CD LINER NOTES!

January 14, 2018

 

Here are some thoughts and musings about how these tracks came to be ... 

 

OPENING: The pouring of libations … a knock on a door … and the world of TapRoots is opened. In Ifa, Elegba is fed and honored first before any ceremony can begin. Now, the making of this CD had a certain ceremonial quality to it, and as such, I knew that I wanted to open it with a song for Elegba. Elegba is the Orisha of choices, of doors opening onto new possibilities, of keys (which you can hear jingling in the background of the bata exit), and communication, among other things. He is the trickster that will trip you up just so you can learn a valuable lesson. He is the endless array of roads and potential destinies that stretch before you every time you make a choice. With this song, I honor him, and the TapRoots journey begins …

 

EVERYTHING: This song explores the interconnectedness of all things, and is a not so subtle nod to two of my musical heroes: Caetano Veloso and Carlinhos Brown. When I discovered the world of Tropicalia, my life was changed forever. The way that they “cannibalized” and integrated different cultural musical elements and then came up with something refreshingly “new” has always been something that greatly appealed to me. Add to this Caetano’s often minimalist approach to lyrics, driving a point home through the almost meditative repetition of a phrase or mantra, and you’ve captured something eternal. Enter Carlinhos Brown, who taught me that “everything is music,” whether it be the wind through the bamboo, a car screeching its tires, or the thundering Samba Reggae of his beloved Bahia. I thank these two masters for everything they have given to the world and the ways they have helped my life come into sharper relief as a musician and a human being.

 

WALK LIGHTLY PON THE LAND: Sometimes a song just comes to you in a moment, like a gift from that place and time. This song came from one of my favorite places in the world, one that I refer to just as “the listening place.” It is at the top of one of the hills in the Mount Holyoke mountain range in Amherst that looks out over this vast expanse of forest; as far as the eye can see there are just these rolling hills trailing off into the horizon. Red Tailed hawks play on the wind, gliding and diving in an endless dance, and the air is filled with the music of nature at work. In the stillness of that place the chorus poured into and just grabbed hold of me, and on the hike down, as I pondered our necessary connection to the land and wondered why we trash and brutalize Mother Earth the way we as a society do, the rest of the words came bubbling up like a mountain spring. This song was originally written back when I was playing regularly with The Alchemystics - back when Demse and Ras Jahn were still with us, and the world didn’t seem so cruel - and so many of the rhythmic and melodic elements came from that time, when my musical vocabulary was being expanded by playing with Demse and Garret. It seemed only fitting to have The Alchemystics’ own Ilana and Force (as well as John Corda, their current keys player) join in on this one. Force’s verse here is so loaded with his signature multi-layered wordplay, and still blows me away after hundreds of listens.

 

BOSQUE: The second in a kind of trio of songs to the land (and itself a musical tryptich of sorts), this song is a conversation between the two landscapes that keep calling me home: The woodlands of New England and the rainforests of Puerto Rico. It is also a meditation on the relationship between people and the land, and the music that can be made when people listen deeply to the songs that the land is already making without them. As Walk Lightly fades out, I wanted to produce the illusion that you were at a raging house party and decided to step outside for a breath of fresh air. The forest then becomes the music of your surroundings, and as you walk further into it, you are brought deeper into its sonic embrace. Enter humans and the symphony widens as we add our voices to the already pulsing rhythms of nature. We sing to Ochossi: the tracker, the hunter, and ruler of the forest. As the second movement ends, we transition from woodlands to rainforest, from cricket to coqui, bridged by the guaraguao (red tail): a native to both lands. The celebration of the forest continues well into the night …

 

HALLOWED GROUND: The third song in this trio isn’t technically about the land, but imagining a physical (and musical) landscape were instrumental in its creation. This song was written on November 9, 2016, the day after the Presidential election. It felt like there was this surreal moment of mingled shock and and inevitability, of disbelief and utter revolting belief. That feeling of “what does this mean …? For the country? For the world? For the planet?” was the haunting and sickening inspiration for this song. My mind was drawn to Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and the vision of a post apocalyptic America that it painted so beautifully, where a small group of matriarchally-led multicultural rebels tried to imagine a new society based on reconnecting to the land and “the old ways,” while fighting for their lives and right to live in harmony with each other and their surroundings. My colleague erin feldman wrote to me saying “this is the new Jim Crow,” and the rest just flowed from there …

 

HANDS UP: When Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police on August 9, 2014, the rallying cry “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” became emblematic of the larger Black Lives Matter movement, begun two years earlier after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. The epidemic of police violence against black men is sadly nothing new in the United States, yet it seems that demand for justice is growing more pronounced with each passing year. This song is my contribution to a number of artistic rallying cries for action in the face of such blatantly racist inaction. The final section contains a list of some of the victim’s “last words” before passing away, as compiled by Shirin Barghi, and voiced by the youth of the WOFA African Drum and Dance Company at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School: “I don’t have a gun. Stop Shooting” Michael Brown, 18; “You shot me. You shot me” Oscar Grant, 22; “I can’t breathe” Eric Garner, 43; “Shoot me now. Kill me now” Kajieme Powell, 25; “Please don’t let me die” Kimani Gray, 16; “Why did you shoot me?” Kendrec McDade, 19; “Officers, why do you have your guns out?” Kenneth Chamberlain, 66; “I don’t want to die too young.” Christian Taylor, 19; “What are you following me for?” Trayvon Martin, 17; “What did I do? What’s going on?” Alton Sterling, 37 ; “I didn’t even do nothing.” Sam DuBose, 43; “Mom, I’m going to college.” Amadou Diallo, 23; “It’s not real.” John Crawford, 22; “I love you too!” Sean Bell, 23. Rest in peace and power ...

 

INVOCATION: Initially Hands Up was going to end the CD, but after I heard what an emotional track it was becoming, I knew that I couldn’t leave the listener with the heaviness of that particular emotional ride. I knew that the trauma of it all needed to be cleansed away somehow, so I decided to let the ocean (specifically, the beaches of Rincón, PR) do just that. Cleanse and revitalize. Luckily the brilliant bata player I had come in to record OPENING, William Rodriguez, decided at the end of his session to put together a traditional sequence of rhythms just for fun. It seemed the perfect backdrop for my good friend and Nuyorican Vanguard Poet, Magdalena Gomez, to invoke and conjure to as only she is able. To me, it was the perfect capstone to this project, and a fierce call to join in community with each other, the ancestors, and the Earth itself to create the world of connection, love, spirit and song that we all so desperately need. Ashe!

 

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