On a recent trip to Nigeria at the time of Independence, I listened to
much Nigerian jazz, both live and recorded. In this music of the New
Africa, it seems to me, the American influence is considerable. Tony Scott
has been to South Africa. Louis Armstrong has attracted enormous crowds to
racetracks and outdoor stadiums all over the continent. Dizzy Gillespie
has charmed not only snakes but hep and unhep cats alike. American
recordings have penetrated to the farthest jungle jukebox.
Jazz is a popular commodity with all African radio stations. And Victor
Ola-lya's Yoruba band in Lagos calls itself The Cool Cats. To the African
drum beat have been added Birmingham breaks, Harlem riffs and Birdland
trimmings. The basic beat of jazz which began in Africa, thence
transplanted to the New World, has now come back home bringing with it
most of the contemporary American additions -from blues to post-bop.
That jazz owes its basic debt to Africa, no one disputes. Therefore
contemporary Africans did not really have to learn to play jazz because
their own tribal music from time immemorial has contained the major
elements that distinguish jazz from other musical forms. In a land still
largely tribal in composition, music belongs to everybody and
participation in its making is taken for granted for all who wish to take
Persistent and repetitive percussion is the general base for whatever
other vocal or instrumental effects may be created against it. Drums,
rattles, sticks, stones, iron gongs and bells may all be used separately
or simultaneously to produce a series of intricate syncopated rhythms,
often very complex in beat and off-beat, and possessing a dynamic drive
impelling to body movement.
But African music is seldom created purely for listening purposes. It is
more often a social force of communal nature, celebrating a puberty rite,
a wedding, a successful hunt, initiation of a chief, a homecoming, or some
other occasion of importance to all of the people. Seldom is it for
dancing indulged in for its own sake - except in today's urban
communities. Always in African music is that basic beat stemming from
percussion - that highly syncopated beat that gives jazz its distinct
In African tribal music there are a variety of free forms traditional in
overall pattern, but which allow for spontaneous improvisation within the
form itself. In native musical groups a leader only becomes leader when he
himself can spontaneously create exciting additions to what his fellow
musicians -often the whole tribe- are already doing. There is no
Among primitive players nobody has to give a downbeat. But the most
creative musicians in the group are those most highly respected. Randy
Weston is a highly creative musician. So is Olatunji. Likewise, Cecil
Payne, Sahib Shihab, Gigi Gryce, Benny Bailey, Les Spann, and the other
musicians here gathered -not to speak of
who officiated at the ceremonies attendant upon the making of this disc,
Uhuru Afrika (Freedom, Africa!).
At the two recording sessions of the American salute to an emerging
continent, there was at times so much going on, musically speaking, that
nobody in the studio could follow a bar-tight score. But at such moments,
no one needed to do so.
Out of the rhythmic fervor engendered, waves of spontaneous creativity
rose on the pulse of a common musical emotion to break against the
microphones in sprays of exciting sounds - and all this within the basic
pattern of an overall conception. Uhuru Afrika is a composed composition,
Weston's -and an ordered and arranged composition- Liston's. But within
its framework - as in both African tribal and much urban music - there is
room for the personal creativity of each musician to find the moment, or
moments, for his own individual salute to music and, through music, to
freedom and to Africa.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Candido begins with a sonorous drum call to Uhuru - Freedom - Uhuru Kwanza
- Freedom First! Tuntemeke Sanga of Tanganyika intones as the drums
Africa, where the great
Africa, where the whole jungle knows
A new dawning breaks. Africa!
A young nation awakes! Africa!
In his own tongue, Kiswahili, Sanga salutes the new Africa, Uhuru!
The freedom wind blows!
Out of yesterday's night Uhuru –
Freedom! Uhuru! Freedom
Perazo and Max Roach join Candido as, with bells on wrists and the
striking of the jaw bone of an ass, the conga and bongo drums combine
African rhythms with American to introduce the melodic percussion of Randy
Weston's piano. Here begins the main body of the first movement of this
suite in four parts.
The basses of George Duvivier and Ron Carter are joined by the reeds of
Cecil Payne, Budd Johnson, Sahib Shihab, Gigi Gryce, then Jerome
Richardson's piccolo. For a brief passage the basses are featured, then
followed by the ever more insistent drums backing the mounting trumpets of
Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Bailey and Richard Williams. The
french-horn of Julius Watkins and the deep trombones of Jimmy Cleveland
and Slide Hampton combine in persistent fanfare as the call of freedom
mounts, and Olatunji puts his heart into the beat of his drum. Then only
the basses are left whispering freedom, Uhuru - Uhuru ...
Sunrise at dawn,
Night is gone –
I hear your song.
The dark fades away,
Now its day,
A new morning breaks.
The birds in the sky all sing
For Africa awakes.
Bright light floods the land
And tomorrow's in your hand,
The flutes of Yusef Lateef and Les Spann are awakening birds. Benny
Bailey's muted trumpet sings a sunrise song behind the lyric voice of
Martha Flowers. Then Cecil Payne greets the morning with a joyous solo
punctuated by the brasses. Now Brock Peters sings:
Goddess of sun
And of sea,
My lovely one,
Your eyes softly bright
Like the light
Of stars above.
Smile and the whole world sings
A happy song of love.
Dark Queen! In my dreams
You're my Queen!
My Queen of Dreams,
The Third Movement, begins with a briefly beautiful french-horn solo by
Julius Watkins, then Weston's intermittently drum-like piano awakens the
drums themselves to jubilant life as the brasses and the reeds burst
forth. Olamnji takes to the flugelhorn and adds to the general jubilation
with a felicitous solo. Armando and Candido play the great conga drums.
Olatunji changes instruments to beat against his chest a round beaded
gourd, the shakera, a handsome looking tribal instrument from his Nigeria.
Weston deserts the piano to scrape in rhythm the jaw bone of an ass, and
Shihab, in the African fashion of making percussion from anything at hand,
picks up the beat with an empty bottle and a metal opener. Charlie Persip
is on the snare drum, the brass drum and cymbals. Finally, Olatunji solos
on the biggest drum of all and the other drummers join him, as the full
band comes back briefly to close their Bantu salute to freedom.
The Kucheza Blues
Had I been in charge of naming these sequences, I would have called the
final movement "The Birmingham-Bamako Blues," for in this section there
are overtones of both Alabama and Africa, Dixie and the Negro Motherland.
The final sequence is called Kucheza Blues meaning, in Kiswahili, the
Swinging Blues - so christened by Tuntemeke Sanga. This is a happy segment
in which, following Charlie Persip's drum introduction, the piano carries
the melody accompanied by Kenny Burrell's guitar, with Freddie Hubbard and
Benny Bailey lifting their trumpets, Jimmy Cleveland his slide trombone,
Gigi Gryce on alto, Budd Johnson, tenor, and Armando and Olatunji at the
The Kucheza Blues was preformed before the recording mikes in true
improvisatory style - without a score. Preceding the recording of this
blues there was only a brief run-through with Randy Weston playing the
melodies and, by way of "arrangement,"
suggesting this here or that there - largely by gestures, humming's and
osmosis. But every Afro-American musician worth his salt has the blues in
his bones, feels the blues, knows the blues, and no matter how
"contemporary" he may be, loves the blues. What music ever had more soul?
Budd Johnson's short but wonderful solo in 3/4 time lets him have his say
before he turns the melody over to Benny Bailey who rises to the occasion
swingingly. Jimmy Cleveland takes his turn on the trombone, then Gigi
Gryce, followed by Freddie Hubbard, muted. Each to his own blues! Kenny
Burrell's guitar swings in its inimitable fashion. And Randy Weston, at
the piano, leader and creator of this first Afro-American jazz salute to
the New Africa, rounds out the session, guiding the ensemble - as Swahili
jazz musicians might say - to a Kucheza end. Uhuru, Afrika!