“At my artistic core, I am firmly dedicated to creating a unique and very personal experiential body of sound work that speaks to, and reminds people of all walks of life to reach, stand up, give voice, regardless of difference, created from mere labels of intellectual classification. In my ideal world the idea of 'difference', is an illusion designed only for the purpose of modern economic division and elitist intellectual hierarchy. Through my life's work, I stand creatively in defiance.”
Matana Roberts has been called “a major talent” (The Wire) and “the spokeswoman for a new, politically conscious and refractory Jazz scene” (Jazzthetik). Her Coin Coin work has been widely and highly praised for its stylistic innovations and narrative power. Noted music critic Peter Margasak has written of Coin Coin: “Memory is a powerful thing, but it's so private, fluid, and unreliable that it can seem almost impossible to capture in a work of art—and history is often no more stable, once you look closely enough. Roberts has succeeded at evoking both, though, and gives her audience a long look at something ghostly, tragic, and beautiful. She is carving out her own aesthetic space, startling in its originality and gripping in its historic and social power.”
A self-taught mixed media composer, the Chicago born and New York City-based Roberts earned two degrees in performance from De Paul University and the New England Conservatory of Music. Much of her formal training was received from free arts programs in the american public school system. She is a past member of the Black Rock Coalition (BRC) and the The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and a lifetime member of the Tri-M Music Honors Society. She has been a Van Lier Fellow, a Brecht Forum Fellow, a Copeland Fellow, a Jazz Makes Fellow, an ICASP fellow, a 2013 FCA fellow and a seven-time Alpert Award In The Arts nominee, receiving the award in 2014. In 2014 she also received the Doris Duke Impact Award. In 2016 she received the Doris Duke Artist Award.
She has been invited to teach, lecture, run workshops and/or take up artistic residencies in countless places under diverse conditions and with diverse communities over the past decade and is a past faculty member of the Banff Creative Music Workshop, School for Improvised Music, and Bard College MFA, where she is currently ongoing faculty. She was co-chair of the Music and Sound Department from 2011-12.
Roberts has played with and alongside Rob Mazurek, Myra Melford, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Greg Tate, Nicole Mitchell, Henry Grimes, Kyp Malone, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jayne Cortez, Seb Rochford, Fred Anderson, Latasha Diggs, George Lewis, Tyshawn Sorey, David Berhman, Pauline Oliveros, Reg E. Gaines, Daniel Givens, Savion Glover, Anthony Braxton, Kid Lucky, Liberty Ellman, Amina Claudine Meyers, Jeff Parker, Handsome Furs, Robert Mitchell, Quest Love, Julius Hemphill Sextet, Merce Cunningham, Joe Maneri, Beans, Bill T Jones, Josh Abrams, Chad Taylor, Dave Douglas and John Herndon among many others. She has recorded as a guest musician with rock, pop and electronic groups as diverse as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, TV On The Radio, Savath & Savalas, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Deerhoof, and performance artists My Barbarian.
Roberts held a residency at the Whitney Museum of Art in the summer of 2015, during which she produced a series of research-based sound works entitled i call america. The following summer, she had her 1st solo show at the Fridman Gallery in New York city and her first European exhibition at the Bergen Kunstall in Bergen Norway entitled I Call America II. These were presented as an expanded version of the Whitney exhibition.