Michele Rosewoman: Wearing Her Passion With The In Side Out
AAJ: Tell me about "Guapo [which means handsome in Spanish] and "Guapo Remix. You describe it as a day in the life of... Just curious, a day in the life of?
MR: Any of us who wear five to ten different hats and think on multiple planes. Don't laugh but "Guapo was my cat. He was with me for eighteen years and he was an interesting personality on many levels and dimensions. I named this composition "Guapo, not because it totally matched his personality musically, but based somewhat on the range of his movement throughout the day was varied, complex, and like different episodes. He was intriguing.
So the tune is like a suite. It messes with compositional techniques such as the morphing and mutating of a melody, and a bass line used a lot of different ways at different times, and a groove that is based on a cycling bass line. There was a lot of rhythmic impetus for aspects of this piece. .The re-mix is the groove section, which we thought would translate well to an electronic sound.
AAJ: "Eshu Laroye is essentially a series of cantos [songs] that are dedicated to the deity known as Eleggua.
MR: Eleggua represents the crossroads, he sits at the door. All ceremonies are opened and closed to Eleggua. This deity is from the Yoruban pantheon of Orishas. The Orishas are messengers that govern areas of life. They personify nature and life principles. So Eleggua is very important and has accompanied me in a wonderful way throughout my life.
The thing that it is unique about "Eshu Laroye is the fact that it is a medley of cantos for Eleggua. Usually the songs are done in sequence, and within that sequence, you either have to rob two beats to have the canto fall on the right side of the clave, or delay it (for two beats). Here, all of the folkloric elements are intact and I have made every effort to not sacrifice either aspect.
Through the years, I have worked with youth choirs, and I created vocal arrangements of everything from R&B and jazz to folkloric traditions. So I feel very comfortable arranging vocals, although this arrangement took some doing! We (myself, Pedro and Olu) are singing several parts that overlap with one another, which is accomplished through over dubbing. At times, you are hearing six to eight vocal tracks at one time. Given the fact that it is a medley, you don't want to hear the same voice hitting you in the same place in the mix, so the panning was vital to making the vocal arrangement work. Arranging the medley involved finding an effective and correct placement of the cantos against each other plus using harmonies that would achieve maximum warmth.
Years ago, I had recorded this piece in the studio with [saxophonist] David Sanchez's group, but it was never released.. I was frustrated about that, however, there is always a reason why things happen. Now the tune has evolved and I ended up recording it with my own ensemble. Interestingly, it's getting a lot of air play, in spite of the fact that it's long for commercial radio. But that's Eshu! [Eleggua]
AAJ: It will be interesting to see how the traditionalists react to your arrangement. I like the way the composition segues between folkloric rhythms and jazz.
MR: I'm fairly sure that it will be appreciated on all fronts. The folklore is in tact, the spirituality is conveyed. Pedro, Olu and myself are all involved in the religion and have worked with and learned from the greatest bataleros and folklorists in the country. We have all been shaped profoundly by our teacher and friend, Orlando "Puntilla Rios.
Both Olu and Pedro have worked with New Yor-Uba over the years. Pedro has been working with me since he arrived from Cuba. I brought Olu into the studio after Pedro and I had completed all the vocal parts. But it is unnatural to hear the lead voice [agbon] singing the same part as melody in the chorus, With Olu the texture of our three voices has a clarity and warmth that I really like and I could assign the parts to our voices in a way that makes more sense and sounds more realistic.
AAJ: Let's return to Marvin Gaye's "Life is for Learning. In the liner notes for Guardians of the Light, you quoted Marvin. Here, you pay homage ...
MR: When I acknowledged him there, I used the lyrics from "Life is for Learning. Besides my arrangement, which is super-different from the original, Mark Shim put his stamp on it as a producer. I sang just enough lyrics to convey the message of the song.
AAJ: Before we wrap things up, what's happening with New Yor-Uba?
MR:We still have not recorded, but It's possible that this manifestation of Quintessence might open some doors. Pun or implication intended! Because that's what Eleggua does.
AAJ: In my opinion, what makes New Yor-Uba so special is your ability to merge jazz and folkloric music without losing anything in the translation.
MR: That has always been my goal. That's why I continue to study everything in great depth. I could spend my whole life studying the folklore and feel fulfilled. The knowledge and the subtlety are on another plane.
In the early '70s I started seriously playing congas and percussion and absorbing Cuban folkloric drumming and vocal traditions. These drumming and vocal traditions are uncanny and otherworldly. They obviously come from God! The congas are hard on "piano hands, so I don't play as much, but my involvement with this realm remains as important to me as the jazz idiom and its impact on me is beyond words.
It was a parallel realm of musical interest for me for years, and then it all began to mesh in my dreams and in my ears. That's how New Yor-Uba came to be. I began hearing the folkloric music in this larger setting and even though one is tradition and one is more expandable, there is a place where they come together. They can work together through careful consideration of each tradition. Also, understanding that there are commonalities is what can make it work. There is a statement that I read, from the book, Flash of the Spirit...