~ Afrodeezia ~
My mind continues to be blown by the power of music to heal, to provide strength, to get people through unimaginable suffering. Afrodeezia was inspired by my role as a UNESCO Artist For Peace and spokesperson for the Slave Route Project.
On my last album Renaissance, I wrote a song entitled “Gorée” and my new album essentially picks up where Gorée left off. When we play this tune live, I tell the story of our trip to the island of Gorée to visit a museum called La Maison Des Esclaves - "The Slave House". Many of you who have seen my live performances have heard me tell the story; they would stockpile captured Africa men, women and children in this building, cramming them into small rooms, one on top of the other, like animals. Eventually they would march them through a door that led to the slave ship. This door was called "The Door of No Return " because it represented the end of these captured human’s lives as they knew it.
I wrote this tune about how I felt standing there in that slave house. As I was working on the tune, I was struck by the idea that "The Door Of No Return" represented not only the end of the captives' African experience, but in a certain way, that door also represented the beginning of our African-American experience too.
So, instead of making the piece only about anger and pain, I decided to make it a testament to the ability of human beings to stay strong even through horrible situations.
The emotional response from audiences to Gorée has been inspiring. People connect not just to the pain and sadness but also to the uplifting message of hope and endurance. Each time we perform Gorée, it is a reminder of our extraordinary ability to rise up and overcome.
I wanted Afrodeezia to be an extension of THAT - an acknowledgement and celebration of the different musical styles that grew out of the experience of slavery and the difficult, continuous, yet joyous journey to freedom.
I recorded Afrodeezia in different locations from around the world. I wanted to go back to the original source of the rhythms that make up our musical heritage of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues… to follow these elements like footprints from their beginnings in Africa, to different ports along the slave route.
That journey took my band and I from Morocco and Nigeria, to Paris, Sao Paulo, across the Caribbean to Louisiana, and finally, to the urban cities of the north: Chicago, Detroit, New York.
Highlife is a style of music popular in West Africa that was really strong in the 70’s. It's actually making a strong come back these days. King Sonny Adé is one of the leaders in this style. This music brings the entire community together in rhythm (like the Gnawa music in Morocco). If you're not moving when the Highlife beat hits, you will definitely be that "one dude in the crowd", lookin’ uncomfortable :-). So put this jazzy highlife jam on and practice your two step so you'll be in the mix with everybody else!
About B’s River – My wife, Brenda, traveled to Ndola, Zambia to help build housing for families in need there. Despite extreme poverty and hardship, there was still a spirit of joy and love there that was profound. She said the land was overwhelmingly breathtaking. B's River is my musical depiction of a river she said was "too beautiful for words". I thought, "Well, if words can't describe it, maybe music can".
This tune begins with a Gimbri, (also spelled Guembri) an African ancestor to the bass guitar. I received it as a gift after a show in Morocco where we jammed with some musicians who play Gnawa music. Gnawa music features the Gimbri as one of the main sounds.
We played the Gnawa Music Festival in a town called Essaouira, Morocco - 30,000 people in the audience dancing for hours to this hypnotic, spiritual, groovy music. If you ever doubted the power of music to transport people – this music will definitely convince you.
Preacher’s Kid (Song For William H.)
William H is my dad - organist, pianist and choir director. He’s my biggest influence as a musician and as a man. He played mostly at black Episcopal churches. The congregation sang hymns and Pops played that massive pipe organ. At one point in his life, his dream was to be a concert organist but with a wife and two young boys, he had to put those dreams aside to make sure he supported his family.
Music always remained at the center of his life. He would practice Bach and Beethoven in our apartment during the week and then play church services on the weekend. His father, my grandfather, was an Episcopal bishop who also played piano. Although I never heard him "get down", I heard the bishop could play a mean calypso way back in the day!
One of my fondest memories was watching my dad walk into the concert hall where I was playing with Miles Davis. I had just recently gotten the gig and my dad told my mom, “I’m going up to Montreal to see Marc with Miles!” He walked into the hall and I could see him from the stage, decked head to toe in splendid white. I realized that seeing me play with Miles was as much an accomplishment for him as it was for me - maybe even more so. My dad’s still here, 89 years old. Although Alzheimer’s has taken its toll, he still remembers my brother and me. He has one of my album covers on his dresser next to his bed. I can't wait to put the headphones on him and play him this piece. I'm gonna tell him, "This tune is called 'Song for William H.’" ....then watch him think about it for a minute and say, "That's me!".
We Were There
We lost George Duke last year and Joe Sample this year. These were two of the most influential keyboardist of our era. They both loved Brazilian music and the influence of samba and bossa nova was really clear in their music.
After doing a gig near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, we went to a studio there late that night and with percussionist Marco Lobo and singers Aline Cabral, Andrea Dutra and Christiane Correa Tristao we cut this track. It incorporates one of my favorite melodies from Brazilian legend Djavan with the most joyful chorus I could come up with.
Joy is an element of music that I wanted to stress with this album. I don't mean "not a care in the world" joy. I mean joy despite difficult circumstance; joy despite sometimes horrible circumstances. This is what these rhythms that began in Africa and traveled across the Atlantic to South America and the Carribean provided - a way to put aside pain and suffering and celebrate the joy that music can bring.
Whenever there was a pause in the conversation, George Duke would say, "Well, we were there!"
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
This is from an era when bass lines were bass lines. I don't think a more dramatic line has ever been played on the bass than on this Motown classic. What's crazy is that most of the drama is created by the space BETWEEN the notes. When I play this bass line in concert, I can see folks in the audience, sitting there, anticipating…waiting on that next note!
If you follow the rhythms, they'll take you from Africa to South America to the Caribbean to the south of the US and ultimately to the big cities of the north, New York, Philly, Detroit. This tune starts off sparsely with that classic bass line but by the end, all of the rhythms from this epic journey come together, African and Latin sounds (percussionist Munyungo Jackson), New Orleans sounds (trumpeter Patches Stewart), Delta sounds (guitarist Keb’ Mo’) and the sounds of the urban cities (guitarist Adam Agati - and can you hear Detroit legend Wah Wah Watson on guitar too?)
I Still Believe I Hear (Je Crois Entendre Encore)
(featuring Ben Hong)
A few years ago, I collaborated with operatic tenor, Kenn Hicks to create an album of operatic arias mixed with jazz. The result was fantastic. The album is called Avanti. One of the tunes we did for the project was from an opera called “The Pearl Fishers”, written by French composer, Georges Bizet. This melody has stayed with me since that project.
Because of the Arabic sound of the melody and the hypnotic 6/8 rhythm, I thought it would be great to do an instrumental version. This one features cellist Ben Hong (benhong.net) who plays this melody so beautifully that you’ll forget that no one is singing.
Ben plays with the LA Philharmonic and if you watch the film, “The Soloist”, Ben is the one you actually hear when Jamie Foxx plays the cello!
Thanks you Kenn Hicks for introducing me to this melody.
Son of Macbeth
When I was 19, I wrote a tune that flutist Bobbi Humphrey recorded. I was playing bass in her band at the time. She convinced her producer, Ralph MacDonald, to let me play bass on this one tune. Ralph reluctantly agreed. So I got to record with Ralph and the "A Team" of NY studio musicians: Steve Gadd on drums, Richard Tee on piano, Eric Gale on guitar and Ralph on percussion (legendary bassist Anthony Jackson was gracious enough to allow me to sit in the bass chair for that one tune). After awhile, Ralph asked me if I could read music because he was going to start recommending me for studio work. I assured him I could read music well. Within 3 months I was working all day 6 days a week on the studio scene.
Needless to say whenever Ralph needed me for a session I put everything else on hold to be there for him. The realization that we both had Trinidadian heritage cemented our relationship. Ralph was a great producer and songwriter. He was a writer on: "Where is the Love" for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, "Mr. Magic" for Grover Washington Jr., and "Just the Two of Us" for Grover and Bill Withers.
Ralph loved calypso music and would get excited whenever we could add a bit of calypso to whatever song we were doing. If you listen to "Just the Two of Us", you can hear the calypso element really clearly. That's due in large part to Robert Greenidge, the amazing Trinidadian steel pan player. He played a smoking solo on that tune; made it probably the only top ten hit in the US featuring steel drums ever.
Well, Robert Greenidge has provided us with another smoking solo for this tribute to Ralph MacDonald. Ralph's father was a very famous calypso band leader, conducting numerous bands in the legendary Eastern Parkway West Indian Day parades in Brooklyn for years. He went by the name Macbeth the Great, a play on his name MacDonald. So I named this one Son of Macbeth.
After having recorded most of the album, we had a rehearsal for one of our first gigs playing this new music. We were practicing B's River and the end part of this tune is so hypnotic that we ended up jamming on just the ending for like, 30 minutes. After thirty minutes this beautiful tune began to morph into something else. The next thing we know Brett is playing this funky line on the Fender Rhodes and Louis has moved over to the drum machine, playing it with his fingers like it's a drum kit. The horns are riffin’ and Adam and I are jabbin’ in and out. And I'm thinking, "Man I wish we were recording this!" So in the middle of it, I turned on my cell phone and started recording. Even with whack cell phone quality, it's still funky!
This one's for Wayman Tisdale. His spirit is still in full effect even though it's been over 5 years since he's been gone. The church played a huge part in Wayman’s life - he was a PK too (preacher's kid). Wayman switched over to a music career after his pro basketball career. (How many folks can say that?) His music always had a gospel tinge to it. He was always aware that his gifts were God given. He had a smile that could light up not just a room but a whole building! A truly Xtraordinanry human being.
Hanging out with the African musicians, I'm fascinated by how they play in 6/8 and 12/8 time. We Americans are more used to 4/4 time (with a big accent "on the one" as James Brown used to say). But the 6/8 and 12/8 rhythms are beautiful. It sounds like water…the way the African musicians dance around the beat. So I was inspired to record this tune in 12/8 and get the African brothers involved to add some “water” to this tune. We found an amazing studio in Lafayette, Louisiana where we recorded a lot of this album. If you listen closely, you can hear some Zydeco elements in there too courtesy of Roddie Romero on accordion and Michael Doucet on violin, two fantastic Lafayette musicians who we called at the last minute and asked to come down and jam with us.
I Can’t Breathe
As we're mixing this album there's a lot going on here in the US. Folks are in the streets protesting abuse of power by police. So many young people, particularly young blacks have lost their lives at the hands of police.
I know too many cops to believe that all police are racists, and I'm encouraged to see this issue coming to the light, because I also know too many blacks who have been unfairly arrested, harassed or badly beaten to think that this is not a real problem.
We need to celebrate the police who put their lives on the line to do their job and we need to shine a light on those who abuse their positions of authority.
“I Can’t Breathe” features African and American elements in a techno environment. It features the Gimbri once again, given to me as a gift from Morocco.
These protests across the country are, in a certain way, the next stop on the path to overcoming oppression. Through the power of cell phone cameras and the Internet, the world can see what African Americans have been saying for years; "things are better but we still have a long way to go". These images that people can watch over and over make it impossible to deny that there is more work to be done.
Music has played a vital role in our ability to persevere. When things seem hopeless we can always turn to music to find solace, hope and even joy. That's why the music that has emerged from this slave experience: spirituals, blues, dixieland, jazz, gospel, r&b, funk, rap…it all has so much emotional content. It's because this music carries our story. For a long time this was the only way to tell our story. Writing about it or singing about it was forbidden - so these stories were hidden in the rhythms.
This is my way of paying tribute to these stories and the long journey of my African ancestors who became African-Americans and gave the world the musical gifts that resulted from this experience.
I hope you enjoy the journey.