The Checkout: Photay Strikes a Blend of African Rhythm and Electronic Music, with a Jazz Twist

Jul 12, 2018

Don’t let the heavy African grooves fool you — Photay is pale in complexion.

He’s also a forward-thinking electronic artist raised in upstate New York, where he’s also known by his given name, Evan Shornstein. Photay means “white” in Susu, one of the native languages spoken in Guinea. On a trip to West Africa, the artist fell in love with the balafon, a marimba-like instrument featured on his 2017 album Onism.


Shornstein used to play drums in a band, but now he mainly focuses on creating soulful African-influenced dance music. In this studio session, I asked him to rekindle his interest in live instruments by bringing some jazz players into the mix. Watch tenor saxophonist Jaedon Alvira, trombonist Nathaniel Ranson, and guitarist Stu Pender perform “The Everyday Push” with Photay in our studio.

Our conversation also touches on the original carefully constructed sounds that give Photay’s music an analogue feel; his interests in nature preservation; and the benefits of being an artist in a digital realm. 

Photay appears at The Echo in Los Angeles on July 25th and also as part of Warm Up 2018 at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York on Aug. 4.

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Audio Engineer: Corey Goldberg
Video: Chris Tobin
Assistant Producer: Anthony Nieves

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