MARCUS MILLER PRESENTS AFRODEEZIA
“The power of music has no limits. Through spirituals, jazz and soul we were able to preserve our history, because all the rest had been erased. I did a lot of research before starting to record ‘Afrodeezia’, and made at least as many discoveries during the record-sessions! What I wanted most was to go back to the source of the rhythms that make our musical heritage so rich, to follow them like footprints from their beginnings in Africa all the way to the United States. That journey took us from Mali to Paris, from New Orleans to Sao Paulo and across the Caribbean. I had the good fortune to work with Malian musicians, Burkinans, Brazilians, Trinidadians…”
“It was after visiting the House of Slaves on Gorée Island that I composed Gorée, which was on my previous album ‘Renaissance’. Onstage I felt the need to say what I had been feeling in Senegal. I wanted people to understand that this tune spoke not only of the slave tragedy but, through the music especially, that these people who suddenly found themselves at the bottom of a ship’s hold had discovered a way to survive, and were able in time to transform their distress into joy. Shortly after that, UNESCO named me an Artist for Peace, and made me a spokesperson for the Slave Route Project; that was when I started thinking about ‘Afrodeezia’.”
“In Sao Paulo, I was playing a samba with local percussionists and I realized that I’d heard the same rhythm in Morocco played by a Gnawa musician! All those connections fascinate me. After all, as Taj Mahal said, “New Orleans is just the most northern part of the Caribbean…” Over there we played all night in a studio, it was wonderful. So many things happened that I hadn’t counted on when we started… I met Alune Wade, a bassist from Senegal, at a jazz festival in Poland; one thing led to another and he ended up singing on ‘Afrodeezia’…”
“It’s my music you can hear in ‘Afrodeezia’, it reflects what I am today: a musician who’s open, always on the alert, and who discovered his real personality around ten years ago. But I have to keep evolving. I’m proud of my group of young musicians: Alex Han on saxophone, Adam Agati on guitar, Brett Williams on keyboards and Louis Cato on the drums. They form the nucleus of ‘Afrodeezia’, with soloists from all the countries we’ve crossed gravitating around them. All their contributions create new dynamics in my music. There are sounds you may never have heard, a kora, a gimbri, a lot of percussion instruments…”
“A new era is opening up for Black Americans. There are more and more sophisticated DNA tests which now allow us to say that we didn’t originate in North Carolina or Virginia or at best in the Caribbean. Thanks to these tests I know that I have Nigerian blood. Those connections are tangible; they’re in my blood. ‘Afrodeezia’ is the most exact reflection of the person I am today. With this new repertoire there won’t be any differences any more between who I am in real life, and the musician you see onstage. And that, that changes everything.”
Highlife is a style of music popular in Nigeria in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s actually making a strong come back these days. King Sonny Adé is one of the leaders in this style. This music brings the entire community together in rhythm (like the Gnawa music in Morocco). If you’re not moving when the Highlife beat hits, you will definitely be that “one dude in the crowd”, lookin’ uncomfortable :-). So put this jazzy highlife jam on and practice your two step so you’ll be in the mix with everybody else!
About B’s River – My wife, Brenda, traveled to Ndola, Zambia to help build housing for families in need there. Despite extreme poverty and hardship, there was still a spirit of joy and love there that was profound. She said in church on Sundays people would sing and create the most wonderful, powerful, life-affirming sounds you can imagine, and the land was overwhelmingly beautiful. B’s River is my musical depiction of a river she said was “too beautiful for words”. I thought, “Well, if words can’t describe it, maybe music can”.
This tune begins with a Gimbri, (also spelled Guembri) an African ancestor to the bass guitar. I received it as a gift after a show in Morocco where we jammed with some musicians who play Gnawa music. Gnawa music features the Gimbri as one of the main sounds.
We played the Gnawa Music Festival in a town called Essaouira, Morocco – 30,000 people in the audience dancing for hours to this hypnotic, spiritual, groovy music. If you ever doubted the power of music to transport people – this music will definitely convince you.
(Song for William H)
William H is my dad – organist, pianist and choir director. He’s my biggest influence as a musician and as a man. He played mostly at black Episcopal churches. The congregation sang hymns and Pops played that massive pipe organ. At one point in his life, his dream was to be a concert organist but with a wife and two young boys, he had to put those dreams aside to make sure he supported his family.
Music always remained at the center of his life. He would practice Bach and Beethoven in our apartment during the week and then play church services on the weekend. His father, my grandfather, was an Episcopal bishop who also played piano. Although I never heard him “get down”, I heard the bishop could play a mean calypso way back in the day!
One of my fondest memories was watching my dad walk into the concert hall where I was playing with Miles Davis. I had just recently gotten the gig and my dad told my mom, “I’m going up to Montreal to see Marc with Miles!” He walked into the hall and I could see him from the stage decked head to toe in splendid white. I realized that my playing with Miles was as much an accomplishment for him as it was for me; maybe even more so. My dad’s still here, 89 years old. Although Alzheimer’s has taken its toll, he still remembers my brother and me. He has one of my album covers on his dresser next to his bed. I can’t wait to put the headphones on him and play him this piece. I’m gonna tell him, “This tune is called ‘Song for William H.’”, so he can think about it and say, “That’s me!”.
We Were There
We lost George Duke last year and Joe Sample this year. These were two of the most influential keyboardist of our era. They both loved Brazilian music and the influence of samba and bossa nova was really clear in their music.
After doing a gig near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, we went to a studio there late that night and with percussionist Marco Lobo and singers Aline Cabral, Andrea Dutra and Christiane Correa Tristao we cut this track. It incorporates one of my favorite melodies from Brazilian legend Djavan with the most joyful chorus I could come up with.
Joy is an element of music that I wanted to stress with this album. I don’t mean “not a care in the world” joy. I mean joy despite difficult circumstance; joy despite sometimes horrible circumstances. This is what these rhythms that began in Africa and traveled across the Atlantic to South America and the Carribean provided – a way to put aside pain and suffering and celebrate the joy that music can bring.
Whenever there was a pause in the conversation, George Duke would say, “Well, we were there!”
Papa Was A Rolling Stone
This is from an era when bass lines were bass lines. I don’t think a more dramatic line has ever been played on the bass than on this Motown classic. What’s crazy is that most of the drama is created by the space BETWEEN the notes. When I play this bass line in concert, I can see folks in the audience, sitting there, anticipating…waiting on that next note!
If you follow the rhythms, they’ll take you from Africa to South America to the Caribbean to the south of the US and ultimately to the big cities of the north, New York, Philly, Detroit. This tune starts off sparsely with that classic bass line but by the end, all of the rhythms from this epic journey come together, African and Latin sounds (percussionist Munyungo Jackson), New Orleans sounds (trumpeter Patches Stewart), Delta sounds (guitarist Keb’ Mo’) and the sounds of the urban cities (guitarist Adam Agati – and can you hear Detroit legend Wah Wah Watson on guitar too?)
I Still Believe I Hear
(Je Crois Entendre Encore)
(feat. Ben Hong)
A few years ago, I collaborated with operatic tenor, Kenn Hicks to create an album of operatic arias mixed with jazz. The result was fantastic. The album is called Avanti. One of the tunes we did for the project was from an opera called “The Pearl Fishers” written by French composer, Georges Bizet. This melody has stayed with me since that project.
Because of the Arabic sound of the melody and the hypnotic 6/8 rhythm, I thought it would be great to do an instrumental version. This one features cellist Ben Hong (benhong.net) who plays this melody so beautifully that you’ll probably forget that no one is singing.
Ben plays with the LA Philharmonic and if you watch the film, The Soloist, Ben is the one you actually hear when Jamie Foxx plays the cello!
Thanks you Kenn Hicks for introducing me to this melody.
Son of Macbeth
When I was 19, I wrote a tune that flutist Bobbi Humphrey recorded. I was playing bass in her band at the time. She convinced her producer, Ralph MacDonald, to let me play bass on this one tune. Ralph reluctantly agreed. So I got to record with Ralph and the “A Team” of NY studio musicians: Steve Gaddafi on drums, Richard Tee on piano, Eric Gale on guitar and Ralph on percussion (legendary bassist Anthony Jackson was gracious enough to allow me to sit in the bass chair for that one tune!). After awhile, Ralph asked me if I could read music because he was going to start recommending me for studio work. I assured him I could read music well. Within 3 months I was working all day 6 days a week on the studio scene.
Needless to say whenever Ralph needed me for a session I put everything else on hold to be there for him. When we realized we both had Trinidadian heritage, that cemented our relationship. Ralph was a great producer and song writer. He was a writer on: “Where is the Love” for Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, ”Mr. Magic” for Grover Washington Jr., and “Just the Two of Us” for Grover and Bill Withers.
Ralph loved calypso music and would get excited whenever we could add a bit of calypso to whatever song we were doing. If you listen to Grover Washington and Bill Wither’s “Just the Two of Us”, you can hear the calypso element really clearly. That’s due in large part to Robert Greenidge, the amazing Trinidadian steel pan player . He played a smoking solo on that tune; made it probably the only top ten hit in the US featuring steel drums ever.
Well, Robert Greenidge has provided us with another smoking solo for this tribute to Ralph MacDonald. Ralph’s dad was a very famous calypso band leader; leading numerous bands in the legendary Eastern Parkway West Indian Day Parades in Brooklyn for years. He went by the name Macbeth the Great, a play on his name MacDonald. So I named this one Son of Macbeth!
After having recorded most of the album, we had a rehearsal for one of our first gigs playing this new music. We were practicing B’s River and the end part of this tune is so hypnotic that we ended up jamming on just the ending for like, 30 minutes. After thirty minutes this beautiful tune began to morph into something else. The next thing we know Brett is playing this funky line on the Rhodes and Louis has moved over to the drum machine, playing it with his fingers like it’s a drum kit. The horns are riffin’ and Adam and I are jabbin’ in and out. And I’m thinking, “Man I wish we were recording this!” So in the middle of it, I turned on my cell phone and started recording. Even with whack cell phone quality, it’s still funky!
This one’s for Wayman Tisdale. His spirit is still in full effect even though it’s been over 5 years since he’s been gone. The church played a huge part in Wayman’s life – he was a PK too (preacher’s kid). Wayman switched over to a music career after his pro basketball career. (How many folks can say that?) His music always had a gospel tinge to it. He was always aware that his gifts were God given. He had a smile that could light up not just a room but a whole building! A truly Xtraordinanry human being.
Hanging out with the African musicians, I’m fascinated by how they play in 6/8 and 12/8 time. We Americans are more used to 4/4 time (with a big accent “on the one” as James Brown used to say). But the 6/8 and 12/8 rhythms are beautiful. It sounds like water…the way the African musicians dance around the beat. So I was inspired to record this tune in 12/8 and get the African brothers involved to add some “water” to this tune. We found an amazing studio in Lafayette, Louisiana where we recorded a lot of this album. If you listen closely, you can hear some Zydeco elements in there too courtesy of Roddie Romero on accordion and Michael Doucet on violin, two fantastic Lafayette musicians who we called at the last minute and asked to come down and jam with us.
I Can’t Breathe
As we’re mixing this album there’s a lot going on here in the US. Folks are in the streets protesting abuse of power by police. So many young people, particularly young blacks have lost their lives at the hands of police.
I know too many cops to believe that all police are racists, but I’m really glad to see this issue coming to the light, because I also know too many blacks who have been unfairly arrested, harassed or badly beaten to think that this is not a real problem.
We need to celebrate the police who put their lives on the line to do their job and we need to shine a light on those who abuse their positions of authority.
“I Can’t Breathe” features African and American elements in a techno environment. It features the Gimbri once again, given to me as a gift from Morocco.
I wrote a song entitled “Gorée” for my last album. Before playing this tune live, I tell the story of our trip to the island of Gorée (fifteen minutes off of the coast of Senegal) to visit a museum called “La Maison Des Esclaves” (“The Slave House”).
They would stockpile captured Africans in buildings like this all up and down the west coast of Africa. They would take inventory and make sure the captured Africans were physically fit to endure the long journey on the slave ship across the Atlantic Ocean. They would cram these captives in small rooms, one on top of the other, like animals.
Eventually they would march them through a door that led to the slave ship. This door was called “The Door of No Return “. It represented the end of their lives as they knew it. These Africans were stripped of their names, their language, their homes and their culture – their entire identities.
So I wrote this tune about how I felt standing there in that slave house. As I was working on the tune, I was struck by the idea that that “Door Of No Return” represented not only the end of the captives’ African experience but in a certain way, that door represented the beginning of our African-American experience too.
Instead of making the piece only about anger and pain, I decided to make it a testament to the ability of human beings to stay strong even through horrible situations. Although the experience of those Africans and the experiences of their children and grandchildren have been incredibly difficult, they found ways to transcend their oppression.
These protests across the country are, in a certain way, the next stop on the path to overcoming oppression. Through the power of the Internet, the world can see what African Americans have been saying for years; “things are better but we still have a ways to go”. These images that people can watch over and over make it impossible to deny that there is more work to be done.
Music has played a vital role in our ability to persevere. When things seemed hopeless we could always turn to music to find solace, hope and even joy. That’s why the music that has emerged from this slave experience: spirituals, blues, dixieland, jazz, gospel, r&b, funk, rap, etc. has so much emotional content. It’s because this music carries our story. Many elements of our story exist solely in our music – because for a long time that was the only way to tell it. Writing was forbidden, openly taking about the past was forbidden. So these stories are hidden in the rhythms.
In the same way that African tribes could communicate through drums, the story of the African-American journey is contained in the music. Don’t listen to the words, sometimes they tell the story, sometimes they don’t. But the MUSIC always tells the story. If you hear a beat and you find yourself moving – even if you don’t want to, that’s because you are hearing the story – whether you are aware of it or not. That’s why songs with lyrics that seem simplistic, basic, sometimes ridiculous still grab you. It’s because the message is in the notes not the words.
And this is why we can travel around the world and communicate with people whose native languages we can’t speak. It’s because this music is its own language and just about everyone in the world understands it.
So this album is about the incredible journey of rhythms and melodies that originated in Africa and have exploded into a “dizzying” array of styles and genres that have changed the world.
MARCUS MILLER IN A FEW DATES
Marcus Miller was still in his mother’s womb when his future mentor Miles Davis was recording “Kind Of Blue” with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly (Marcus’ cousin) and Paul Chambers, the future idol of our soon-to-be-born bassplayer who first caused his (vocal) chords to vibrate on June 14th in Brooklyn, New York.
By now, little Marcus was dancing in front of his TV, watching the Jackson 5. He was the same age as the youngest and most gifted of them, Michael. He didn’t know it yet, but one day he’d be playing one of his songs on the bass, I’ll Be There. While Marcus was growing up in the Jamaica neighbourhood of Queens, NY, he started by blowing into a recorder, and then a bass clarinet, which remains one of his favourite instruments. But from the day he picked up an electric bass, he would never put it down.
Although much more talented than average, Marcus perfects his technique, playing over and over the legendary intro of Hair, a funk-manifesto propelled by the earthquake-bass of Larry Graham, the master of slap. In those days, young Marcus was listening just as passionately to Robert “Kool” Bell from Kool & The Gang; James Jamerson, “Mister Bass” at Motown’s studios; Rocco Priesta, the man who patented groove with Tower Of Power; Gary King, who was playing bass with Grover Washington, Jr.; and Stanley Clarke, whose first, eponymous LP went straight onto Marcus’ turntable in 1975.
At the same time as he was learning to play Jaco Pastorius’ first album by heart, Marcus started hanging out at recording studios in the Big Apple. The great names in soul, jazz and pop were quick to snatch him up: this versatile youngster was a virtuoso who could decipher any score they put in front of him… But Marcus was already looking much further ahead than the neck of his bass. His attractive melodies and his producing-talents seduced musicians of all genres: Lonnie Liston Smith, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, and later Boz Scaggs, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Take 6, Wayne Shorter.
Miles Davis had been holed up in his New York apartment for five years. He was brooding, and hardly touched his trumpet. But the phoenix finally rose from his ashes… The young bassist in his new band was making an impression on the crowds, and people could finally put a face to the name they’d seen so often on album-sleeves: Marcus Miller! Five years later  Marcus wrote and produced “Tutu”, the trumpeter’s great last classic. In 1989, Marcus composed the poignant Mr. Pastorius in homage to his hero, two years after his tragic passing. Miles, touched by the solar beauty of that tribute’s melody, agreed to record it. Emotion.
“The Sun Don’t Lie”, Marcus Miller’s first instrumental album, brilliantly launched his second career. A born catalyst with a gift for revealing new talents, Marcus had matured as a musician; sure of his art, he had become a fully-fledged leader. Numerous world tours had given him an increasingly wide audience who found in Marcus Miller a charismatic figure, a generous musician who was both a natural player and collaborator and an authentic creator.
After two Grammy® Awards, nine albums ⎯ six in the studios and three “live” ⎯ came “Renaissance”; true to its title, it opened a new chapter in the life of Marcus Miller. Marcus now embodies jazz history, the traditional and the contemporary. As for “Afrodeezia” his first Blue Note opus, it reflects his new aspirations as an ambassador and messenger of the great black music forms with his stamp as always, that contagious musicality, that unique groove and that instantly recognizable bass sound, often imitated, never equalled. Today, in 2015, let there be no doubt: the adventure is only beginning.