David Risque: Global Groove Guru

IF YOU SPEND any time in Chicago, you will invariably conclude two things: It is a beautiful city and it is a musical city. With presentations by the finest musicians in every genre, from free jazz to folkloric traditions from all corners of the globe, the Windy City has a sound that is beyond the Hawk blowing off Lake Michigan and the El racing above the Loop.

If you spend any time talking to David Risqué, you may find that like this city, he is beautiful and musical. More than a big body, he has some big ideas on the community and chemistry that shape good music that, all at once, feels so familiar and yet takes you to new places…

David Risqué is our open-channel avant-garde blues musician – the everyday man with infinite superhuman power, coming to share with us the ancient secrets of Sound. With his red feather headdress and two tambourines, he is going to give you access to the universal energy, the feeling and experience that is good music, by any name, though now we call it House…

“I’ve always been around parties and people celebrating and having a good time,” David says. “My family, my parents, were always giving birthday parties, something…

“I actually started giving ‘sets’ in the late ’70s – fifty cent parties in the basement on the Southside. It was back when you threw sets and gave out pluggers.

Chicago’s music, particularly it’s dance music, is born out of a stratified and diverse set of influences that work to make the magic that is the experience of good music. It is the who/what/when/where/why/-and-how of a good party. What starts and ends with the memory of a song is really the captured experience that has been, or the feeling that is brought though sound. If you have seen the performances of Mr. A.L.I. or have been around long enough to remember the Mendel parties of the early ’80s, David Risqué may be a part of your song/memory/experience.

Most people know you for your current work with Mr. A.L.I. You are the man with the bells whistle and the feathers, how did that start?

It’s always been a dream of mine to work in a collective with musicians and a DJ and in the ’90s Vick Lavender invited me work with him. Our first show was actually in 2000 at the Metro… We got great musicians, musicians with jazz backgrounds and so, thinking about great bands like Steely Dan, we wanted to take that and basically be able to bring in any musician and bring some energy, make good music, because we had the key elements – the bass, the drum, the heartbeat.

I know from talking to Jere McAllister that he is quick to credit the musicians and singers and everyone involved for the strength of the performance. I know you bring a whole different and exciting energy to the show but what exactly is your role in the group? How would you define your role?

In the beginning it was me, Jere McAllister, Vick and Jim. Actually, the whole concept was that I was going to be the circus element, like New Orleans Mardi Gras [pauses]… to remind you of Mardi Gras, or Carnival. Jere was like the Dean Martin, Vick was the Cubano and Jim was the Italiano. [Mr. A.L.I.] actually began as ‘Mystic Rhythms with Afro-Latin–Italiano Influence’. That was the first meaning. It was a freezing day in October or one of those months and I had met this woman of Puerto Rican ancestry and that’s when we created the musical “Introduction to Mr. A.L.I.”

I’m a kind of catalyst… and I provide the chants and things to bring that element to the show.

What are your influences besides the circus persona? Is there someone or something that first inspired you?

Really, I have to thank Sam Chapman, a DJ/Promoter of the late ’70s, and Al McCormick and Kirk Townsend. These individuals inspired me. They gave some of the biggest parties in the city way before it was called House…

What blew my mind was what was the science they used to get all these people together. How did they do it? These were the Urban Celebrities of Chicago dance music. They did things that had never been done before, especially not for Black people. A party in McCormick Place? It hadn’t been done like that before.

Where why and how did you get the infamous headdress?

I actually got it from a costume shop on Lincoln Avenue for our first show – I felt it was like a Carnival, Circus/Club Kid kind of persona.

I do have a kind of spiritual connection when I have it on, to my Native American ancestry, because you do have to wear it a certain way. It’s big and you have to wear it in a way that you don’t affect anyone else on stage. It lends a sort of character to what I do on stage. I don’t wear it anywhere else. Just for performance….

Now David, let’s talk about what you don’t wear: a shirt. Is there a particular reason? Have you or would you ever take off more?

[laughing a deep sexy baritone] No, I have never done any exotic dancing or anything. I take off my shirt because I get hot!

Interview by Boogie McClarin