Brother Ali is back out on tour.
While the Madison-born emcee — who’s best known for songs about social justice and civil disobedience, like “Uncle Sam Goddamn” — played a few shows last year, he admits that doing a fully-fledged tour right now, even though the COVID-19 cases seem to be waning, is dicey.
But, with new music as well as a new podcast to promote, he’s pushing forward.
“For the people who can be together and feel comfortable being together, it feels like it’s needed,” says the “Forest Whitaker” rapper. “People like what my music does — some of it’s really personal, some of it’s political, some of it’s spiritual. But the heart needs companionship and we need to have cultural, communal group experiences.”
Brother Ali will bring his Travelers Tour (with Mally and DJ Last Word) to the Majestic Theater on April 17.
Ali, who was born with albinism and occasionally raps about not being accepted and other social struggles, has released a couple of new tracks this year. There’s “Goin’ Through It,” which delves into stories about coming of age and addiction, and “More Than This,” a track that explores the emptiness that feeds consumerism and social media. He says more new music is on the way.
The current tour is named after and tied to The Travelers Podcast, which he launched in February.
So far, his guests have included the outspoken political activist and former Ivy League professor Dr. Cornel West, hip-hop legend Chuck D of Public Enemy, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. These are not quick hits; the conversations are two hours long.
Fans coming to the Madison show can get a pre-concert Q&A session with Ali if they spring for the VIP-ticket package. It also includes access to his sound check, a T-shirt and other items.
During the pandemic, Ali has also been teaching the art of performance and concert management. So far, he’s sold out two online live-video courses called Master the Ceremony, where he provides guidance on such things as breath control, leading a crowd, working with promoters, and selling merchandise. “I’ve always tried to build community around my work,” he says. “And that’s happening. People who have taken the class are really engaged — some went on to make and release music together.”
Ali also made a big personal change during the pandemic: He moved his family to Istanbul, Turkey. He and his wife are both converts to Islam. “There’s something really comfortable about being there,” says the 44-year-old former Minneapolis resident. “Whereas in America, we’re constantly having to explain ourselves.”
While a lot of this tour’s shows are on the West Coast, Ali says he’s looking forward to Madison being the last stop. “It’s just a place I love to perform,” he says, noting that Madison was the first stop on his first tour in 2002. “If you’re going to be in the Midwest, there’s certain cities that are always good to play — Madison is always good.”