Written by Joe Ross
Following their debut album Mirror Butterfly: the Migrant Liberation Movement Suite, the Afro Yaqui Music Collective continues with its fusion of jazz, funk, hip-hop and soul to give us a sonically thrilling ride on Maroon Futures. Together since 2016, the multilingual jazz band is on a mission as musical activists who encourage all to value diversity, support environmental causes, fight injustice, and build bridges between cultures. Vocalist and front-woman Gizelxanath Rodriguez creates lyrical imagery in her poignant narratives that address ecological, social and political issues. Other core members include Hugo Cruz (percussion), Jin Yang (pipa and zheng), Ben Barson (baritone sax), Charlotte Hill O’Neal (vocals), Nejma Nefertiti (emcee), Julian Powell (drums), Beni Rossman (bass), Roger Romero (tenor), Randraiz Wharton (keyboard), Mimi Jong (ehru), Daro Behroozi (tenor), Alec Zander Redd (alto), John Bagnato (guitar) and Chris Potter (keyboard).
A recipient of ASCAP’s Johnny Mandel prize given to jazz composers under 30, Ben Barson penned “Sister Soul” and “Insurrealista,” co-penned “Ya Habibi” (with emcee Nejma Nefertit and bassist Beni Rossman) and arranged the other three tracks. Maroon Futures celebrates the struggles and lessons of maroons, enslaved people who are finding their way to the protective bosom of the natural world. The tracks lift up love, camaraderie, women’s empowerment (what they call revolutionary matriarchy), and the indomitability of the Maroon fighting spirit. They reject all forms of social exclusion and unite sounds of Afro-Cuban culture, Chinese opera, indigenous languages, jazz, and hip-hop to say their struggle is one. “We Refuse to be Used and Abused” is a compelling track without being preachy. The Afro Yaqui Music Collective’s music is pretty heady stuff, intricate, highly arranged and progressive in its approach. Besides dancing to their groove, I hope that people tune into their messages because our troubled planet could use a lot more love, peace, hope, and health right now. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)