Artists’ Reppin’ New Orleans: Interviews with some of the Local Artists to Catch at the 2019 BUKU Music + Art Project


BUKU IS BACK for 2019! The annual New Orleans-based Music + Art Project is set to return to the iconic Mardi Gras World on March 22 and 23, 2019. Having started in 2012, the festival keeps growing, and providing a platform for some of the biggest headliners and dopest local underground artists. Additionally, no New Orleans festival would be complete without a unique lineup of food, vendors, and visual artists. Whether you’re headed to the festival this year, or are unfamiliar with BUKU, we can help with that.


Present this year include top headliners like Lana Del Ray, A$AP Rocky, Ella Mai, Kevin Gates, and Playboi Carti. In addition to the Headliners, the rest of the lineup includes a variety of artists: musical, visual, and entrepreneurial. That’s the beauty of BUKU.

We are pleased to announce that Newtral Groundz will be covering the festival this year, bringing you some exclusive interviews. As a New Orleans-grown Media Company, we look forward to bringing you real, raw footage of the fest. With BUKU on the horizon, we got a head’s start and chance to interview some of the local artists you should absolutely check out at the festival. Check out our interviews below.





FW: FREEWATER is a media collective based in New Orleans. 

NG: What kind of events do you put on?

FW: We organize a variety of events. Occasionally we host events in our studio. Those could range from pop ups that highlight new merchandise, maybe even some pieces we collaborate on with our homies k2o (keep 2 eyes open), to letting other groups like $uicideboys or our friend Alvin Kamara host a pop up. We also throw the parties. Those are wild. If you haven’t been to a FREEWATER party yet, you should check one out. 

NG: Who started FREEWATER? And when?

FW: Frankie Watts and Dominick “Mardi” Byrd started the company in 2015. 

NG: What kind of artists do you work with?

FW: We want to work with a wide range of artists. We’re currently working directly with Mhadi G through a recent musical release but we don’t limit ourselves to one particular kind of artist. At the core of FREEWATER is a videographer and a photographer, each of whom are artists in their own right. We just want to make moves to help ourselves and others make more moves.  

NG: What inspires FREEWATER?

FW: Other artists…New Orleans…life.

NG: What are your plans for performing at BUKU? The remainder of 2019?

FW:We’ve got some surprises planned for BUKU weekend. Stay tuned to @drinkfreewater on the socials and we’ll let the news out soon enough. We’re also headed to Bonnaroo over the summer. We’ll be throwing after parties out on the festival grounds. We’re just going to keep our foot on the gas. 



NG: What is Upbeat Academy?

UPBEAT: Upbeat Academy Foundation is a 501(c)3 teaching middle and high school students in the greater New Orleans area how to produce and perform hip hop and EDM.  Upbeat Academy holds classes daily after school at their facility where students have access to computers, industry-preferred software, midi controllers, samplers, audio interfaces and anything a young producer/artist would need to learn how to create music. Classes are taught by professional DJs, producers and musicians who impart decades worth of knowledge to the next generation of New Orleans artists and beat-makers.  We also hold Summer Sessions and offsite workshops at multiple locations throughout the year. Upbeat Academy has taught semester-long courses at schools like ReNEW and The NET Charter School where students receive course credit for the successful completion of the program.

NG: How and when did Upbeat Academy start?

UPBEAT: Upbeat was founded in 2012 by Winter Circle Productions and MCP Presents to memorialize the lives of two respected members of their music community who left us too soon.

NG: What kind of services does the Academy provide?

UPBEAT: For the past year, Upbeat Academy has partnered with the Travis Hill School, teaching incarcerated youth at Orleans Parish Prison. We have held three holiday workshops and one, six-week intensive Masterclass over the summer at the facility.

Every Tuesday since August 2018, Upbeat brings a portable studio setup to the Covenant House, a shelter for runaway and homeless youth, where their residents have a chance to learn music production and express themselves creatively. Both partnerships with Travis Hill School and Covenant House are current and ongoing.

Three of our student-artists have used the skills they’ve learned at Upbeat Academy to gain admittance to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where they are enrolled in their Media Arts program. Seven Upbeat graduates have gone on to pursue college degrees in music production and music business at universities and institutions such as Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), Full Sail, Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane University, UNO, the University of Miami and Tuskegee University. We also assist graduates who are actively pursuing careers as artists and performers by helping them book shows, manage social media, learn marketing strategies and provide legal consultation when necessary.

NG: How can people get involved with Upbeat Academy?

To donate, volunteer, or enroll a young person in Upbeat Academy, contact Executive Director, Matthew Zarba (or Mr. Z), at matthew© You can also stay engaged and keep track of student-artist progress on our socials: @UpbeatAcademy on Twitter and Instagram, and Upbeat Academy on Facebook. Stay Upbeat!

NG: Any additional details you’d like to share with our readers?

UPBEAT: BUKU Music + Art Project 2019 will be the sixth time our student-artists get to perform a showcase at the festival. This has proven to be a powerful experience for our student-artists, as it is many of their first times performing, and to do it on such a large scale is a huge motivating factor for these rising stars. One Upbeat graduate, BluShakurx, performed for the first time at last year’s BUKU. She was extremely nervous, but she had the crowd in awe of her energy once it was showtime. After her performance, she felt superhuman and told Mr. Z, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” Four hours later, she was seen performing with Jay Electronica in front of 1000+ people at BUKU’s Ballroom stage, and she has performed over ten times around New Orleans since.

In addition to providing our student-artists with the experience of a lifetime (attending BUKU, performing at BUKU, and meeting some of their favorite artists at BUKU), the festival has also been a vital.




AF THE NAYSAYER: I am AFTHENAYSAYER but my born name is Amahl Abdul-Khalik and I’ve been making music since 2007.

NG: Where are you from?

AF THE NAYSAYER: I was born in San Fernando Valley, California but moved to New Orleans, Louisiana around 99-2000.

NG: Tell me about being an Ambassador for the Red Bull Academy, as well as an Instructor at Upbeat Academy.

AF THE NAYSAYER: The Red Bull Academy is an Academy that hosts 60 students at a time, all with different backgrounds. As an Ambassador and Instructor, I work with students as they come together to create music as a whole.

NG: How did you get into music and what’s your main focus at this point in your career?

AF THE NAYSAYER: There’s multiple things that got me into music but I will start with my parents. Because both of my parents are music collectors, growing up, I found music through them. When my mom got re-married to my step-dad, I was introduced to a variety of rap and hip-hop albums. His music collection consisted heavily of hip-hop records. He would also make beats, so being introduced to that served as a foundation to the artist I am today.

Another big inspiration that really got me into making beats is biking. It was the summer of 2007 and I was studying at McNeese University. I wanted to get out and practice some bike tricks with my friend, but it was raining. So we went inside and starting listening to music and watching YouTube videos.

My friend pulled up this video that was all about making electronic beats. I had always wanted to get into making beats and was so inspired by the video that I messaged the creator of the video seeking advice as to where to start. And, he gave me career-changing advice: You don’t need hardware to make beats, use software (which was taboo at the time). Turns out, even Life Wonder made all of his beats through this program Freeleaf. That’s where I’m at now.

NG: What inspires you?

AF THE NAYSAYER: I am inspired by my environment and the people within. Mood influences music, and music is an outlet and a way to express one’s personality.



NG: Who is Tristan Dufrene? Tell me about your start in the music industry.

TD: Just a creative Cajun gal looking to make people dance and feel ever so free. Donating some smiles to life. I’ve been involved in the music scene for over 10 years now. I started off helping out my husband James with some sound and light gigs back in the Club Ampersand days. From there, we met many lovely people within the nightlife scene and music industry who are now close friends and colleagues.

NG: How old are you and where are you from?

TD: I was raised in a small town called Cut Off just south of Nola, but have been living in New Orleans for the past eight years now. This May, I’ll be turning 37.

NG: How’d you get into DJ’ing? How long have you been doing it?

TD: I used to assist my younger brother who was a mobile party and wedding DJ in my high school years, this was in the late 90s going into a new millennium where Y2K was a thing and Napster was the ‘go-to’ for acquiring music. My role was assisting in gathering party music and organizing, burning it onto a CD. A year or so later my brother handed off the actual DJ part to me. From there, I continued to play parties, clubs and even weddings.

At that time, I had no clue how to beat match or even mix two tracks together. Eventually, I stopped being DJ and took on a 9 to 5 job and started to run a bar. Fast forward to 2014, I took a trip to New York and had this epiphany that I needed to return to New Orleans and begin playing techno music professionally. This year has marked my fifth year in the mix.

NG: Is DJ’ing your main focus?

TD: DJ’ing is a very important focus, but I also lend a hand in the family business over at Raven PMG doing scenic work (Raven PMG has provided production management resources for BUKU since its inception, from design to implementation).

NG: What inspires you?

TD: Inspiration comes from many angles. I see how much hard work is put into our music and art scene here in New Orleans,  it’s truly a special and magical place. My inspiration is definitely driven from the hard workers behind-the-scenes and local creatives who are crushing it and doing what they love. 



NG: Who is James Seville and how did you get into music?

JS: I’m an alternative rap artist from New Orleans, LA. I started writing music as a teenager as a way to escape. I comes from a family of visual artists (mom) and musicians (dad) and found my calling in hip hop. I started taking music serious after dropping out of college as an English major, thinking well I love writing why not just write songs.

JS: I got into the music industry really off of the love. I was so passionate about music that I would go to any session I could just to sit in. To listen, see what people are doing and learn how to make songs sound how they should. I’ve been performing for about 5 years. I’ve performed everywhere in New Orleans that I can think of, starting with open mics to now doing headline shows. It doesn’t happen fast, but it’s not supposed to. Performing is just as much of an art as making the music itself.

NG: What inspires you?

JS: I’m inspired by love. I’m inspired by losing loved ones. I’m inspired by my failure and success, as well as my friends failure and success. I believe it is impossible to fail. Failure is just part of the process. You never run out of second chances in art. If you keep trying you will get where you want to be.

I just want to inspire people and be inspired. You can’t please everyone but you can inspire people from believing that you actually give a fuck about what you do. That life has a purpose.





Ceaux Young, Photo by @VisionaryBarnes

NG: How would you describe your art and yourself as a visual artist?

CEAUX: My art comes from a very common place. I look at myself as conduit of how the people around me feel; Mainly because I feel the same way. My work is real figurative with a bit of nostalgia.

NG: Any idea as to what you’ll be creating live?

CEAUX: I really do premeditate the live paintings. I like picking colors on the spot first, then I usually let my mood dictate what I’ll paint that day.

NG: Where do most of your ideas for your paintings come from?

CEAUX: My ideas come from New Orleans. My ideas comes from the details of everyday life, and the pride in the average person.

NG: How many years have you been at BUKU?

CEAUX: I’ve been to BUKU every year since it started. I’ve painted in the Graffiti Gallery twice already.

Outside of graffiti, Ceaux Young is a staple to New Orleans. Many of the murals seen around the city that reflect the description of his art are done by him. Additionally, Ceaux owns Axiom Art Gallery, produces music as Professor Bling, and is a professional tattoo artist. He is a true inspiration to many young visual artists in New Orleans.


Jay Mckay, “Art by Jay”

NG: How would you describe your art and yourself as an artist?

JAY: I am Jay Mckay and my art is vibrant…Encouraging and always reflects how I’m feeling … with a stylish edge to it… Especially my Signature Camo, it’s my favorite to do

NG: Any idea as to what you’ll be creating live?

JAY: Still on the fence about what I will be creating for this year’s BUKU fest. It may consist of some type of flowers since that’s the mood I’ve been into lately 

NG: Where do most of your ideas for your work come from?

JAY: Most of my ideas come from stuff I see around the city … Music … fashion…. and inspiration from Art I see..

NG: How many years have you been at BUKU?

JAY: This my second year at BUKU and hope to return every year lol. I love the vibes out there and creating along side the other artists is my favorite part… To be able to paint all day is dope. I’ve blocked out my schedule for that weekend to do my thing …

Jay Mckay…
A Vibrant, Beautiful, Soulful, Stylish, New Orleanian Visual and Tattoo Artist. His work speaks for itself.


“Hugo Gyrl”

NG: How would you describe your art and yourself as an artist?

HUGO GYRL: I’m a space alien trapped in the body of a human. I’m trying to make earth a little more interesting, because so far, its a snooze.

NG: Any idea as to what you’ll be creating live?

HUGO GYRL: Not exactly. I’ve been into spontaneous painting lately.

NG: Where do most of your ideas come from?

HUGO GYRL: I like playing with themes of witchcraft, cell phones taking over our brains, and love. My ideas are beamed to me from my mother planet, but its a bad connection

NG: How many years have you been to BUKU?

HUGO GYRL: This will be my 3rd year at BUKU, best lineup so far. I’m also building a large portal in the VIP area with Read More Books.

Another vibrant New Orleans staple is Hugo Gyrl. Her hughes are splashed around the entirety of the City. Everywhere. Her work is EMPOWERING. And she is Rad.


Travis Barbara, “Knowla”

NG: Who and what is Knowla?

KNOWLA: I am Travis Barbara and I am 33 years old. Knowla is a southern lifestyle company planted in New Orleans in 2008. We focus on working with other artists, because we believe that everyone is an artist and has the potential to create something special/unique. Our mission statement came with losing loved ones, that being “stay outside seek within.” In New Orleans we celebrate life and death weekly. We are reminded of death with our above ground cemeteries all over the city. So, we hope to inspire others to stay outside of their comfort boxes and to stay outdoors .. while connecting to a source within.

NG: What kind of art do you create? Is graffiti your main focus?

KNOWLA: I enjoy using aerosol, screen prints, and acrylics. I love painting on random objects and really just create whatever im feeling with whatever is around me. I think I’m more of a visualizer than a doer so i continue to look for new ways to express myself. …. Graffiti is a gateway drug and a slippery slope lol. I also couldn’t imagine my life without graffiti.

NG: When did you start Knowla and how long have you been personally doing art?

KNOWLA: I Started knowla in 2008 while i was in school for business at LSU. I realized i didn’t want to sit behind a desk my whole life and i just ended up drawing all my classes anyway so i finally decided to print some of my designs and ran with it. … didn’t really see myself as an artist or decide to pursue it probably until about 2012 i think that’s about the year i realized that i was an artist. And that i was going to pursue art as long as i could breathe. Creating is the only thing that truly comforts my soul, and that creation can be as simple as making a sandwich.

Travis is the definition of a CREATIVE.
In addition to his artistry and work as
He also has a successful apparel company by the name of


Henry Lipkis, “Lipkis”, in his self-made “Compost King”

NG: How would you describe your art and yourself as an artist?

LIPKIS: My name is Henry Lipkis and I’m an artist that works in across a lot of different media… from paint and sculpture, sound, to puppetry, but with my roots firmly in mural painting. Lately I’ve been exploring the theme of compost and decomposition, and the fungi kingdom with its integral role in the circle of life

NG: Any idea as to what you’ll be painting live?

LIPKIS: I think I’ll be painting a portrait of Gravlax the ruler of the Kingdom of Fungi, spirit of decomposition. This last Mardi Gras I made a giant puppet embodying this character and it was the most fun I’ve had in years wearing it and skulking around the city breathing smoke and garbling words as I pushed through crowds. He deserves a big portrait.

NG: Where do most of your ideas for your art come from?

LIPKIS: The sources for my art change pretty dramatically over time. Lots of my work in New Orleans has been inspired by the traditions and culture of this city. More recently I’ve been gravitating towards nature and natural processes as an inspiration.

NG: How many years have you been at BUKU?

LIPKIS: This will be my third year painting at Buku!

The depth and variety of
Lipkis’s Art is mind-boggling.
From murals to puppetry
to fungi to paper-mache to painting,
his Art is Culture.


Jessica Strahan, “J Hand”

NG: How would you describe your art and yourself as a visual artist?


NG: Any idea as to what you’ll be creating live?

JHP: I love faces and bone structure so, most likely, I’ll be painting a portrait.

NG: Where do most of your ideas for your paintings come from?

JHP: My environment; day to day life in New Orleans.

NG: How many years have you been at BUKU?

JHP: This is my second year attending…however, this will be my first year as a participating artist. I painted and got to meet Kendrick Lamar whatever year he performed at BUKU.

Although J Hand excels in her Portrait Art, this Soulja Slim Mural in front of Nuthin But Fire Record Shop is a foundation to New Orleans, and it was done by Jessica.


Although there are many other great artists to appear at BUKU this year, we wanted to highlight some locals you may be unfamiliar with. Like Newtral Groundz, BUKU and it’s underground scene is all New Orleans. The vibe is New Orleans.

To get more information on the complete Lineup, including visual artists, merchandise, and FAQ’s, be sure to visit BUKU’s website, here. Outside of the performances set to hit the stage, the festival hosts several late shows that take place outside of Mardi Gras World.

We’re ready to hit the festival grounds come March 22, so be sure to stay tuned to Newtral Groundz to catch our on-site coverage of BUKU in the Big Easy!


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