Brother Ali knows that times are tough. He’s been spending most of this young century wrestling with that reality—not only as a musician, but as an activist. The five years since his previous album, 2012’s Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, have brought no shortage of new topics for him to tackle: the rising profile of Minneapolis representative and fellow Muslim Keith Ellison, to the killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile in his Twin Cities home.
This sort of environment might herald a new Brother Ali album as a potential call to action for what might feel like trying times. But All The Beauty in This Whole Life has a different dimension to it. Ali doesn’t shy away from politics, of course: “Dear Black Son” is a father-to-child conversation about racism; on “Uncle Usi Taught Me,” he contrasts the respect he received while lecturing in Iran to the TSA’s dehumanizing treatment of him on the return trip; “Before They Called You White” examines the ways European-Americans have become pawns of white supremacy. But as we spoke with Ali, he returned, again and again, to the idea of balance—of listening to fans as much as he speaks to them, and of acknowledging not only the world’s problems, but the moments of beauty and divinity that exist, and that we all need to fight for.