The Rhythms of Africa

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“I call my music African Rhythms. It is the basic traditional rhythms of Africa which is already within the Black music of America, the Caribbean, and Brazil. I just try to project the beauty of our people through music. My compositions can be inspired by something that happens in New Orleans, Brazil, or the Fiji Islands... We try to bring us back with the music and remind everyone of the power of Africa. When I say bring us back, I am also including Europeans. Europeans come from Africa as well because they come from us. My Quintet is not just playing jazz music. We are playing the music of our ancestors. All civilizations rise and fall. Africans were really the first Europeans anyhow because we are the original people,� commented the musical historian.

Randy Weston sat tall on his stool adroitly stroking the ebony and ivory keys at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. The rich and original sounds that emanated from his piano conjured up visions of the Kalahari. 

My imagination visualized desert caravans, women with baskets on their heads swaying to a cadence so in synch with the rhythmic heartbeat of the region that even the animals swayed to its exotic tempo.  Each in concert and part of the menagerie of shadowy African figures silhouetted against the panoramic splendor of African skies and sandy arid dunes.

Randy Weston’s African Rhythm Quintet consisted of Benny Powell on trombone; TK Blue on alto saxophone & flute; Alex Blake, bass; Neil Clarke, drums & percussion and Weston on piano. Blake was phenomenal on bass. He actually seemed to coax his bass into spewing out extraordinary tempos and deep rhythmic tones.  So much so, it was as if the bass became a living, breathing instrument.

“I call my music African Rhythms. It is the basic traditional rhythms of Africa which is already within the Black music of America, the Caribbean, and Brazil.  I just try to project the beauty of our people through music.  My compositions can be inspired by something that happens in New Orleans, Brazil, or the Fiji Islands. I try to show that all these rhythms come from Mother Africa.  Africa is the most highly developed continent when it comes to rhythm, sound, and spiritâ€? explained Weston.  “It’s the beginning of humanity and the original civilization.  Africa is put down in many ways so a lot of people on the planet don’t get the opportunity to hear about the beauty of the African continent.  There is no better example of its beauty than its music,â€? continued the prolific artist and composer.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 6, 1926, the 79 year old musician’s parents were transplants from Virginia and the West Indies. His mother, Vivian Moore, was from Virginia and father, Frank Edward Weston from Panama by way of Jamaica.  Randy grew up in the economically poor community but culturally rich neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant. “My neighborhood had the elements of culture. There was music, art, sports, comedy, and dancing,â€? recalled Randy.  “My father made sure I took piano lessons and my sister took dancing and singing. He also gave us Africa through books. He let us know that we were descendants of Africa living in America.â€? 

Weston, who began playing music at 14 years old, presently stands 6’7,� in height, reflective of the African Baobab tree that towers over the African landscape. “I was 6 ft when I was 12. I was so tall I thought I was going to be in the circus,� chuckled the musical genius. “My parents had tremendous pride in Africa and they gave me our true history so I have always dedicated myself to doing something to unify our people. The creator has given me the power of music. I lived in Morocco for 7 years. My bassist for example, has a Cuban-Panama influence. I have taken him to Africa where he has heard the black people of Morocco and has played with them so he also was inspired by their music.�

When one listens to Weston’s music, one develops a picture in their mind of exotic regions and their splendid sounds. Weston is a master at portraying his music pictorially. “Our ancestors used to paint pictures through their music.  Duke Ellington was a Master musical painter. Billie Holliday was a master painter vocally. She was an evolutionary and poetâ€? explained the recording artist.

When Weston played Caravan that night at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, it was impossible not to enjoy the song because he made you see and feel the story as he played it. “When Duke composed and performed his music, he knew that whatever song he played had to tell a story about that songâ€? explained Weston. “Louie Armstrong was great because every time he picked up his horn he told a story.  He wasn’t just playing notes. I have been lucky to have spent time with Monk and Dizzy. I was lucky to hear Eubie Blake. I was able to go to their homes as well as listen to them in the clubs. Black music is original so the whole idea is to go back and claim what is oursâ€? continued Randy. “We are a great people and I love my people because my people are a fantastic people.â€?

Randy Weston’s first recorded back in the 1950s on the Riverside Records label.  He played with Cecil Payne and Kenny Dorham and wrote tunes like “Saucer Eyes, “Little Niles, “Hi-Fly and “Pam’s Waltz.â€? He then went on to record “The Splendid Master Gnawaâ€? with Moroccan musicians in 1992. On that album, each master sang his own song. In 1993, Randy collaborated with Melba Liston on the record Volcano Blues. Weston released “Sagaâ€? in 1996. “Earth Birthâ€? was released in 1997, which featured Weston and the Montreal String Orchestra. “Kheperaâ€? was released in 1998 and combined the music of Africa and China. He released the well received “Spirit! The Power of Music,â€? in 1999, which depicted the story of the roots of the blues via the Spirits of our Ancestors. Spirit was a piece which highlighted the religions of Christianity, Islam and Yoruba. His latest CD is “Ancient Future,â€? a 2 disc solo piano recording combining 16 solo piano recordings.

“We try to bring us back with the music and remind everyone of the power of Africa. When I say bring us back, I am also including Europeans. Europeans come from Africa as well because they come from us. My Quintet is not just playing jazz music. We are playing the music of our ancestors. All civilizations rise and fall. Africans were really the first Europeans anyhow because we are the original people,� commented the musical historian.

Interested parties can learn more about Randy Weston and his music at http://www.randyweston.info/

*****
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