Otha(r) Turner, a life-long resident of the rugged, brambly hill country surrounding Senatobia, Mississippi, is ninety-odd years young. In his near century of wizened existence he’s served as a living, breathing vessel for fife and drum musical traditions - traditions rooted in the 19th century America, which stretch back countless generations and have antecedents in the earliest of organized human sounds. Cane fife, snare drum, bass drum and throat - these are the channels by which the cultural communion is conveyed. The primal beat of drum, the twittering keen of fife and Turner’s own hoarse voice chapped raw by the bite of corn whiskey, such are the sounds that can stir the soul to wakefulness. Sadly these traditions have been ill served by recordings. Turner’s first release on Birdman, Everybody Hollerin’ Goat
was only the second full-length LP devoted to this rich, aboriginal music, preceded by a compilation on the Testament label ( Travelling Through the Jungle
); a fairly shabby discography for a music of such vital energy and satisfying spiritual repast.
Fortunately the Birdman imprint continues in the charge of spreading these indispensable sounds to an audience beyond those (Turner’s neighbors) who are fortunate enough to revel in them as a regular part of their daily lives. This new release ups the ante set by its predecessor even further tracing and rekindling in bold relief the African connections that have been an integral, if underlying, component in the music since its long forgotten inceptions. Throughout the eight informal performances taped on Turner’s spread of land, the dozen or so players mix and match in an easy array of combinations. Ambient sounds of an accompanying picnic can be heard above their friendly repartee. Standards of Turner’s repertoire such as “Shimmy She Wobble,” “Glory, Glory” and “Sitting On Top of the World” (reborn here as “Station Blues”) are recast in more global incarnations. Kora and thumb piano join in concert with slide guitar and fife, while an earthy herd of drums keeps a lucid, polyrhythmic pulse percolating underneath. The generous and stirring photographs of the sessions including the liner notes give serve as a beautiful companion piece to the music.
On the surface this disc may appear a synthesis of traditions, but closer listening reveals it more as a cultural homecoming; a reunion of brethren originally separated by the Diaspora left as slavery’s legacy. The fact that these lost ties have been repaired is reason enough for celebration but rather than stopping there the players shift their attentions to the future, exploring all of the possibilities that their collaboration might bring. Rest assured the goats, which went into the sandwiches that served as sustenance for these musicians gave their lives for a good cause.
Tracks:Shimmy She Wobble/ Station Blues/ Bounce Ball/ Shimmy She Wobble II/ Stripes/ Senegal to Senatobia/ Glory, Glory, Hallelujah/ Sunu.
Collective Personnel: Otha Turner, Morikeba Kouyate, Musa Sutton, Manu Walton, Abe Young, R.L. Boyce, Bernice T. Evans, Sharde Evans, Rodney Evans, Andre Evans, Aubrey Turner, K.K. Freeman, Luther Dickinson, Matthew Rappaport on: cane fifes, snare drums, bass drums, bottleneck guitar, kora, djembe, djun djun, sangban, kenkeni bells, shakers & tamborines.
Recorded: February 1999, Otha Turner’s Farm and Zebra Ranch Studios.