Subtle and visceral sounds for percussion and singing, drawing on African and Afro-Caribbean traditions, as well as those of Western classical, jazz, and pop music.

1. Prelude
2. Eshu La Roye
3. Darkpey / Shambelle Variations for Kakraba Lobi
4. Scenes from Moe Road
5. Nuor Wongolo
6. Value’s Last Songo
7. La Casa Fria
8. Further Along the Path


This recording….

is an homage, a story, and our attempt to paint a picture. We do hope that the sounds themselves intrigue your ears; that even without reading this verbiage you will find interesting music, compelling yet subtle drama, the occasional foot tap, a nice tune, an interesting musical fusion, and perhaps a few minutes’ escape from the everyday world. Beyond that, however, Abure is the third chapter in our encounter with something foreign, an “other”: the music of West Africa and some of its descendants in the Western Hemisphere. On our first recording, Africa→West, Jamie sings:
De hoy, estamos pintores
Te pintamos como Cuba
De hoy, estamos pintores
Te pintamos como Africa
Today we are painters…we paint for you like Cuba/Africa

Thus we intoned our musical mission statement – to explore the Afro-centric aesthetic and perform it in both traditional and new ways; realizing that it (we) all comes from the same place – Africa. However, we couldn’t help but be tempted to combine these musical ideas with our own backgrounds as classical, jazz, and popular musicians. This prompted our second recording, Togo Road, in which we continued our Afro-centric musical encounters while fusing them with our experiences as American musicians. By honoring and connecting the traditions from which we draw, we discover many ideas that can work together. And together, then, we have produced Abure.

Abure is inspired by some astonishing musical events of 2007. In the spring of that year, the great Kakraba Lobi toured the US wowing audiences with the virtuosic sounds of the gyil, an ancient keyboard instrument from Ghana. Mr. Kakraba’s touring and teaching with our mentors Valerie Naranjo and Barry Olsen made a huge impression on us. Not only were the Lobi/Naranjo/Olsen performances immensely powerful, we began to learn Mr. Kakraba’s story: a farmer-turned-cabdriver who was discovered as one of the world’s great cultural resources. Kakraba Lobi grew up and lived his art – not as a separate profession, but as a social obligation and cultural rite. He “spoke” music as a language and told the story of his civilization through his instrument and his voice. Mr. Kakraba came from a different reality than we did. He amazed us.

Meanwhile, the music news got even better. After decades of musical detente, our heroes, The Police, reunited for a world tour. We all heard them in various venues that spring, sometimes in between trips to hear the other power trio of the day: Lobi, Naranjo, and Olsen. We reveled in the genius of each group. Like seeing Mr. Kakraba in an intimate performance, hearing the Police from the 10th row in Buffalo made it seem that true musical genius was just within reach. If only we could reach a little Further.

As quickly as they appeared to us, these glimpses of musical nirvana disappeared. The Police played their final show and said goodbye to all of us. We learned from Valerie Naranjo that Mr. Kakraba had passed away suddenly in Ghana after returning from his 2007 tour. Our teachers in Cuba, Daniel Alfonso and Regino Jimenez, both passed in this same period. Closer to home, two more of our grandparents passed in the time that Abure was being conceived. Hard hit by these events (especially the latter) one laments them, but also yearns for the energies and ways of life these people represented. With the passing of these towering figures from our lives, one looks back and wonders how the lived aesthetics and ways of life that they represented will ever be experienced again.

We intend the funky-mournful moments of Abure as homage to ancestors, teachers, and ways of being that seem just out of our reach. While we have composed music that we hope looks forward to a new cross-cultural aesthetic, Abure yearns for things past and pays respect to those who have paved the way for us.

Abure is a Yoruba/Lucumi word meaning “brother”. Only this gathering of three brothers – both fraternal and time-tested – could have produced this recording. We are proud to share it with you.

The pieces, the story….

Prelude – is where we all started. A grey status quo interrupted by a brief encounter with a powerful force. Such power can’t be held for long, and things return to normal; almost.

Eshu La Roye – a name that describes a path or avatar of the Lucumi deity Elegua, sets several songs for Elegua. At first, the trio accompanies these songs in the guiro style with two unison breaks following each song. Finally, as a subtle tribute to the great songo innovators, Batacumbele, the last section slides into a songo-rumba underneath the song “Ochimini e a” for Elegua. In the Yoruba/Lucumi tradition, the number three holds significance for Elegua, and we have used various musical themes and configurations based that number to sculpt this work.

Lobi Variations
1. Darkpey/Shambelle Variations for Kakraba Lobi – fuses a Dagara funeral style, Darkpey, with a quotation from Police guitarist Andy Summers’ composition, Shambelle (the title being a play on the word “shambles”). Darkpey is music for the gyil, a traditional keyboard instrument from northern Ghana. In this piece, the fast paced and polyrhythmic Darkpey alternates with the somber texture from Summer’s Shambelle. Hence the first chapter of the Lobi tribute juxtaposes the intensity of feeling from the Dagara funeral style with experience of things falling into disarray.
2. Scenes from Moe Road – continues the story with a somber incarnation of the themes presented in the first movement. Ancestors are saluted, bells toll, past optimism is relived. Our grandparents had a secluded farm off of “Moe Road”.
3. Nuor Wongolo – is a gyil piece composed by Ghanian musician Pad Dol and arranged by the Africa→West trio. In this “scherzo” movement, the playful gyil melody belies a dense 12/8 counterpoint complemented by rhythms for Obatala (the Lucumi deity of wisdom, justice, and fatherhood) and the compound rhythmic stylings of our hero, Stewart Copeland of the Police. Nuor Wongolo literally means “you dog-face”. A comical yet pejorative lyric, we found the piece appealing not only for its subject matter, but also for the remarkable detail of its complex rhythmic structures. In this case, humorous music need not be a joke.
4. Value’s Last Songo – paraphrases its title from Jean Baudrillard’s chapter, “Value’s Last Tango” from his work Simulacrum and Simulation. (I am a befuddled skeptic and closet fan of the philosopher Jean Baudrillard, who also passed in 2007 – Josh). This movement develops the themes from the first and second movements. A simple 2-note motive ties the movement together, and is rhythmically reinterpreted as the movement goes on. When the rhythmic energy of the final songo section closes, we are left with a folkloric echo.

La Casa Fria – composed collaboratively using Jamie’s original marimba material combined with Ryan and Josh’s accompaniment, which is rooted in Ewe and Afro-Cuban musical vocabulary. La Casa Fria describes a period of personal conflict and growth. The collaborative effort from which this piece arrived has been one of our most successful. We drew out the melodic line of the marimba while maintaining a moving, tasteful, and aggressive rhythmic environment.

Further Along the Path – a nostalgic look back at the characters in this music-drama. We haven’t yet decided if our professional and personal journeys necessitate a closing of those paths that connect us to the realms of our teachers and ancestors.
These notes only scratch the surface of the Abure story. As mentioned above, we hope you can enjoy this music even without this text. If you wish, keep digging.

– Josh Ryan, Jamie Ryan, Ryan Korb