ListN Up: Afro Yaqui Music Collective (April 3, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings, with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

The ASCAP award-winning Afro Yaqui Music Collective is a multilingual postcolonial jazz band based in Pittsburgh, PA. Influenced by front-woman Gizelxanath Rodriguez’s experience growing up in two cultures (Mexican and American) and her ancestry as an Indigenous Yaqui woman, Afro Yaqui creates music which challenges patriarchal capitalism and colonial erasure. As part of the band’s mission, their work develops with activists across the world. They have performed in support of activists in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mayan and Yaqui communities in Mexico, at fundraisers for immigrant solidarity, and at the US-Mexican border in protest of human rights abuses in 2017. Their work has also been presented by such institutions as the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center’s Boro-Tech program, and ASCAP, among others.

Afro Yaqui Music Collective is a formation of composer-performers across the world fighting for revolution. The world they imagine in their music is one free from patriarchy, racism, environmental exploitation, and colonization. In this playlist, artists of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective share the diverse influences that inspire their musical and activist work. These are the songs that are helping them stay grounded and connected during these complex and trying times, music as radical as reality itself.

From Mama C

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C is an internationally known writer/poet/visual artist, musician, performance artist, filmmaker of nearly three decades of experience. As an artist she is a practitioner of the Nyatiti, Obokano, Kamalen Ngoni, and frequently collaborates with Hip-Hop artists in Tanzania and across the world. She is a longtime community activist and Director of the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) based in Tanzania, and is also a Cultural Warrior and Egungun Priest. She was born in Kansas City, KS in 1951 and has lived in Africa with her husband Pete O’Neal since 1970.

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C

Nostalgias by Buika

From the first notes of this iconic song by one of my favorite musicians on the planet, the inimitable Buika, I feel the passion…the pain…the joy…the surrender to that which is already written, in her voice and in every snatched grip of her contorted body. I love all of Buika’s music but this one, “Nostalgias,” mmmm YES! It wrenches the tubes of my heart and throws me into another dimension strongly felt in my Pavlovian-like tears and head shakings…every time! Dang! This sister is supa BAADD!

Oshun…Trinidad and Tobago by Ella Andall

As a practitioner of Orisha Spirituality and as an Egungun Priest, I love Ella Andall’s spirited, gospel feeling music! It’s trance music whose chants I feel even more than many of the traditional Orisha praise songs from Nigeria! Those songs are beautiful indeed, but most touch me as a Catholic might regard songs sung in Latin. I think Ella Andall suits my spirit because of a shared genetic memory of crowded, unimaginable holes of stinking, bloody ships and the whips of enslavement shared by those whose Egungun/Ancestors were sold in the markets of Caribbean, South America, and North America towns. Ella Andal’s rough, elder warrior woman voice that grew out of those horrors always makes me dance as I absorb, like spiritual osmosis, the lingering powerful drumbeats of Africa in all our tribal music. YES! Diaspora Tribal Music in the house!

From Gizelxanath Rodriguez

Gizelxanath Rodriguez is a singer, cellist, urban farmer and activist at the intersection of Indigenous rights, ecosocialism and migrant justice. An award-winning soprano, in the past six years Rodriguez has been integrating her Indigenous advocacy and Yaqui ancestry into her musical work. In October of 2018, she helped produce a new work, Mirror Buttefly: Migrant Liberation Movement Suite, which included text in Yoeme-Yaqui and narrated a sacred butterfly currently facing extinction amongst the Yaqui people.

Gizelxanath Rodriguez--Photo by Renee Rosensteel, provided courtesy of the New Hazlett Theater

Gizelxanath Rodriguez–Photo by Renee Rosensteel, provided courtesy of the New Hazlett Theater

Gafil Gezme Şaşkın/Ahura Ritim Topluluğu by Sazak Köyü

The Kurdish people have a millenarian musical tradition that transcends time, mountains, and oppression, all through the embrace of communal music making.

Untitled by Albertico Lescay, Cyril Hernández, and Arnaldo Lescay

This track features Cuban futurism with an Afrodescendant poetic imagination that transcends borders and dimensions.

Look At Us (Peltier and AIM Song) by John Trudell

Leonard Peltier is an inspiration, a political prisoner of the American Indian Movement who fought for both his Earth, his people, and the whole community. The song is the voice of the ancestors of this continent coming back to remind us, in the era of COVID-19, of what is causing us, humanity, and the planet, to be sick. It is not too late to change.

From Ben Barson

Ben Barson is an ASCAP award-winning composer and protégé of the late baritone saxophonist and composer, Fred Ho. He has been unrelenting is his commitment to making music to overthrow colonialism, capitalism, and prepares us for climate change. His work has been called “utterly compelling” (I Care if You Listen), “fully orchestrated and magnificently realized” (Vermont Standard) and “pushing boundaries in a well-conceived way.” (Midwest Review).

Ben Barson--Photo by Maryam Lodi

Ben Barson–Photo by Maryam Lodi

Earth Mother’s Army by Fred Ho and the Afro Asian Music Ensemble

This song is the climax of Fred Ho’s 1991 jazz opera Warrior Sisters: The New Adventures of African and Asian Womyn Warriors, with libretto by Ann T. Greene. Ho deftly synthesis double time and triple time feels (thinking of Mingus) with Chinese percussion, lyric and soul voice writing, and some really unexpected saxophone voicings. In this song, three women from African and Asian liberation movements unite to create an army for Mother Earth. I find the chorus so beautiful, it makes me want to cry every time.

Raise Four by Min Xiao-Fen

Min Xiao-Fen’s use of slide on the Pipa—as well as her incredibly badass virtuosity which is almost its own instrument—make it hard for composers to exclude Pipa from their writing, or jazz bandleaders from their ensemble playing. I especially love, after all of the amazing chords and sheets of sound, the three note groove at 2:37, which is simplicity at its most sublime. A great example of how one instrument can sound like an orchestra, and a compositional approach to free improvisation.

The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers by Charles Mingus

In addition to its hilarious and mysterious song name, this is one of my favorite long-form compositions. Mingus always derided the imprisoning and racist undertones of genre categorization and had aspirations to compose for any number of styles and ensembles. In part, this motivation led him to find a fusion of chamber orchestra and jazz ensemble. This in itself would be already remarkable, but the tone that is generated from the players, their utter commitment to the lyricism of the work, points to another of Mingus’s true skills: his ability to inspire. Charles McPherson’s alto duo with the trumpet (either Snooky Young or Jimmy Nottingham) OVER not only the form but eventually the composed melodies and countermelodies expands the possibility of collective improvisation, composition, and polyphony. I just love this song.

From Nejma Nefertiti

Nejma Nefertiti is a Hip Hop artist, sound designer, streetwear architect, and creator of natural perfumes. Her revolutionary matriarchal legacy is to create awareness, inspiration, and social change throughout the entire world, for all oppressed peoples, through Hip Hop culture and art. In addition to Afro Yaqui Music Collective, she collaborates with artists from La Bruja, to Napoleon Da Legend, to several international artists.

Nejma Nefertiti--Photo by Craig Thompson

Nejma Nefertiti–Photo by Craig Thompson

Resiliencia by El Búho 

This track from El Búho’s latest album Ramas is an uplifting cry of joy and pain, yin and yang, the spirit and animal world. It’s sonically enchanting, other worldly, and beautifully unique.

Antifa Dance by Ana Tijoux 

This track is fire and gives you power and energy. Ana Tijoux is musical, militant, and ILL on the mic. This song makes you wanna stand up in solidarity and fight! Her lyrics truly speak to the present, releasing during a global pandemic–for example, “Este sistema se cae cae /si tu no comprai.” (“The system will fall down/if you don’t buy in”)

Renter’s Anthem by TOKiMONSTA 

This track is from TOKiMONSTA’S latest album, Oasis Nocturno. It has dope vibes, makes you wanna dance, uplifts your spirit, and activates your creativity. 

Want more from Afro Yaqui Music Collective?

Visit the innova Recordings page for Afro Yaqui’s latest album release Mirror Butterfly.

Read Jacob Kopcienski’s review of Mirror Butterfly for I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Read Christian Kriegeskotte’s review of Afro Yaqui at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum for I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.