Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kofi Ghanaba Memerorial at the Jazz Gallery 6/21/09

My biggest problem with the Make Music New York! Festival is that it makes you wish you were in about a hundred places at once. When are they going to finally approve human cloning? Even though this year there were nearly 900 free outdoor performances all over New York City from sun up to sun down, its hard to soak in more than a few performances unless everything you want to see is centrally located, like the annual Punk Island where Governor's Island is transformed into a massive free outdoor punk rock music festival during Make Music New york! Or if you like hipster bands you can just crawl through Williamsburg and listen to all your skinny pants wearing favorites. However my tastes are pretty diverse and I find myself being torn in a hundred million directions and end up not seeing very much at all because I spend the entire day on the subway going from borough to borough. Also, without fail, every year everything I want to see is at the exact same time.

This year I got up too late to catch some of the earlier shows. I wanted to finally take the free ferry out to Governor's Island and pogo, skank and slam to some good old fashioned punk rock music. One of the many things I love about New York City is that its the birthplace of both punk rock and hip hop, two of my great loves.

Getting up late also meant I missed the Ukulele jam on the upper west side and the extremely bizarre all-saxophone tribute to Charlie Parker in which free jazz saxophonist Ras Moshe led an all-saxophone ensemble in front of Charlie Parker's old apartment in the East Village. What's bizarre about that you may ask? Each saxophonist played a different Charlie Parker tune all at once, free style.

So with time constraints I knew I had to pick well. As much as I wanted to see the all Accordion parade through Park Slope or the loud electro-rock stylings of Blanket Statementstein which features founding members of the world renowned Brooklyn-based afrobeat group Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, my choice was pretty clear- I had to see Living Jazz Legend Randy Weston in his tribute to African Jazz great Kofi Ghanaba.

I chose wisely. It was one of the best Jazz performances I've seen since moving to New York. "Kofi Ghanaba: a Memorial to the Divine Drummer" was co-produced by the Jazz Gallery and Jazzmobile as part of the Make Music New York! Festival and featured the Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet with special guests Obo Addy and Kwaku Martin Obeng.

The Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet featured Randy Weston on piano, Alex Blake on bass, T.K. Blue on sax, Benny Powell on trombone and Neil Clarke African percussion. With special guests Obo Addy on talking drum and Kwaku Martin Obeng on African percussion.

Legendary African Jazz musician Kofi Ghanaba was an influential drummer who was highly skilled in both drumset and traditional Ghanaian percussion. He came to be known by the honorary title of Odomankoma Kyrema, meaning the "Divine Drummer." First introduced to musical audiences as Guy Warren, Kofi Ghanaba was born in Ghana in 1923 and sadly passed away in December of 2008. Ghanaba is widely recognized as the first African musician to perform in the Amreican Jazz scene, working in Chicago and New York and playing with Jazz greats such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Lester Young. Kofi Ghanaba pioneered Afro-Jazz and emphasised the African origins of Jazz in his work.

Randy Weston was born in Brooklyn in 1926 and is a direct aesthetic descendant of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, with a unique style in his own right. Randy Weston has long investigated the ties between Africa and the U.S. in his music, making it his life's work to delve deep into African music filtered through a Jazz lens.

Joining Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Quintet was the special guest master drummer Obo Addy , descended from the same Ga ethnic group as Kofi Ghanaba. Born in 1936, Obo Addy was one of the first to fuse traditional African music with western pop creating the music known as worldbeat. Also joining Weston for this amazing tribute was Kwaku Martin Obeng, a native of Ghana and teacher of ceremonial songs, dances and traditional drumming at Brown University. Obeng's vision of Jazz as a diasporic language stretching from Africa to the New World is perfectly in keeping with Kofi Ghanaba's musical legacy.

"Kofi Ghanaba: a Memorial to the Divine Drummer" took place inside the Jazz Gallery at 290 Hudson St in SoHo. The Jazz gallery is a cultural center that highlights the significance and varied dimensions of African and Afro-Cuban music and their ongoing relationship to Jazz.

The performance was supposed to be outside in keeping with the Make Music New York! Festival's mission of providing free outdoor music in public spaces throughout the five boroughs. Sidewalks, streets, parks and community gardens. But unfortunately it was raining, so the memorial to Kofi Ghanaba was moved to inside Jazz Gallery's space. It was actually a really enjoyable way to watch Randy Weston African Rhythms, Obo Addy and Kwaku Martin Obeng perform. It was cozy. The lights were dimmed. There was Jazz themed artwork, photography and memorabilia hanging on the walls. It was so packed people were sitting on the floor. It felt really communal.

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