‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
– From ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ (1819) by John Keats
It says much about the concept of ‘truth’ – that which is actual, ultimate and indisputable – that the possibility of its very existence is a source of centuries-long contention. And it says much about humans that, despite the search for truth being so endlessly uncertain, aspiring to grasp it is such a powerful motivating force for humanity. Deep within us, it seems, is a drive transcend the indeterminate world we’re born into, impossible or paradoxical as that may be. And, as the music video for Truth by the US jazz stalwart Kamasi Washington explores, this enduring human effort takes a great many forms.
Directed by the Spanish-born, US-based filmmaker AG Rojas, and released alongside Washington’s EP Harmony of Difference (2017), the music video features a series of scenes that appear to have one foot rooted in everyday life, and another reaching for something beyond it. A young man is seen taking piano lessons, and a young woman learns to dance, both of them emanating a slight ethereal glow. A young boy washes his face and presses his hands together in prayer. Two men wrestle on a bed of flower petals. A mother and son embrace on a couch. Images of the deep cosmos, bright flowers and Christian symbols permeate throughout. Beneath these quasi-serene images, the music builds from inviting and contemplative to explosive, as steady horns led by Washington’s saxophone, frenetic jazz drumming and a gospel-tinged choir build to a crescendo. In doing so, the sounds seem to reach for ecstasy alongside the visuals.
From religion to relationships to art to sublime encounters with nature, the human endeavours depicted seem connected by a pull to transcendence. However, Rojas and Washington are careful not to be prescriptive with their art, and leave their sweeping meditation on truth appropriately enigmatic. Through the song’s title, its rapturous music and the video’s visual motifs, the work’s ambitions are only hinted at. But, drawn from the art project created as ‘a celebration of diversity’ for the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial in 2017, it can perhaps be convincingly read as an ode to the many paths that the search for truth can take, and how that search ultimately unifies us. And the scenes depicted, as well as the music video itself, are powerful reminders that the very act of striving for truth can yield beauty – a fact that, perhaps, helps keep the endless search afloat, generation after generation.
Written by Adam D’Arpino