2013 December

Week 3: Danu Fecc!

“Danu Fecc!” means “We Dance!”, scroll down for gallery

Dear Internet,

I’ve had yet another interesting week in Dakar, here is how it began:

“Do you see freedom?” Mo asks. We are sitting in my apartment sipping on rum spiced with dried hibiscus flowers with my roommate Tij, who is humming to the buzzing bass of reggae in the background. Mo’s full name is Modou Uhu Conde, however he is very commonly known as “Mo Fia” (as in, ‘more fire’). He often tells me Mo, or Mo Fia, and Uhu are different people. Alongside him in the street or at an underground reggae party or smoking on a balcony, you’ll often hear people yell “ey – Mo fiaaa!!” To which he’ll turn and say “Ey man!” and often walk up to the person, whether he is familiar with them or not, and shake their hand. These things happen because he is a very well known producer at a studio in Dakar called Bois Sakre. He has served as a father figure to many rappers here and is most notably one of the unseen members of Daara J Family (the main performers consist of rapper Ndongo D and singer-songwriter Faada Freddy), one of the most popular bands in the country. Mo is a tall, dark, majestic and wise looking man. There is a certain transcendence about him.

I pause for a moment. “Do I see freedom? Well… no. No one is really free, right? True freedom is anarchy, no?” “Hahaha – you’re right! True freedom is anarchy!” he says, giving me a high five, “And dancing!”

This week was rife with dancing, and by Mo’s definition, freedom. Just moments after saying this, Mo pops out of his chair with Tij and begins bouncing and swaying to the reggae music. People go crazy for reggae music here. Reggae dance parties often don’t really get started until 2 am and go well after dawn. It’s one of the rare places you’ll see Senegalese people really let loose (i.e. wasted) and dance, dance, dance. It’s kind of mesmerizing. Mo is a frequent attendee of these events and tells me it’s the only way he can truly decompress, get out of his body. “It’s an out of body experiences for you?” I ask. He nods his head. I find this fascinating. The only time I’ve experienced or spoke about an out of body experience was when I was diagnosed with depression in 2009. It was a few months after one of my closest friends passed away from leukemia. Having just started college and finding the student body rather foreign, I had never felt so lonely in my life. The day that the therapist (free of charge thanks to the great policies at the institution) diagnosed me with depression, prescribing me the highest possible dose of xanax, I had told her that many days I felt as if my body was in autopilot and I was simply the shadow being dragged around behind it. To think that having an out of body experience could be a positive thing, the polar opposite thing, was revelatory to me. It is especially apt because dancing, and, more specifically, choreographing, has always been a major way of coping for me. Either that or making music people could dance to. So what Mo explained to me, really did speak to me: both depression and dancing can be out of body experiences; however, one is a prison and the other is true liberty.

I spend my week dancing and thinking about this. Last Friday, I took a seat in the audience at Just4U after returning from the stage. I had just played the second song I’d learned with Sahad. I’ve learned three songs on kora with Sahad: one each week. Thus far, I’ve learned them on Wednesday, practiced them with the band on Thursday, and performed them on Friday.  These past three weeks, I’ve played with a band, an afro-beat/jazz group, no less, 6 times in Senegal; been a soloist (improvised); learned whole, fairly complex songs in two days; and appeared in a music video (as a musician), all for the first time. I’m sitting in the audience feeling pretty proud of this. Sahad and his band are playing wonderfully, which makes me feel even more proud. I think Sahad is saying my name and smiling directly at me, but then I think that actually he’s probably saying “Alfia,” the wolof word for liberty. Next thing I know, I’m singing and dancing to a salsa break with the rest of the band. It seems dancing isn’t just a part of everyday life, it’s a way of life.

Dancing isn’t always a physical act for me, however. I often feel as though I’m dancing when I engage in conversation. There’s the everyday choreography of wolof (for example, with my local boutique (tiny bodega) man a typical conversation will consist of “Aasi!” “Asan!” “Naka mu?” “Jamm rekk, alxamdulilaay, yow nag?” “Mangi fi rekk, alxamdulilaay, naka suba si?” “Ey, jamm ag jamm. Yow, sa yaram jamm?” “Waaw, waaw, alxamdulilaay, yow nag?” “Waaw, maangi fi, alxamdulilaay, naka affaires yi?” (“Aasi! [my wolof name]” “Asan!” “How are you?” “Peace only, thanks to god, and you?” “I’m here [in peace] only, thanks to god, how’s your morning?” “Ey, peace and peace. And you, you’re in good health?” “Yes, yes, thanks be to god, and you?” “Yes, I’m here [in peace], thanks be to god, how’s business?”) and so on and so forth several times a day until finally I tell him what it is I’m looking for.)

However, the more strenuous choreography is that of debate. Because Senegalese are so polite and anti-conflict, one must begin and end their responses in a certain way to indicate that there is no intention of fighting there. I remember this sorely trying to avoid an outburst when engaging in my first conversation about homosexuality here since 2011. Sahad, Manon (a french flutist, percussionist and back-up singer in Sahad’s band), two of Sahad’s friends and I had decided to pack up our instruments, grill, some dried fish, fruit, and pastries in a car and head for the beach. Sitting amongst the rocks, I played a song I had written about Vito Russo, a powerful gay rights activist and author primarily active in the 80s that had inspired me immensely. Sahad asked what the song was about and I told him just that. “Estce-que tu penses que la honosexualite est normale?” (“Do you think homosexuality is normal?”) “Bien sur.” (“Of course.”) I respond. “Ah, mais non!” One of Sahad’s friends exclaims. We go back and forth for a long time. I spend much of it explaining that if one truly believes in liberty, they must be advocates for liberty for all people, otherwise it means nothing. I also try to help them gain a more empathetic perspective by saying that the way they are talking about gay rights is very much like the way some white people spoke about rights for people of color in the United States. However, without the support of white people, it is unlikely that civil rights for black people would have ever come about. Manon tells me that she agrees with me and that she has a lot of respect for me for speaking up, however I can see in her eyes that she knows it’s a loss cause. To my dismay, she’s right. One of Sahad’s friends thinks homosexuality is simply wrong. He doesn’t think people should hurt homosexuals, but he does believe that it shouldn’t be out in the open (you know, for the children). Sahad says perhaps it could be more open but they shouldn’t have the power to marry – that is simply to sacred. The second of Sahad’s friends tells me that it will come – one must simply be patient. In order to continue tangoing with these guys, both in debate and in the rest of my time here, I know I must bite my tongue. I tell Sahad and his first friend that their opinions make me sad and that I hope that they will change their minds, but at the very least I hope that when the movement for gay rights does arrive in Senegal they will do the right thing. I tell his second friend that he is made me optimistic.

Later, I’m playing a song I wrote on guitar in Mo’s studio. He says it’s beautiful – it’s a love song, no? What man was lucky enough to have that written for him? I give him a pensive look and then stop playing and tell him, no I can’t tell him. He says “Ah – why? Be freeee – you can be honest with me!” I give him another funny look and then I say “I’ve never told this to a Senegalese person and I am afraid of what you might think. I think I’d rather you didn’t know.” He says “c’mooon try me.” So I tell him that the song was actually written for a woman I had dated for awhile. He thought about it for a second and then asked me if it had just been a game with her (girls are perceived as particularly sexually threatening and they, particularly in their teens, are sometimes encouraged to experiment sexually (a bit) with women to avoid pregnancy). I tell him no, it was like any relationship I’ve had, man or woman. He asks me which I like best. I tell him there is no comparison between sexes. To me, they are all equal and different individuals. He pauses. “Ce te derange?” (“Does that disturb you?”) I ask. He shakes his head, “no, no, no.” “Questce-que tu penses de ca?” (“What do you think about that?”) “I think nothing about it – it doesn’t disturb me at all. However, if someone asked me to defend it, I could not do it because I am a muslim.” he responds. “What if there was a vote on gay marriage here in Senegal? What would you do?” I ask. “I wouldn’t vote.” This makes me smile. It’s hardly ideal, but it is very enlightened comparatively speaking amongst Senegalese people.

“Everything that I do between me and God, is between me and God. Everything I do with you – it’s me and you. It’s private. Nobody has the rights to that.” Mo says.

“Not even God?” I ask.

“Not even God. When you have respect for someone, you have to sacrifice a lot and accept them for who they are. You have to love them for who they are avec beaucoup de liberate [with a lot of liberty]. Give everything you have. Love is too important. Someone who does not have love, can not live in this world. All you need is peace, love, harmony and unity. It’s final. There is only one way. You must work hard. Because there is only one thing: freedom. That’s why I say be free with me. ” A few moments later we’re up and dancing again.

Until next week!

Much love,

Althea

Edou (my kora teacher) and his nephew, Mali, future korist

My kora teacher, Edou, and his nephew, future Korist, Mali

me and Edou's nephew

Mali and I


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rooftop of Les Petites Pierres where I performed a Nelson Mandela tribute with Sahad & the Natal Patchwork

bandmates greeting eachother

Bandmates greeting eachother

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Sahad calls this photo "One Body, Two Heads"

Sahad calls this photo “One Body, Two Heads”

Sahad & the Natal Patchwork

Sahad & the Natal Patchwork

Sahad & the Natal Patchwork

Sahad likes this photo best because of the words "Nio Kobok" which mean "We share together" (often used as "you're welcome" in wolof)

Sahad likes this photo best because of the words “Nio Kobok” which mean “We share together” (often used as “you’re welcome” in wolof)

 

local singer-songwriter at Les Petite Pierres

local singer-songwriter performing at Les Petites Pierres

performing a Nelson Mandela tribute at Les Petites Pierres

Playing at the Nelson Mandela Tribute

Sahad & the Natal Patchwork

Kia doing her soundcheck

Kia

kids playing on the roof of Les Petites Pierres

Kids playing on the roof of Les Petites Pierres

Tij (my roommate) and I dancing to reggae)

Tij and I dancing to reggae

Mo and local singer-songwriter at Bois Sakre studio

Mo and local singer-songwriter at Bois Sakre

Sahad and I in a cab on our way to a concert

Sahad and I in a cab on the way to a show

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local artist series

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Cleaning fish

Sahad

smoking fish

Sahad

Eating smoked fish

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Manon playing flute on the beach

The Earfull Episode 10 – Sonya Robinson


It is such a pleasure to be celebrating the tenth installment with prolific jazz violinst, composer and music educator Sonya Robinson! In this episode, Sonya discusses her newest album, her friendship with Miles Davis, and working on a children’s book. Listen on iTunes!

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Jazz violinist, composer and music educator Sonya L. Robinson was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1959. The late great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis said Sonya’s playing is reminiscent of Stuff Smith and Ray Nance, two of jazz’s legendary violinist’s. Robinson is a gutsy player with a beautiful sound and a fluidity that displays her technical finesse. Fans of Sonya have literally jumped out of their seats upon hearing the excitement that Sonya generates with her violin playing. They feel the raw emotion within her music.

Sonya, who has three albums to her name, Fly, Sonya and Sonya Live at Spiral, plays a variety of styles from the baroque, the blues, straight ahead and beyond.

A fluent composer, she writes and performs most of her own music. “Fly” features many old and new compositions.  A for Black is a song that features her trio-violin, drum and bass. It is a rollicking piece that moves with grace and speed and features the violin in its favorite key, a minor. Truth and Honesty is a ballad that displays a level of soulfulness that only her violin and her ideas can project. Eleven is a piece written the day after 911. In some ways a tribute to the survivors and in other ways a musical documentation of what many of us saw and went through on that epic day.

Sonya has been a featured guest performer for the UNCF annual fundraiser, Jazz at Riverside and has performed in festivals such as Summerfest, Jazz Fest Berlin and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. From venues as varied as the Blue Note, NY to Spiral in Tokyo, Japan to Chicago’s Southshore Festival, Sonya always gives a soul stirring-performance guaranteed to make you stand up and say “Where has she been?” She has performed with some of music’s best, such as the late great Aaron Bell-jazz bassist with Duke Ellington, Melvin Rhyne, organist with Wes Montgomery, Bassist Richard Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Aretha Franklin and Liberace.

Sonya has won many honors and nominations. She was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Best New Album, Voted one of America’s Ten Most Beautiful Black Women, and Crowned Miss Black America in 1983.

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Sonya sitting down for our interview in November

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Old school Sonya

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Recordings featured in this episode in order of appearance:

Circle” by Sonya Robinson from her newest album Whistle

What’ll You Have?” Pabst Blue Ribbon Commercial

Flying Home” Illinois Jacquet

Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell

September” by Earth, Wind & Fire

Spain” by Chick Correa and Return to Forever

I Wish I Knew” by Melvin Rhyne

Afro Blue” by the Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Erykah Badu

Dream Song” by Sonya Robinson from the album Fly

I Want To Know” by Sonya Robinson from her newest album Whistle

Whistle” by Sonya Robinson from her newest album Whistle

Gymnopedie No. 1 (Satie)” by String Trio of New York

Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock

Carib-bean” by Sonya Robinson from her newest album Whistle

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on November 8th and released on December 18th, 2013. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Sonya Robison for sitting down with me and you for listening. For mo re information on Sonya, please visit his website at sonyarobinsonmusic.com.  As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook.

Week 2: Negotiations

Dear Internet,

“Il n’y a rien pour rien ici,” (“There is nothing for nothing here,”) Sahad said to me, explaining why I should be weary of those who seem overly generous. It was a little after midnight and we were making the trek from Sacre Coeur to Ouakam after spending an evening jamming with some friends.

The council he gave me was essential, especially in this second week in Dakar. Now that I am more settled in, the negotiations, both expected and unexpected, have commenced. There’s negotiating prices for cabs and clothes and baskets, negotiating my budget, negotiating various living situations’ security versus the cost. There’s the negotiation between getting close to people enough for them to trust me, and help me with my project, versus not letting them get so close such that they think there is more to my intentions. Each is inter-personal and intimate. Each is about striking a tenuous balance. Each is an integral part of daily life here in Dakar, though one I dread.

Musicians stay up late here. Very late. Every night. 10 pm seems to be the average time one gets out of the studio, so 10 pm is like 5 pm for them – which makes 2 am like 8 pm – which is when I start getting texts about going out. Personally, I have to negotiate my fatigue with my desire to get things, like making connections and recordings, done. I must negotiate between my longing for adventure and my need for security. What makes it worse is that some of the most tiring and questionable types of adventure are truly my whole reason for coming here – recording the stories and music of musicians around the country often requires some difficult traveling and searching in bars and clubs in the wee hours of the morning.

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My kora teacher, Edou Manga

There is nothing for nothing here. There are some negotiations, particularly with musicians, where, unlike those with taxi drivers and basket weavers, it is the Senegalese person that seems to have my best interest in mind instead of his own. This can be far trickier because you have to judge the ingenuity of the generosity. If it isn’t true generosity, what is the other person getting out of it? If it is, what am I, as the beneficiary, costing them? Likely more than they can afford. When my kora teacher, after giving me lunch, spending four hours playing with me and explaining his commitment to my becoming a strong korist, said “Daara!” (“nothing!”) was the price of the lesson, I knew that this was not the case. It costed something whether I paid it or not and it was important that I did pay.

However, one value held dear as distinctly Senegalese in this society is “teranga.” There isn’t really a word in English that directly translates, but it’s an extremely selfless form of hospitality. In one version of the West African myth “Sundiata,” the future king of Mali feeds his own leg to his hungry partner on their epic and taxing journey. This is the true teranga. While I certainly don’t want to end up eating someone’s leg because I’m hungry, I also don’t want to offend anyone by not excepting their generosity, which can be very easy to do. So, this week, I didn’t pay kora teacher, Edou Managa. Next week, and every week that follows, however, I will.

Most negotiations are with myself and are due to my own ignorance, quite simply. I am not familiar with any one option, so, I must negotiate between the unknown. Even the smallest choice can become an incredibly complex internal negotiation. In 2011, the last time I was here, I had to negotiate between eating a salad or beef for dinner. Doesn’t sound like much and, in the States, it would have been an easy choice to make for a life-long vegetarian. However, this time, I was in a small, rural village in Kedougou, Senegal’s most southeastern provence; as far as I could be from Dakar. I had spent a long, hard day working in the fields under the beating sun with the other women and I was starving. I knew that the salad was more likely to make me sick than the beef, however, there was no guarantee with the beef wouldn’t also make me sick, given that I’ve never had beef in my life. I’ve never had the desire to eat meat, so the salad was a much more enticing choice. Moreover, the salad was made special for me because they knew I was a vegetarian, which was a very kind and understanding thing to do. So I ate the salad. No less then 4 hours later I started incessantly and violently vomitting and having horrific diarrhea, unable to leave my hut because the bathroom was at least a half mile away and there were some animals fighting outside my door the whole night. Come daybreak, I told the head of the household that I was sick. He accompanied me as I walked 9 miles to the local clinic, though I don’t remember that day at all because I was so dehydrated my brain decided to forgo memory building. I spent a week in that clinic with an intravenous tube in my arm because even drinking water made me vomit. Needless to say, I didn’t eat either. Even after five days, I still couldn’t get more than 15 paces without vomitting. Senegal is a hot, bustling place with many cracks to fall through, both figuratively and literally, and it’s always the smallest ones that always seem to get me.

I do get my breaks from all the constant negotiations, though. On Friday, I discovered I lived only 100 yards from one of the most beautiful beaches in Dakar and decided that I would go there Saturday afternoon to relax. Walking down to the beach, I was greeted by a storm of delicate, fluttering white butterflies feasting on flowers. Looking up at the sky from the beach, they resembled snow flurries – but how much more pleasant! It made me think of the terrible cold the States is enduring right now and made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. The small stretch of beach in which I implanted myself was completely deserted. For once, there wasn’t anyone to greet or try to escape. I was escaped. The water, which I remembered being freezing in 2011, was perfectly refreshing, neither cold nor warm. It was like a dream.

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La Corniche at sunset in Dakar

Tuesday evening I went to a birthday party of a half Senegalese, half french friend and ended up with a group of people I dread the most here – ex-pats. Fine as individuals, dreadful as a group, and more often than not they are in a group. My friend, Yann, has been in Dakar for 10 months and there wasn’t a single Senegalese person there apart from my roommate, Tij. Tij said to me he doesn’t even really count – he doesn’t speak wolof very well and he doesn’t even believe he’s a Senegalese person (the country lines are imaginary, etc.) At this birthday party, held at l’Institut Francais, no less, I spent the first hour and half talking to no one, really. The girls sitting next to me didn’t acknowledge me when I tried to speak to them.  When we were leaving the restaurant, Yann drunkenly yelled at the waiter. I had to go up to the bar and say “Massa” (a true “sorry”, as opposed to “baal ma” which is more like “excuse me” and more commonly used in Wolof) to the waiter afterwards. These sorts of the things would have never happened if there had been Senegalese people there.

What made the evening worth it was seeing Yann’s apartment (well, it was really his mom’s apartment), located truly in the center of downtown and utterly impeccable. It was like walking into a scene from breakfast at tiffany’s with all this chinese decor and art deco furniture. On the deck, where we situated ourselves, there was a wonderful view of the city. I could see the lighthouse, a few yards from where I’m living, from all the way downtown. I engaged in some nice conversation, even if clouded by cigarette smoke and vodka breath. Yann started calling one of the guys “ma Jigeen” (“my girl”) and another started saying “non – il n’est pas une, ta jigeen!” (“no – he is not a, your girl!”) Finally I said “C’est ‘sama jigeen’ pas ‘ma jigeen'” (correcting their wolof.) “Mec, l’americaine comprends le wolof plus profound!” (“Boy, the american understands the wolof more profoundly [than you]!”) French people love to talk about how arrogant Americans are and how they have no interest in other cultures, but, here, all the Americans speak better wolof than the French and tend to also have more Senegalese friends, just sayin’.

Speaking of Senegalese friends, I have been so grateful to meet the singer-songwriter, drummer, bassist, and amateur korist, Sahad Sarr, with whom I was walking in the opening paragraph. It was a treat for me to walk with him because I never get to take these kind of long walks on my own. One, it’s dangerous; two, I’ll probably get lost. Sahad is one of these rare people whose name fits him perfectly. When I hear his name, I think of a tuareg man from Libya, Algeria, maybe Mali, crossing the Sahara desert. The evening that we were walking, Sahad was a complete realization of this image with a black beret on his head, a loose scarf elegantly wrapped around his neck, a khaki jacket with cargo pockets, and baggy pants. I looked up the name online and found that it is meant for someone warm, nurturing, and reliable. Someone with a deep need to create harmony in their surroundings. Spot on.

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 Sahad Sarr

On Friday night, I was terribly nervous to play kora with Sahad in front of a largely Senegalese group. The venue, called Just4U (which is very silly I know), is one of the more popular and certainly more expensive ones in Dakar. It’s a beautiful space: the entrance’s walkway is lined with bougainvillea trees which have been landscaped into a canopy of pink and purple flowers above your head. To the right, is a stage and a dinner space; to your left, there is a general seating area; and straight ahead there is a bar. There is a large wall out front, but inside, there is only a roof above the stage, the bar and the bathrooms. The seating areas are completely outdoors and adorned with palm trees. One can look up at the stars as they are enjoying the music.

Normally, when I’m playing kora at home, whether in a duet or solo, I’m concentrating so hard and I’m so worried that I will make a fatal mistake, particularly because, more often than not, I’m playing the bass pattern of the piece – keeping the rhythm and the harmony in place while others improvise. Not only was Friday my first time really performing kora in Senegal, but it was also my first time playing with a group like this where I was the featured soloist improvising. Nonetheless, opening up the concert with the band, Sahad (the leader) just told me to play anything I wanted. Already there was this openness and trust and lack of worry – it was very liberating. I started playing a malian version of a song called Massani Cisse and instantly the band (9 people strong) began to join in with all sorts of lines that really supported me rhythmically and harmonically – it was so beautiful. When I played the song I was meant to play, I was having so much fun just watching them already that I really didn’t care whether I was good or not – I could just play. I think I was okay – all the guys in the band and some other Senegalese people in the audience said that I played very well – but Senegalese people are almost always overly generous.

Tonight, I’ll be playing with Sahad again – this time two songs, two times. Once at the Olympique Club – a sort of country club whose stage boasts an stunning view of the ocean in the background. And then again at Just4U, where we’ll be opening up for Carlou D. This is particularly special because my kora teacher plays with Carlou D. Wish me luck!

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Much love,

Althea

p.s. There will be recordings that I’ve been making available soon!

 

Earlier: Week 1 in Dakar

The Earfull Episode 9 – Roosevelt Andre Credit

Today’s interviewee is New York-based classically trained bass/baritone, Broadway actor and music educator Roosevelt Credit, who grew up in Oakland California. talks about his accidental Broadway career, the spiritual tradition, and his love of conducting. Listen on iTunes!

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Roosevelt André Credit’s profound and spirited performances have served to shape his career both nationally and internationally as a bass /baritone.  Roosevelt was featured as a “Fisherman” in the 2012 Tony Award Winning and Grammy Nominated Production of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on Broadway. He has performed on and off Broadway, playing several roles in the Tony Award winning and national touring companies of Harold Prince’s Show Boat.  He just received the 2012 Most Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award from Oregon State University. Acknowledged for his humanitarianism and good will, Roosevelt André Credit was awarded the Theron Montgomery Award by the Broadway community twice, recognizing him as a positive role model both on and off stage. Some of his other philanthropic associations are Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Rockland Family Shelter, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Metropolitan Ministries, Saint Joseph Episcopal School, and The Whiteside Theatre of Corvallis.

Roosevelt Credit holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Oregon State University, a Master of Music in Voice and Opera Performance, and a Master of Music in Conducting from Northwestern University. He is also an Eagle Scout from Troop 254 of the Golden Acorn District.

His extensive repertoire includes opera, oratorio, jazz, spirituals, pop, and musicals.  He has performed with the Chicago Opera Theatre, Birmingham Opera, New York Contemporary Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and was a featured soloist with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Duke Ellington Orchestra during the Centennial Celebration. Roosevelt made his Carnegie Hall debut singing Schubert conducted by the late Maestro Robert Bass, and his Town Hall debut in Music Is In the Air: A Tribute to Jerome Kern, “brought the cheering audience to their feet.”- Robert L. Daniels, Variety Magazine.

He was a featured performer at the Barack Obama 2009 Pennsylvania Inaugural Ball in Washington D.C., and worship leader for the 2008 United Methodist Women Northeastern Jurisdiction Quadrennial Meeting. Roosevelt was a guest technician for the North Central American Choral Directors Association Convention in Omaha and guest soloist at theMovements in Peace concert directed by Craig Hella Johnson. He has conducted the Rockland County High School ACDA All City Chorus, South Dakota ACDA Mixed Junior Honor Choir, Orange County Elementary School Music Festival, the Minisink Valley Central School District Chorus, and the well-known Chicago Children’s Choir.

Other featured performances include appearances at the Helen Hayes Theater, Neil Berg’s 100 Years of Broadway concert series, Broadway to Barbados with Leftfield Productions, in concert with the Mississippi Mass Choir, and tours throughout Japan with the New York Ragtime Orchestra. He was featured soloist with the Long Island Symphonic Choral Association, and a featured composer during the American Masterpieces Choral Music Festival, conducted by Gregg Smith.

His operatic roles include Henry in The White House Cantata, Dr. Bartolo in Il barbiere di Sivglia, St. Eustace in Four Saint’s in Three Acts, Jim in Porgy and Bess, and Figaro in Lenozze de Figaro. His world premiers and recordings include Elegies For the Fallen by Joyce Solomon Moorman; For The People by John W. Jones; Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music by Joshua Rosenblum; Robert Greenleaf’s Under the Arbor, telecast by Public Broadcast Systems; and the new orchestrations for the “Gospel Mass” by Robert Ray, conducted by Anton Armstrong of St. Olaf College with the Long Island Masterworks Choral Festival Institute. Most recently Roosevelt Credit is featured in the 2012 cast recording of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

Roosevelt André Credit has performed various works including the Fauré Requiem, Bach’s St. John Passion, Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B Minor Mass, and Songs of the Slave by Kirke Mechem. He is the bass section leader of the Saint Peter’s Church in New York City, and is well known throughout New York for his various solo, conducting, and composing skill. He has worked with Kids Project of New York as teacher, actor and puppeteer for disability awareness education for children and received a Proclimation from Mayor Bloomberg for his work. He is an ASCAP Award winner for his published solo vocal/choral compositions, and author of an anthology of spirituals titled “Ol’ Time Religion,” one of his greatest joys.

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Poster from the 1993 revival of Show Boat

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Roosevelt sitting down for our interview in his apartment in Inwood

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Roosevelt pointing to his picture on the poster for the 2011 revival of Porgy and Bess

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Recordings featured in this episode in order of appearance:

Heav’n, Heav’n” performed by Roosevelt Andre Credit from his album Ol’ Time Religion

Sleeping with the Dogs” performed by Bobbie Mercy Oliver

Ave Maria” performed by the Indianapolis Children’s Choir

Say a Little Prayer For You” performed by Aretha Franklin

Non Piu Andrai (Le Nozze di Figaro)” performed by Ferruccio Furlanetto, Susanne Mentzer, Dawn Upshaw, Thomas Allen

Ol’ Man River” performed by Roosevelt Andre Credit from his album Ol’ Time Religion

Porgy & Bess Medley performed by the original Broadway cast at the 2012 Tony Awards

Take the ‘A’ Train” performed by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

Freedom Train” performed by the Chicago’s Childrens Choir

This Little of Light of Mine” performed live by Roosevelt Andre Credit

Dance, Eternal Spirits, Dance!” performed by Billy Harper on his album Black Saint

Goin’ Home” performed by Roosevelt Andre Credit from his album Ol’ Time Religion

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on September 4th and released on December 11th, 2013. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Ole Mathisen for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Roosevelt, please visit his website at rooseveltcredit.com. As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook.

 

Week 1: the Familiarly Foreign

Good Morning Internet,

I touched down in hot, humid Dakar on Saturday at 6:10 in the morning. The smells, the balminess, the language, accent, colors, fashions; all familiarly foreign – a feeling that would follow me all week.

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airport in Dakar with a cab (yellow and black) in front

Neither excitement, nor bliss, nor eager anticipation filled me, however – I was simply too tired to feel a thing. I hadn’t slept much the night before my voyage both in preparation of my trip and in the hopes that I could get sleep on the plane and transition to Senegalese time with ease. In D.C., South African Airways asked that passengers check-in with their passport during the layover. The very nice attendant asked if I minded if he gave me a better seat, closer to the front. I enthusiastically said that I wouldn’t mind at all. To my dismay, this seat ended up being situated between three babies – one in front, behind, and beside me. Sleep was not to be had. 

I expelled a sigh of relief too early upon seeing the first of my three pieces of luggage on the baggage claim conveyor belt in Dakar. It was only after I had learned that all the baggage from the flight had been delivered from the plane that I spotted the giant, aluminum case, much like a space-age version of Dracula’s coffin on wheels, for my Kora (made in Montreal at Rouillard cases, which I highly recommend). However, one thing was missing: my large, overstuffed and heavy trekking backpack. It has accompanied me on trips to the white mountains in New Hampshire, the smoky mountains in Tennessee,  orphanages in southern India and my last trip to Senegal. In it, I had my malaria medication, the notebook in which I wrote down all my contacts and their information, pictures of my parents, my two most expensive pieces of equipment, among many other essentials. It took me an hour and a half, perhaps 2, to make a declaration of lost baggage and leave the airport. I was very concerned that my friend Tidjane Sow (“Tij”), with whom I had planned to stay, might not have waited for me. This was especially nerve-racking since I had been short-sighted and put all my contacts’ information in my big backpack. Taxi drivers hounded me for about 20 minutes as the sun was rising. It was a small feat when one said to another, “Ah, shhh boi! Toubab degg la Wolof bu baaxa baax!” (“Ah, shhh boy! That white girl understands Wolof very well!”)

 

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my kora in its case

Fortunately, after some time, Tij came running up to me. We loaded up a cab – my kora half sticking out the back of the trunk – and were on our way. As soon as we got home, I slept for about 7 hours. My bag was returned a few days later, not in great shape, but here nonetheless. I blame the TSA completely both for its late arrival and the state it arrived in.

This week, I mostly reconnected with old friends and teachers, who are more often than not the same. I walked around many areas of Dakar trying to reclaim my sense of direction and ability to navigate through the neighborhoods, which was harder than expected. Much has changed. Little things that are often taken for granted in the States have only recently been introduced here, giving them new meaning to me. Like traffic lights; they actually have traffic lights at some intersections now – complete with walking signs as well! It was shocking. In addition, the electricity has yet to go out where I’m staying, which used to happen reliably each day. Moreover, undeveloped lots have evolved into new, shiny buildings and transfigured my sense of the landscape. When walking in one direction in a neighborhood I think I know, the familiarity often rapidly peels away into completely foreign territory until some sign, gate, guard or landmark suddenly peeks through, sparking my old memories in these newly mysterious places

Where my memory fails, however, Senegal’s memory does not. Senegal remembers me very well. My kora teacher remembers, much better than I do, how I tend to anticipate the rhythm and why. The woman selling acara (fried balls kind of like falafel, but made from a white bean, giving them a smoother texture and milder taste) knows that I will be back three days a week. My home stay mother remembers that I never bring a jacket with me when it’s warm during the day and worries that I will get a cold when the nights get colder. My current flat mate remembers the way I improvise vocally and can harmonize to some of my familiar phrasing. When I walked past my old apartment, a middle-aged man spotted me in the pitch black dark from over 20 yards away asking how long I had been here and if I was living in the same apartment and was I still playing kora? Yet I did not recognize him one bit. How familiarly foreign Dakar is indeed.

 

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Ceebu Jen

 

There are a few things that have stayed the same, though. One of my favorites is the food. Traditional food here is the best food here and often comes at the cheapest price, if not no price at all; I know well that if I arrive at a familiar’s home, announced or unannounced, around meal time, I will be fed some kind of Senegalese food well beyond my fill. I’m not just a foreign moocher, though – I have a fun time seeking out the local acara or ceebu jen (“rice of fish”) lady in the neighborhood.  If you didn’t know where to find her, you might never know as an ex-pat here. They typically have these tiny shacks or covered tent-like structures, in which they pile 6-8 people on small, shared benches and, to an outsider, it might seem like a secret club. Inside, there are many giant, hot metal bowls – one filled with rice, another with the coveted crispy rice, another with the fish, another with vegetables and sauce. The woman who cooks does a good job of covering these bowls because there are always flies swarming around these little lunch shacks. At first, it’s a little annoying, but after about 30 seconds, you hardly notice the flies. When I went on tuesday, I spoke in wolof to her and the older men in the shack. There are never any women, children, and hardly ever any married men because those people are all getting the same meal at home for free. I ask in wolof if I could have ceebu jen without the jen (“fish”) and she says yes, of course. It’s good business for her, I suppose. The plate is about two stomachs full. I eat all the veggies and about half the rice. I save the other half for later – I figure I will cook something and use it then. It certainly is more delicious than any rice I could make.

As soon as I say “neex na,” or “delicious,” to the woman, she says “ah – neex na?” and another says “degg nga wolof?” (“you understand wolof?”) I say “waawa waaw” (“yea, yea, of course.”) And they say “ah! baax na dey” (“oh, that’s very good”), laughing. I know they still don’t really believe me. Making small talk, they’re testing my skills. They ask if I like ceebu jen, Dakar, Senegal, Senegalese men and oh – do I have a husband? I always say no, I don’t have a husband. Why not?? I don’t want one! Every toubab (“white person”) is endlessly, effortlessly, and delightfully charming when they speak wolof. I wish I didn’t hesitate and doubt myself, though. I really do understand what they’re saying, but I can see that they just think I’m a novelty, not someone with whom they can make serious conversation in wolof. As one is leaving, he says “hey, I’m looking for a wife – a white one – particularly one that speaks wolof and loves ceebu jen.” I think he thinks I only half understand, which is apt, because I have no idea how to respond – not even in english.

Apart from eating and reconnecting with old friends, I’ve spent each day this week taking small steps to fully install myself here for the time being. Seemingly small tasks, like buying a cell phone, looking at an apartment, finding a carrying case for my kora, etc., can demand a full day.

My biggest feat, however, is playing music everyday, more often than not with others and more often than not more than once a day. The fulbright student staying at my old homestay in Mermoz asked me how I came to know so many artists here and wasn’t it hard to learn the music? I tell him no, not at all. It’s just very different. In the States, you can learn to play an instrument completely on your own. You could be a master violinist without anyone ever having heard you play. Just go out and buy the sheet music, maybe watch some youtube videos, and it’s yours to be had. Here, that is impossible. It is impossible to learn without others. Sure, there is written music and most musicians do read music, but it’s largely an unnecessary skill. Truly, music here is about communication and relationships. When those things improve, when you truly connect with musicians and build strong relationships with them, your playing improves and begins to truly connect with others.

 

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Sahad Sarr of Sahad & the Natal Patchwork 

 

I met guitarist and singer-songwriter Sahad Sarr on Tuesday. Tonight, I’ll be playing with his group Sahad & the Natal Patchwork at a club called Just4U where they are opening up for Cheikh Lo. I only learned the songs yesterday so wish me luck!!

Much love,

Althea

Earlier: Departure to Senegal

The Earfull Episode 8 – Ole Mathisen


In this episode, Jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Ole Mathisen talks about growing up playing music in Norway, being a studio musician in South Korea, and composing in New York. Jazz trombonist, composer, and educator Chris Washburne is often mentioned in this interview. For more on him, please see episode 2 of this podcast. Listen on iTunes!

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Ole Mathisen was born in Sundfor, Norway in 1965. received his Bachelor Degree in Professional Music from Beklee College, graduating summa cum laude in 1988, and earned a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance from Manhattan School of Music in 1995. His teachers include renowned saxophone guru Joe Viola, woodwind master Bob Mintzer, Maria Schneider (arranging), and Ed Green (composing/ film scoring). He is the brother of Jazz musicians Per Mathisen (bass), Hans Mathisen (guitar) and Nils Mathisen (keyboards, guitar and bass) and has been a member of the Jazz Studies Faculty at Columbia University since 2005.

Over his 18 years in the New York Jazz and studio scene, Ole Mathisen has been involved with classical, jazz, electronic, ethnic, and experimental music, and established himself as someone with a unique voice both as an instrumentalist and as a composer, relentlessly experimenting and pursuing new standards for himself through playing and writing. Jerry D’Souza of All About Jazz writes: “His saxophone wanders into seductive odd time signatures,… riding an angular trail, adding fast jabs and a tumble of notes that blow across in an intense whirl.” Charles Farrell of eMusic writes: “Mathisen has already moved away from any forebears into his own territory.” Ole continues to tour worldwide, teach, and contribute to numerous recordings every year. With the group FFEAR, he was awarded the Chamber Music America “New Jazz Works” grant of 2009. The premiere of his CMA composition, “Mirage,” was featured on JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater. Ole has worked on over 100 CD releases, composed several movie and television scores, and has participated on innumerable commercials. In 2007 he released “CHINESE HOROSCOPE,” (Jazzheads) his first album as a leader to critical acclaim. The follow up album “PERIODIC TABLE,’ (Jazzheads) was released in April of 2010. The trio album, “ELASTICS,” (Losen) with Per Mathisen and Paolo Vinaccia, was released in the spring of 2011 to rave reviews. He is the leader of Ole Mathisen ZERO-SUM, co-leader of FFEAR, and a member of Chris Washburne’s SYOTOS, Alex Garcia’s Afromantra, Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble, and Mamak Khadem Ensemble.

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Ole Mathisen and Chris Washburne

Recordings featured in this episode in order of appearance:

“Standing Waves” performed by FFear from the 2012 album Mirage

Eg rode meg ut (I rode out)” performed by Pelle Joner in 1958 from the Smithsonian collection of Norwegian Folk songs

The Great Gig in the Sky” performed by Pink Floyd on their 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon”

Clarinet Piece” performed by Thelma Yellin Big Band

Some Skunk Funk” performed by the Brecker Brothers live in Barcelona

Drum Solo performed by Bob Moses

Papa Lips” performed by Bob Mintzer from the album Canyon Cove

동네” performed by Hyun Chul Kim

Methane Mambo” performed by the SYOTOS Band live in Washington DC, August 8th, 2010. Composed by John Walsh.

Voyage into the Golden Screen” performed by NYNDK live in New York City, 2010

Lyric Suite Part 1 Allegretto Giovale” composed by Alban Berg

A Love Supreme, Part 1 – Acknowledgement” performed by John Coltrane on the 1965 album

Other Side of Night” performed by FFear live in Norway this year

 

This episode of the Earfull was originally recorded on September 30th and released on December 4th, 2013. The cover art for the Earfull was made by Hallie Bean. I’d like to thank Ole Mathisen for sitting down with me and you for listening. For more information on Ole, just google him. As always, you can find the Earfull on the iTunes music store, and also on Facebook.