Jazz at Lincoln Center: Mother Africa- Magic in Manhattan

Classic Arts Features   Jazz at Lincoln Center: Mother Africa- Magic in Manhattan
 
The rhythmic and romantic music of Africa makes its way to Jazz at Lincoln Center this month with West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and Camaroonian bassist/vocalist Richard Bona- who will make magic at The Allen Room Sept. 26 _27.


"Richard and I share an African culture," Loueke says. "So the African elements will be present along with our own personalities and our own instruments." Bona concurs, noting that both men share a background in Ghanaian rhythms and enjoy putting their own touch on a tune. "It's a combination of both our world and jazz," says Bona. "Jazz combines a lot of different kinds of music. The freedom of jazz gives us another window. It's jazz and beyond jazz. We could do some pop music and some world music and some standards."

Guitarist/vocalist Loueke recalls his roots. "In African music, you can base everything on just one phrase and keep going on and on. That's what I hear when I listen to Fela Kuti or King Sunny Ade. My music is both easy and complicated: I use a lot of odd meters that are based on African rhythms. The goal is to make anything complicated simple. It may sound simple, but many times it's, well, complicated!"

The duo looks to re-create the chemistry it shared at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival. "This is our first time together at Jazz at Lincoln Center," says Bona, "and we are trying to create a new sound. It's going to be spontaneous. Lionel is such a great improviser."

Both musicians have been busy in the recording studio. Last year Loueke released the critically acclaimed Karibu (Blue Note), which means "Welcome" in Swahili, while Bona just came out with his latest album, Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca).

Bona has been called "The African Jaco," in reference to the prolific bassist Jaco Pastorius. He toured with the late, great keyboardist Joe Zawinul and has been praised by such musicians as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, George Benson, Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell and Mike Stern. Bona came upon jazz through a friend who was a collector of jazz records. His friend had heard tell of Bona's musicianship and encouraged him to explore the genre. After pouring over his friend's massive LP collection, Bona says he became hooked. "Jaco Pastorius was the first record that I played at his house," says Bona. "I heard that and said, 'I want to play like this guy!'"

Loueke started playing guitar at 17 and heard records by Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Joe Pass and other great guitar players. He was playing by ear before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Both Loueke and Bona
separately moved to New York City in 1995; today, Loueke lives in New Jersey while Bona resides in Brooklyn.

Bona feels it is his duty to help keep the artistic openness of jazz music alive. He cites the popularity and radio play of John Coltrane in the '60s and '70s and notes that that presence has begun to dissipate. "So any institution that is trying to put jazz out there is always welcome," he says. "I really admire that. I admire the work that Jazz at Lincoln Center is doing, and I am very honored to be playing here."

Loueke looks forward to connecting, with his fellow musician and with the Allen Room audience. "When you speak from your heart, people get it" says Loueke. "Even if they don't speak the same language, they can feel it. From my point of view, that's the important thing. I play music as if I forgot how to. I try to remember the first time I touched my instrument without knowing anything. If I can play like that every time and get it out, I am the
happiest man."

Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director of Public Relations for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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