in one zine.Is it your intention that by combining the two, we, the readers, will have new opinions and reflections?
Music is one of those rare things that allow me to excel emotionally, physically, and mentally. So many of the zines I’ve composed over the last few years have pertained to music and sound. Let’s use your example of Aretha Franklin lyrics and the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. Could you imagine if Nikki and Aretha did a record together? Aretha harmonizing while Nikki shares her poetry. That’d be beautiful. It didn’t happen in real life but it happened through these zines. I did the same thing with a zine I made last year. It was titled ‘Mic Check’, the poetry and lyrics of Big L and Amiri Baraka. This was me organizing a figurative open mic night. It was meaningful to introduce them through the zines.
_Aretha Franklin, Amiri baraka and Big L are deceased artists who have already passed away. Bringing them together in the present day is, I believe, possible precisely because they are in a zine. Is that why these zines say "Lives!" at the end? And we, the readers, can experience Live, and talk about it, and share the space. Is that something that is also very important and meaningful to you?
Yes, bringing them together in this manner is very important to me. Especially artists who have a large time gap between them. For example, it would have been impossible for Robert Johnson to meet Miles Davis. Robert passed away in 1938, Miles Davis was born in 1926. The fact that I can bring them together in this form is beautiful. And yes that’s why I end each zine by saying “Lives!”. That quote was actually a tribute by Ted Joans to Charlie Parker after Charlie Parker passed away Ted Joan’s would write the inscription BIRD LIVES! As a tribute to Charlie Parker who’s nickname was Bird. I thought it was a clever way to show his appreciation to the godfather of Jazz so I’ve borrowed Teds inscription and I now end a lot of my tribute zines to those that inspired me with the same words. Which for me signifies that although they have transitioned their art lives the impact that they left lives and that never dies it LIVES!
_I see! Your use of the word 'lives' is a tribute to Ted Joans and Charlie Parker! And now I have a thought that I've been thinking about while interviewing you so far. Your work and the words that come out of you and all the artists involved are people who are active in black culture. In your words I feel a respect for black culture. Where does this respect come from? (I am sorry if I have offended you .I feel like this question is a feeling that doesn't come easily to someone like me, who was born and raised in Japan, an island nation surrounded by the sea. There are many of us Japanese who have respect for black culture, including myself. However, I can't help but feel that the basis of that respect is somehow different from your respect.)
My respect comes from what existed before me and those who truly built a strong foundation for me. You didn’t offend me I am aware of what you’re trying to communicate. The work of BlackMass isn’t just for black people, it’s a universal language that’s open and shared with everyone. This is a form of educational expression we are all learning something, hopefully. A lot of the jazz musicians and poets of the day spent a lot of time abroad. Ted Joans spent so much time in Europe, particularly in France. So when I see BlackMass expanding to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, it makes me think about all the black jazz musicians, poets and painters who contributed to this movement. Black people exist.
_Oh I see!As you say, BlackMass Publishing is currently expanding from New York to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. What are your plans for the future?
To keep expanding and creating meaningful work but more importantly sharing space with others. It’s really healthy and rewarding to be able to do that.
_Thank you. Last question for you.Is there anything you would like to tell or share with anyone who gets a zine of the BlackMass Publishing zine or reads this interview? Do you have any messages for our readers?
I would like to thank you for supporting BlackMass Publishing we are grateful. If there’s anything I can leave with your readers it would be to never take anything for granted and this is a reminder for myself first. PEACE!
BlackMass Publishing, founded in 2019, is a New York-based collective and independent press that promotes the work of Black artists and 'represents' them through 'publishing activities' such as zines. Publishing is interested in fostering community and facilitating conversation through visual language, focusing on blackness, its effects and impact through image and textual representation.
BlackMass have publications included in the permanent book collections of the Schomburg for Research in black culture Harlem (New York), RAW Material Company (Dakar), The Center For Book Arts (New York), The Watson Library at The MET, The New York Public Library, The New York Langston Hughes Library, and The Evergreen State College.