Congo Square, a ground-breaking new work written by Wynton Marsalis with Ghanaian drum master Yacub Addy, debuted in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in the spring of 2006 before a wildly enthusiastic audience in Congo Square (inside Louis Armstrong Park).
Congo Square was the only place in America where African slaves were allowed to perform their own music and dance in the 1700s-1800s, establishing the roots of American music.
Now this joyful and collaborative testament to the power of Congo Square—performed by two world-class ensembles—is available on two exquisitely recorded CDs. Enjoy this confluence of cultures and traditions converging to make a uniquely contemporary musical statement about the wellspring of jazz for those with ears to hear.
|Ring Shout “Peace Of Mind”||6:47||Play|
|Timin Timin/Fireflies (Children)||9:03||Play|
|Sunday Market (Women)||7:26||Play|
|Ajeseke/Jookin’ – “Mysterious Fish” (Men)||8:05||Play|
|Place Congo (Old Folks)||8:49||Play|
|Tsotsobi – “The Morning Star” (Children)||7:36||Play|
|Logo Talk (Men)||8:01||Play|
|It Never Goes Away (Women)||5:25||Play|
|War – “Discord”||11:20||Play|
|Hedzole Baba (Old Folks)||4:51||Play|
|Sanctified Blues (Family)||4:06||Play|
Ears to Hear It
By Yacub Tetteh Addy with Amina Addy
I was born in the British colony of the Gold Coast in 1931 and grew up at a time when our tradition was under attack. I was determined, despite the pressures to westernize, to keep my culture alive, and to make sure it was presented respectfully and authentically on the professional stage at the same standard as other cultures. I organized and led the first staged performances in Ghana of genuinely traditional Ghanaian music and dance, starting in the 1950s before independence. My art took me from Ghana to Europe and America, where in 1982 I created my current group Odadaa!, continuing to perform and teach traditional and traditionally-based Ghanaian music, song, and dance, and collaborating with musicians from other traditions.
My father was Okonfo Akoto, a powerful wontse, which is a combination of a priest, physician, musician, and dancer who works with the supernatural. My mother was Akua Hagan, the lead singer in my father’s medicine music and dance. My brother Tetteh Coblah Addy taught me how to drum.
While I was growing up, I regularly walked from my father’s neighborhood of Avenor, where the whole family was heavily involved in traditional medicine and social music, through the bush to my maternal grandmother’s house in central Accra, which at that time was a small city. As a teenager, I danced with my friends on the streets of Accra to American big band jazz numbers blaring from a few record stores and small clubs. Even old people, born in the 1800s and leaning on walking sticks, loved the music and danced.
So many people joined in that we blocked the street. The colonial police came and beat us to scatter the crowd, but we always went back. In the music of Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Louis Jordan, I heard connections to our traditional rhythms.
I knew back then that one day I would put my traditional music together with jazz.
In the early 1980s when I was living in the D.C. metro area, I saw Wynton on television soloing with a symphony orchestra, and I told my wife Amina that I was going to work with him. Surprised, she asked why I chose him; and I said, “Because he can do it.” In 1992, Billy Banks came to a concert by my group Odadaa! that was presented by the World Music Institute at Symphony Space in New York, and he turned Wynton on to my work. Wynton and I met in the dressing rooms when we both played President Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Festival on the Washington Mall in January 1993, and later he came out to see two of our concerts at Symphony Space.
In 2003, Wynton came to my home in upstate New York to finally begin work on our first collaboration, “Africa Jazz.” Just after he entered, I asked him, “Do you know the music that was played in Congo Square?” We had visited Congo Square in 1985, the first time Odadaa! played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It’s a historic site right next to the French Quarter where African slaves performed their own music and dance on Sunday afternoons for over a hundred years, from the early 1700s to mid-1800s. Wynton looked in my face and said, “Nobody knows. But…I know.” He spoke like someone who knows something with his spirit rather than knowing it as fact. I responded, “If you know, then let’s put it together.”
It took another three years to put it together. Just four days after Jazz at Lincoln Center announced the premiere of Congo Square in New Orleans, Katrina hit. It broke our hearts, but made us more determined. With the help of Almighty God, and many people who worked very hard, our music, Congo Square, was premiered Sunday afternoon, April 23, 2006, on an outdoor stage constructed right in Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans as part of a week’s residency by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Odadaa!. It was our gift to the Crescent City. A couple of weeks later, after an East Coast tour, we recorded the music in late-night sessions on the stage of Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.
Wynton wanted the music to represent the people who would have been in Congo Square back when Africans were playing there, and to include two basic human conditions: peace and war. Just like anywhere in the world, there would have been children, women, men and elders there; there would have been peace, and there would have been conflict. This made sense to me, so I contributed appropriate music, both traditional and new compositions, and taught Wynton the bell patterns on which each rhythm is based, how the bell combines with the drums, and where the instruments come in.
We used two pieces we had started developing in our original collaboration. The first is a combination of New Orleans Second Line parade music and the Ga processional Kolomashi, which was created as protest music during Ghana’s independence struggle. It follows Wynton’s vocal protest about Katrina in “Ring Shout.” The second is “Place Congo,” where I combined one of my father’s medicine rhythms, Bamai, a rhythm of Ga Akong, with a composition Wynton wrote for the orchestra. I mention these because they are examples of adding my tradition to existing jazz pieces and showing how specific and sometimes unexpected traditions go naturally with jazz, if you have the ears to hear it.
We also included a libation, an African-style prayer. Because of the many people who died in Katrina, and the many Africans who performed in Congo Square and also passed so many years ago, it was very important in our tradition that we pour the libation and pray to honor their spirits.
Creating the music was not easy, but when it came together, it was wonderful. I want to thank my brother Wynton for his kindness, respect, hard work, and love. If there was no love between us, we could never have done this project. Wynton is not selfish. I gave him a chance, and he gave me a chance. I learned from him, and he learned from me. I also thank the members of Odadaa! for their patience and perseverance, the members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for their warmth and friendship, all those at Jazz at Lincoln Center who worked extra long hours on the project, and my wife Amina, my collaborator in life and work, for her dedication.
Convergence of Swing
by Wynton Marsalis
I was born in New Orleans in 1961 and grew up in a time of great social change in the United States. Many things that needed changing were changed, while other things of timeless value were lost in the shuffle. As a teenager, I grew disenchanted with the direction of American musical culture and Afro-American culture in general, so I devoted my life to studying and celebrating its richness. In 1979, I moved to New York City to study at The Juilliard School, and perhaps be part of some type of cultural movement. I formed a band in 1981 to reassert the value of real jazz in my generation. It was a quintet that evolved over eight years into a sextet. In 1989, I formed a septet with some of the most soulful and swinging musicians in the world. We were all relatively young men in our 20s and early 30s. We created a style of contemporary jazz that featured our own unique way of playing and that embraced all eras of swing as modern. We traveled the world swinging and teaching in schools, playing late-night jam sessions and bringing the down-home feeling of jazz and the South wherever we went. Through travel, study, and performance, I came to understand our Americanness beyond the context of race.
The creation of Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1991 marked the true beginning of the cultural movement I sought some 12 years earlier. This movement, however, was not initiated by my small group of young musicians, but by the collective effort of a diverse, intergenerational group of citizens dedicated to celebrating the soul and sophistication of jazz as a definitive part of the American experience. In its two decades of existence, Jazz at Lincoln Center has represented this swinging music in so many contexts, all to great effect. We believe in bringing everyone with us–from the ancestors to the little bitty babies. All swing.
My father, Ellis Marsalis, is a great New Orleans musician who played modern jazz during some of the music’s most challenging decades. He believed in the value and power of jazz. He used the music with great success as a high school teacher in the 1970s at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. All of his students remain deeply affected by his teachings. My mother, Dolores Ferdinand, believes in the transcendent power of education and of the arts. In the early 70s, she worked in classrooms and in the field for an extension of the U.S. Department of Health that taught nutrition to underserved people. She believes in integrity and in the sacrifice required to maintain it.
While growing up, I played in all kinds of bands: funk bands, concert bands, orchestras, jazz bands…even played the circus once. At most funk gigs, we danced, had afros, and played as loud as we could. Here I began to understand the difference between jazz and the popular music we all loved. Jazz was more than entertainment. This music was rich in information and human value. I felt then that one day I would stand as a representative and use it to teach and heal and communicate.
It was very lonely and unrewarding for a young person trying to play jazz in the early 80s. We were all 19 or 20 years old trying to swing and learn at the same time. People always asked us, “Why are y’all doing this?” We could have answered with one word, “because.” A guardian angel descended upon us in the form of Billy Banks. We call him The Masterful Jib. Jibone! He spoke several languages well enough to curse you out in them, had DJ’ed a jazz radio show, and was a connoisseur of many things. He was our road manager, older brother, and mentor. We were so lucky (but didn’t know it at the time).
In the early 1990s, Billy called and suggested we check out some great African music, Ga master drummer Yacub Addy and his group Odadaa!. They were beautiful and real and warm. Even though I knew very little about African music and even less about Ga culture, the integrity of Odadaa!’s music lifted me from my seat. I was inspired to learn more. After all, many jazz musicians had been interested in music from the motherland: Max Roach, Coltrane, Duke, Randy Weston, Art Blakey, Yusef Lateef. A lot. And in New Orleans we revel in our African retentions.
A year later, I met Yacub. We fellowshipped and discussed doing something together. I visited Yacub and Amina’s home in upstate New York. We filled up on good shrimp stew and listened to and talked about music. We discussed the importance of musical integrity, especially when collaborating across cultures. ‘Cub asked me about Congo Square in New Orleans. I said no one has ever heard the music, but I was certain we could evoke that spirit. New Orleans is the only place in the U.S. with an African soul. We dance and play music and give everybody nicknames. We have holistic religions and believe that music is an extension of everyday life. At one time, we even knew that music had meaning connected to consciousness and identity. Some people still know. Throughout our lives, New Orleans musicians maintain this Crescent City way because it feels good, good, good.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Odadaa! collaborated on a concert entitled “Africa Jazz.” We tried to come together in a meaningful way. We played compositions by Coltrane, Ellington, and original pieces by both groups. In performance, we discovered things about balance, orchestration, and the beat—our two musics are very different. We realized that a collaboration showing both groups at their best might not be possible. After a period of disappointment, Yacub and I decided that there were several successful pieces from the concert. These were used to construct a foundation for a true collaboration–Congo Square. ‘Cub taught me many things: bell patterns, rhythms, and melodies of the Ga people. Most importantly, he taught me that music has meaning in all of our different cultures. And to lose the meaning in a rhythm or in the sound of an instrument is to lose your bearing in the world.
After Katrina hit New Orleans, we knew Congo Square would be special. The piece is about diverse people coming together, about family, about the individual will to freedom. It’s about reaching to understand other ways of hearing. My little brothers Carlos Henriquez and Ali Jackson did so much to help me hear and understand the placement of the bell and the rhythms of Odadaa!’s music. Our music improved with their guidance. We spent hours arguing over the placement of the beat and the proper time signature. There was lots of headwork to solve problems of balance, orchestration, and groove. Finally, when our two ensembles came together, it was like a family reunion, festive, fulfilling, and complete.
Yacub is a genius. A man with great depth of feeling. It is one of the highlights of my life to know him and his wife Amina and work with Odadaa!. This recording is a culmination of our 15-year relationship and of a lifetime of keeping the meaning in our musics alive.
I would like to thank all of my brothers in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as our staff and Board of Directors at Jazz at Lincoln Center. This is truly a labor of love. Thanks to my brother Delfeayo and Patrick Smith for their late-night hours of work mixing and editing this recording. Hoonyob Skobb (David Robinson). Our supporters and sponsors, thank you. To the members of Odadaa! who bring tireless energy and love to every note of music they play–we came together and continue to be together. I am sure in the spirit of Congo Square we’ll forever be together.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra personnel:
Wynton Marsalis (Music director and trumpet); Ryan Kisor, Sean Jones, Marcus Printup, James Zollar (trumpets); Chris Crenshaw, Vincent Gardner, Elliot Mason (trombones); Walter Blanding, Victor Goines, Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Joe Temperley (reeds); Dan Nimmer (piano); Carlos Henriquez (bass); Ali Jackson (drums).
Yacub Addy (founder & leader, percussion, vocals); Okoe Nunoo (assistant leader, percussion, vocals); Obuamah Laud Addy (vocals, percussion); Ani Apang (guitar, percussion, vocals); Imani Gonzalez (vocals); Zorkie Nelson (percussion, bamboo flutes, vocals); Tawiah Nunoo (percussion, vocals); Ayaa Tagoe (flutes, percussion, vocals); Otey Thompson (balaphones, percussion, vocals).