The McBride Diaries (vol.16)
Posted on 7/18/2006at 9:19 AM
Now that the feeling in my hands have come back after all that writing in Vol. 15, I'll try to start part 2 now...

So, let's see, where were we? June, right?

Here's a recording I did I think people will be excited about - I got together with my buddies, Joshua Redman and Brian Blade. Joshua has just completed his new CD for Nonesuch featuring three trios of the sax/bass/drums format. Trio one was Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland; Trio 2 was Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson; Trio 3 was Blade and I. That'll make some noise, I'm sure. How many people remember the trio tour we did back in 1997? That was very hip.

After Joshua's session, I went to Essaouria, Morroco with Pat and Antonio. To give you a thorough breakdown of what it was like visiting the cradle of civilization would really be much longer than anything I could conceive of writing. But I really hope that every single solitary person in the USA, especially my fellow black brothers and sisters, get an opportunity to visit Africa. Of course, Morocco is just barely scratching the surface of Africa, as it's at the top of the northwest region of the continent. However, experiencing the culture and seeing the different shades of people and listening to the MUSIC was pretty overwhelming. I experienced playing with Gnawa musicians. Here's what I learned about the Gnawas:

Gnawa is a term that has two meanings. It's used to define both a religious/spiritual order of a traditionally Moroccan Black Muslim group and a style of music connected to this order. The term encompasses all members of the Gnawa: the master musicians to the players of the Karkaba (metallic castanets) to the disciples and women soothsayers/therapists. The Gnawa originally used their music and dance to heal the pain of their captivity. Gnawa lyrics contain many references to the privations of exile and slavery. There are also songs dealing with the Gnawa's assimilation in their new environment where they sing and dance to ease the pain just as Black Americans did when they sang as a way to deal with their plight. In this regard, Gnawa is very similar to the Blues - Hello!

Other than the Karkaba, the instrument that defines Gnawa music is the Gumbri - also known as the Hajouj or the sintir. For all intents and purposes, it's a bass. It's a instrument made with three strings, and it's body is made of wood and goat skin. I found it a very challenging instrument to play as it's simultaneously a bass and a drum. You could almost (that's a big almost) compare it to electric bass slapping. With electric bass slapping, you're only slapping or pulling one note at a time. But with the Gumbri, you're also attacking the note as well as the body of the insrtument to create the drum sound. Trust me, you over zealous slap happy electric bass circus clowns - it's MUCH harder than it sounds.

I got to play with one of the masters of the instrument, Maalem Mustapha Bakbou. To put his mastery into context, he would be, like, say, the "Larry Graham" of Gnawa. Whereas Maalem Mahmoud Guinea would be the "James Jamerson" of the instrument. (Surely, there's jazz fans and critics right now saying, "Larry Graham and James Jamerson? Why didn't he pick Ray Brown and Ron Carter? Those are REAL greats..."

Why did I pick Larry and James? Because I knew y'all would say that!! Heh-heh.. I love messing with jazz fans. :-)

One of the musicians in Brother Bakbou's group was a sister named Khadijah. Khadijah was the one who kept musical order with us Americans. Every single solitary great music tradition on this earth has what we call in jazz "the defenders". These are the people who are there to make sure that if you play whatever type of music you're playing, you're playing it RIGHT! They do NOT under any circumstances feel that the tradition can be tampered with, built upon or experimented with. They believe there are strict black and white rules as to what makes that music what it is. And you know what? I love those kinds of people! They keep you honest. It's like these jazz musicians who want to play jazz and not deal with the blues. They think it's optional. Then they say, "well, see, I'm playing a more fresh, open, modern approach to jazz...."


There is without question a lineage and a tradition that needs to be learned or at the VERY least, appreciated, in order to push the music ahead. How are you supposed to bulid a house without studying architecture? Once you study it, you can go as far as your imagination takes you. But way too many musicians these days believe some jive ass critic or musician telling them that they always have to be on the "cutting edge" "create something new out of thin air" "you don't need to listen to the blues, that's primitive...."


The reason why I mention all of that is because Sister Khadijah was the one who, when either Antonio, Pat or myself got off the beat, she would shoot us a funny look and start clapping her hands and stomping her feet real hard as if to say "Uh uh. That ain't it! Come on, y'all. Get it togther!" She was great. Poor Antonio - being the drummer, you KNEW he was gonna catch some hell. He's got Khadijah clapping one rhythm at him, some other cat clapping another, some other cat clapping a third. His head was spinning! But he got real African real fast! (What am I saying - he's already African! Via Mexico, that is!)

What a learing experience. The brother who took care of us the entire week we were there was a cat named Ali who lived in Brussels but is from Morocco. After we played our trio set and our set with the Gnawa group, Ali says to me, "Christian, I have a new name for you. I will now call you "Samawi". Samawi means "Sky Person". Coming from a native, that felt so great.

In closing, I beg ALL of you to visit Africa one day. Whatever distorted image you have of that place (via the news media, via dumb movies and tv shows) needs to be erased NOW! Don't think you can pick up a National Geographic and think you know something about the vibrations of the place. Don't think you can buy some oils off the street corner from some cat in a dashiki and think you've captured the essence of Africa. I spent a week in Morocco and I feel like I know about 1/1000000 of what Africa is all about.

I'm about to go head first deep into preparations for the James Brown show in September. Honestly, I don't think I'll be writing too much between now and then. Gotta get ready for Mr. Brown!! Gotta be on my "Good Foot", you dig?

So, ladies and gentlemen, Brother Samawi will sign off now.


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