Afro Yaqui Music Collective – Maroon Futures
The Afro Yaqui Music Collective is the result of a collaboration between saxophonist Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez who joined together to create a band who reflects and initiates revolutionary music. And what an extraordinary album results from that collaboration. Marron Futures is a brilliant and exciting work of art.
The band has performed at protest sites and in the halls of power. The message remains the same, no matter who hears it. The message of radical freedom and universal acceptance is a message whose time is long past due but Afro Yaqui Music Collective is right on time.
With Barson and Rodriguez are vocalist Charlotte Hill O’Neal and emcee Nejma Nefertiti. Appearing with them is Daro Behroozi on tenor sax, Roger Romero on tenor sax, Hugo Cruz on percussion, Yang Jin on Pipa and zhang, Beni Rossman on electric bass, Julian Powell on drums, Randraiz Wharton on keyboards, Alec Zander Redd on alto sax, John Bagnato on guitar, Chris Potter on keyboard, and Mimi Jong on erhu—an incredible collection of remarkable artists.
Nonantzin opens the album. Written by Salvador Morena and arranged by Ben Barson, the song is an astounding interplay between Gizelxanath Rodriguez’ soulful and meaningful vocals and the righteous and rumbling baritone sax of Barson. The groove is irresistible and the drive of the percussion with the excellent saxophones is so fine. Cool turns by the keyboards.
Sister Soul is a Barson tune with lyrics by Barson, Nefertiti, and O’Neal. Yang Jin’s solo on pipa is riveting but the vocals O’Neal and Nefertiti speak of remarkable women revolutionaries of vision and of defense of Mother Earth. The vocals are hypnotic and the band is smoking hot. Pay attention to Rossman’s bass.
La Cigarra is a tribute to the 14-year cicada who remains buried for so long. It is a reminder of political prisoners who have been buried for so long. Roger Romero’s tenor sax is featured alongside the vocals in a singularly beautiful piece.
Ya Habibi is composed by Nefertiti, Barson, and Rossman and is vision of love beyond capitalist notions of ownership and possession. The hip-hop vocals are in counterpoint to the choralesque vocals and the results are exciting with the thunderous bass and steady drums. Daro Behroozi’s sax solos are invigorating. This is not only fun; it is fascinating.
We Refuse to Be Used and Abused is by tenor saxophonist Fred Ho and has the alternate title of Unity (for the Struggle of Workers). It was arranged by Barson who claims to have “taken significant liberties” with the form. Multiple solos adorn this visceral and vibrant work with all the cool of an Ellington big band.
Insurrealista is a Barson original which calls on artists and organizers to take the front in a new generation of activism. The song is a rally against patriarchy and a clarion for women and LGBTQIA+ people to take their rightful place in the vanguard of a modern and meaningful revolution. The solos are backed by a ferocious groove that gives teeth to the thought.
Music has been the voice of revolution in so many ages but Maroon Futures calls on musicians to stand to and become leaders. Afro Yaqui Music Collective is the voice of passion of the people with the power of a prophet. The music is amazing but the message is essential.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl