by Anne Carlini
Artist – Afro Yaqui Music Collective
For those unaware, Afro Yaqui Music Collective came together in response to the rapidly changing political climate, in which working immigrant communities have become under attack, and climate change has threatened peoples across the world.
As part of the band’s mission, their work develops dialogue with activists across the world. They have performed and worked with social movement leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mayan and Yaqui communities in Mexico, and Tanzania.
The ASCAP award-winning Afro Yaqui Music Collective is a multilingual jazz band. Since 2016, they have been creating music ranging from soothing, introspective, cello-infused tango, to grooving, hard-hitting, virtuosic jazz-funk.
Influenced by frontwoman Gizelxanath Rodriguez’s experience growing up in two cultures (Mexican and American) and her ancestry as an Indigenous Yaqui woman, Afro Yaqui creates music in which culture and language fuse with catchy melodies and mind-bending harmony to create a space where social movements, activists, and different cultures can unite within a shared commitment to liberation.
The just-released Maroon Futures (Neuma Records) is a six-track album that celebrates the struggle and lessons of maroons — enslaved peoples who the escape the evils of the built world being erected on genocide and slavery, to the protective bosom of the natural world.
The tracks lift up love, camaraderie, women’s empowerment (what we call revolutionary matriarchy), and the indomitability of the Maroon fighting spirit.
We reject all forms of social exclusion, and we unite the sounds of Afro-Cuban culture, Chinese Opera, Indigenous languages, jazz, and hip-hop to say: our struggle is one.
This album is dedicated to Russell Maroon Shoatz, known to his friends and family as “Maroon,” a political prisoner who has been incarcerated in the state of Pennsylvania for fifty years, with thirty years in solitary confinement.
He was released into general population in 2014. Bandmembers contribute to the campaign to free Maroon through compassionate release through the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
Each of the tracks relate to causes that Maroon cares deeply about and writes on often: social justice, antiracism, women’s empowerment, and the struggle for a livable planet.
Opening on the ornate stillness of pure vocal beauty, before launching into the highly funky, foot-stompin’ grooves of ‘Nonantzin,’ that’s followed by the spoken word-imbued, rhythmic ‘Sister Soul’ and then we get the mellifluent, at times even opera-esque ‘La Cigarra.’
Next up is the early ’70s funk power of ‘Ya Habibi’ which is itself backed by the 10 minute, free flowing, epic jam session ‘We Refuse to be Used and Abused,’ with this quite brilliant new album closing on the gently frenetic musings and melodies of ‘Insurrealista.’
Furthermore, the Afro Yaqui Music Collective is global and includes musicians from all over the world. Some of their core members include co-leader Ben Barson (winner ASCAP’s top award in jazz composers under 30, the Johnny Mandel prize), Charlotte Hill O’Neal (a former Black Panther and community organizer now living in Tanzania), Nejma Nefertiti (a New York-based revolutionary hip-hop artist) Hugo Cruz (one of Havana’s leading drummers and percussionists), Julian Powell (Pittsburgh’s renowned hip-hop drummer) Yang Jin (a pipa player who has toured with Yo-Yo Ma and countless others), Beni Rossman, Roger Romero, Randraiz Wharton, Samuel Okoh-Boateng, Alec Redd, and Mimi Jong.
PLAYERS & INSTRUMENTS:
Gizelxanath Rodriguez – Vocalist
Charlotte Hill O’Neal – Vocalist
Benjamin Barson – Baritone Sax, Contrabass Clarinet
Nejma Nefertiti — EmCee
Roger Romero- Tenor Saxophonist
Alec Zander Redd – Alto Saxophone
Daro Behroozi – Tenor Saxophone and Ney (Track 3)
John Bagnato – Guitar
Mimi Jong – Erhu
Yang Jin – Pipa and Zheng
Randraiz Wharton – Keyboard
Chris Potter – Keyboard (Track 5 + 6)
Beni Rossman – Electric Bass
Hugo Cruz – Percussion
Julian Powell – Drums
1. ‘Nonantzin’ (7:00)
2. ‘Sister Soul’ (8:24)
3. ‘La Cigarra’ (5:37)
4. ‘Ya Habibi’ (5:39)
5. ‘We Refuse to be Used and Abused’ (10:05)
6. ‘Insurrealista’ (8:01)