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Randy Weston: America's African Musical Ambassador
6/15/2016 2:43:54 PM

Randy Weston

Charleston Chronicle cultural critic Hakim Abdul-Ali and the great pianist Mr. Randy Weston posed for a photo after their interview at Spoleto Festival USA’s headquarters on June 3, 2016. Mr. Abdul-Ali holds a copy of Mr. Weston’s classic LP, “Tanjah”. Photo: Sarah Elizabeth Stanley
By Hakim Abdul -Ali

Whenever I think of Africa, I can't help but think of its music, in particular, among its many wondrous expressive entities. To do so for me is as natural as the understanding of and connecting to the rhythm of life because Africa is the birthplace of "hue-manity."

They say knowledge is powerful, and if that is true, then that's what you get when you come into the presence of any African or African descendant soul who knows the legitimacy of the wisdom that's flows from the Motherland of all creation and can teach it with verifiable facts. By any means necessary. Such knowledgeable folk are very rare today.

Even saying that challenges me to know why it is so important for all "hue-mans" in creation to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave from the most trusted and valued sources that are "hue-manly" available. Such was, and is, the case when you listened to the very respected, magnificent African-centered mind-set of the truly great pianist and scholar Randy Weston.

The Charleston Chronicle interviewed this African conscious musical genius on June 3, 2016, in the office of Spoleto Festival USA on George Street here in the Holy City. It was an occasion where wisdom flowed from the lips and mind of a truly recognized ebony cultural hero.

In interviewing Mr. Weston, 90, you become an instant student of his as he teaches you about the wonders of Africa in so many norms, but especially as it relates to the power of music and healing. He talked about advocating a universal understanding and establishing an educational movement where things African must be known and should be appreciated.

The first thing you hear from this brother, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is about his love of African rooted music, which to him is the basis of all of the world's music. "It begins there and has spread throughout the world," is the way Mr. Weston describes it, using the natural elements of life and other African intangibles for proof of same with soulful and absolute validation.

This reality, according to Mr. Weston, is very visible in everything that we musically see and hear in the living process. Within this definitive, unrestricted posture, he came across as a modern version of a wise, elderly African griot telling the story of ancient African truths about the actualities of musical sound and spiritual life itself.

All this transferred instantly when Mr. Weston, forever the epitome of a master teacher, expresses his views on the power of African music, in general, and with reference during our interview to Moroccan music, in specifics. And that reference is to the Gnawa people of Morocco and their music.

Having lived in this country for decades where is considered a much recognized part of the musical landscape, Mr. Weston has studied the Gnawa and knows of the rich beauty of these people's repertoire of African Muslim spiritually healing religious songs and rhythms. The Gnawa musicians are highly favored, loved and respected in Morocco and their heritage is well preserved. It combines ritual poetry with traditional healing music and dancing.

Mr. Weston, besides being a dynamically creative pianist of Afro-inspired rhythmic music, is also an unparalleled composer of relevant contemporary jazz in all formats from mellow solo piano to the robust sound of jazz orchestration. He is a genuinely kind man, a happy soul and an individual whose stellar musical career, spanning seven decades, is a lasting legacy unto itself. When interviewing him you are aware that you are a welcomed student in his amazing world and what a wonderful world it is to be invited into. I was honored.

Randy Weston, a 2001 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master recipient, is about sharing, educating, enhancing and communicating the joys of the African experience. You feel it instantaneously after just being in his immediate midst because music is his life, but he's about peace and love for all of creation.

His overall music scope is a stunning variety of incorporated African elements into his sound, and he has made music history with album recordings that has featured gems like "Highlife", "Blue Moses", "Tanjah", "The Spirit of Our Ancestors" and "Uhuru Africa" with Langston Hughes being a participant of that rare collectible, just to name a few. His discography list begins with recordings in the '50s as a leader on "Cole Porter in a Modern Mood" to the 2013 CD release "The Storyteller" on the Sunnyside label.

He said, "What I do I do because it's about teaching and informing everyone about our most natural cultural phenomenon. It's really about Africa and her music. I must relate this by my performances that I do all over the world. My records, CDs and my lectures are only extension of the greatness of what the Motherland yields for everyone to hear and know. I am her student, and I am eternally in awe of her wonders and greatness."

Randy Weston, who has lived a lifetime in the world of so-called jazz music, calls his music quite naturally "African Classical Music". He said in the interview that he was influenced by the piano styling of none other than the master Thelonious Monk. It works.

The name "African Classical Music" seemingly fits also because what's more natural than hearing the authentic sounds that comes from and is inspired by the aura of "hue-manity's" birthplace, Africa? Randy Weston is the jazz world's authentic Afro-envoy, realistically telling everyone that "African Classical Music" is healing for the soul and mind. Mr. Randy Weston is its chief consul, and he's also "America's African Musical Ambassador".

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