The Resonance Within Liner Notes/Stories
Song for the Ocean: This song, and the album, picks up where the first TapRoots album left off: with the sounds of the waves gently caressing the shore of Añasco, Puerto Rico. It was in these waters that this song was born. It is a hymn to the mother of all life in the Yoruba pantheon: Yemaya. Her Ashe is nurturing, protective and fruitful, though she is just as much a fierce warrior (the wild and turbulence of the stormy seas) as she is a loving mother. This song is a song of praise for her, thanks for the life that she gives to this world, and a call-to-action to take care of her shores. I feel so blessed to have my good friend and sister I-Shea lending her voice to the dancehall section at the end of the second verse on this track! She is a true sister, matriarch, and her connection to Yemaya has always been strong.
Natures Law: This is one of two songs on this album that are a part of a three song suite to Eleguá, the Orisha of choices, doorways, and the Crossroads. Like many of the songs on this album, it was written during the early days of the pandemic and speaks to the changes and choices we have all been faced with during this time. When the world felt like it was poised on the precipice of a major transition. What were we going as a society? As a planet? What were we going to choose? In the end, I suppose people are going to do what people have always done, and that is to be people, in all of our paradoxical glory. We may struggle to control what is happening around us, and to bend it to our will, but in the end we are all bound to the natural order of things. The Laws of Nature will continue to run their course whether we move along with them or not.
Resonance: this is the song that came to me while meditating on a painting that hangs in my house by Martin Bridge, and eventually was transformed into the cover art for this album. It depicts a giant tree playing the Earth like a drum, and I remember thinking, if this painting was a song, what would that song be about? I recalled teaching about how our own bodies are resonant chambers, much like that of a drum, and that in many traditions, drums themselves are just physical forms within which dwell ancestral spirits. In many ways, this song is about how we are all connected, in community with each other, and how we are all just resonant instruments to be played by spirit. It is a celebration of that spirit that TapRoots seeks to embody. The end of the song is a jubilation, and an expression of the community of both spirit and people that is created when we all come together in ceremony and celebration.
Gumbo: Over the years people have often asked me … what kind of music do you play? Is it Latin funk? Global fusion? Orisha rock? It doesn’t fit any one box and is sometimes passed by as a result of people not knowing how to talk about it and understand it. Truthfully, it is all these things and more. As an artist, and generally in my life, I have always been drawn to braiding together disparate threats of culture, cuisine, song, spirit and community. Gumbo seemed an apt metaphor for a way of life that celebrates the diversity around us and mixes it all together into a cohesive and tasty stew of influences and flavors. Music and art always find the pathways through difference that connect us all together, and this song celebrates the ways that those differences can be seen as beautiful, and that out of them can come an inclusive whole.
Forgotten Ghost: This is a song in two movements that was initially written back in the early 90s; by far the earliest piece of writing on the album. The first section is a song that I wrote while traveling through El Salvador in 1993. I remember feeling the spirits of those whose lives have been lost to war all around me, and feeling like they were crying to be cared for, and not left to wander the land, lost and forgotten. The second part of the song, “dance of the forgotten ghost,” was an instrumental piece I had written after coming back from India in 1991. Originally, the melody was carried with voices and sitar, but I re-orchestrated it as kind of a classical-yambu fusion, and felt that it would work as a kind of ballet for one of the ghosts who had been left behind in the first section of the song. I love how they fit together and resolve in a way that connects not just the sections of music, but speaks to how we are all connected through forces greater than ourselves.
Everything is Rumba: Sonicaly, this picks right up where Forgotten Ghost leaves off. It is a piece that also conceptually ties the first TapRoots album together with this new one. I wanted to continue the tradition of having a primarily percussion-driven song on this album, as Bosque was on the first one, and I’ve wanted to do some kind of Rumba for a while now. I also thought that it would be fun to “update” the song, Everything, with lyrics that took stock of the times that we were living through as this album is being written.
Obatala: This started off as just an instrumental piece to honor my grandfather in white, Obatala. The horn lines are based off of traditional chants, and of course the rhythm is a Fela-inspired Afrobeat groove. One thing I’ve really enjoyed throughout this whole CD writing process is to write for the band that I was currently working with, rather than write songs that I imagined myself playing all of the instruments on, as was the case for the first album. This, of course meant having a lot of fun writing for the TapRoots “Horns of Plenty!” Along with Gumbo, I really wanted to give them a track to shine on, especially my good friend and collaborator Frank Newton, who is playing the saxophone on this track. While I was writing this, another old friend from Trinidad reached out to me, the immensely talented Kurt Alan. He got in touch, saying that he would love to collaborate on a song together, and I thought this one would be perfect for him. And so it quickly went from an instrumental piece, as it was originally conceived, to what you hear now, with Kurt’s soulful invocations, followed by a traditional chant at the end. Fun note, Kurt’s daughter, Choc’late, is one of the extremely talented singers in the current TapRoots live band.
Ojala: If you were to ask me who is the greatest singer/songwriter to be alive in my lifetime, Silvio Rodríguez would be top of the list! His lyrics and melodies touch something so deep someone could say that they have “taproots” of their own. This is the only cover song on the album, though I’ve given it a very distinctly TapRoots flavor. I initially just wanted it to be a simple reggae version of Silvio‘s classic song, staying fairly true to the form, but it very quickly took on a life of its own, and soon was awash with all of the twists, and turns that one might associate with a Taproots musical journey. The opening stomp is a bit that came to me as a separate idea, after wondering what jazz fusion marriage with an Afro Cuban Palo rhythm would sound like and then it just grew from there. Then of course … there was the question of the vocals. For those that know of Silvio's work, he has such a high range and a voice that is so pure that I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I tried singing it an octave lower, but that ultimately didn’t feel right for the power of the song. Then, over the pandemic, a friend of mine began putting together virtual community musical collaborations online when we were quarantined in our homes, as a way to stay connected creatively. On one of the collaborations, there was a young singer, Yaya, whose voice I was immediately taken with. I reached out to her, and it turned out that she was also a big Silvio fan. Her interpretation of his lyrics here captures an emotional depth that I feel like I could never pull off in 100 lifetimes. Thank you Yaya for blessing this track!
Remembering: This is the second song on this album from the “Eleguá suite.” This one more specifically deals with the choices that we make in our lives, and the crossroads that we stand at every time we walk out our door, and are faced with a question, “who do we choose to be today?” Every minute, we are faced with infinite choices: do we want to make a bad situation worse or better? Do we avoid that person in need or not? Do we ignore the challenges around us, or move headfirst into finding a solution? Maferefun Elegua for your guidance in all of these matters! Musically, I like to think of this song as the love child of Stevie Wonder, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and Snarky Puppy, whose meditations on musical themes inspired the ending motif of this (and other songs on this album like Nature’s Law). This is always a great one to perform live in that it has a danceable groove, thoughtful lyrics, and enough twists and turns to keep the intellectual types engaged.
Song for the Ocean (traditional): As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end … I wanted to bookend this album with another tribute to Yemaya as a way to bring the whole album full circle. This is a beautiful traditional song to the mother of the oceans that I always loved the harmonies on and thought would be nice to add the tidal churnings and ripplings of shekere underneath. Also, I really wanted to have another song that featured my sister I-Shea on, especially since she has such a sweet connection to Yemaya. And, in keeping with the transition between the first album and this one, I wanted it to fade out on a new element so the final energy could form a bridge between this album and the next. If the oceans waves are the song of the waters, then the coquis are the songs of the land … we will see where they take us on the future journeys of TapRoots in the next album.