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A Fireside Chat with Randy Weston

By Published: May 16, 2003

RW: That is a great point. Music is free. There is so many directions to go in music. You can be an entertainer or whatever. For me, my music is African rhythms. That is what I call my music. I have been trying to project the history of our music, which is Africa. But as far as categories are concerned, it all depends on each artist. My point is that music is free. You can do or not do. If you want to categorize, you do that. If you don't want to, you don't. That is what is so wonderful about music because there are so many different directions you can go.

FJ: There are antagonists who would claim you have, to a fault, placed too much of an importance on African rhythms.

RW: I have a lot of young people who come to me and thank me for my persistence and my consistency with African music and showing the whole connection and showing that music first happened in Africa in the first place. Before there was a Europe and before there was an Asia, African people created music and we come from that. I have a lot of young people today that come to me and thank me for the work that I have done through the years to show the importance of African heritage, which has enriched the whole, entire world.

As far as Africa is concerned, my father, when I was six years old, he said to me, 'My son, you are an African born in America. Don't let anybody tell you that you are anything else but that. Look in the mirror and look at me and describe what you see. Therefore, you have to know your history as an African.' And therefore, as a boy, I was always reading about Africa before colonialism, before the exploitation and during the time of great African civilizations. My dad started me at a very early age and so I had no choice.

Plus, he made me take piano lessons. I was lucky to have two great parents. It all came from them and everything I do is based on what they taught me. All music began in Africa. All music began in Africa. The ancient Egyptians had schools of music. They were the first ones to write music. They were master instrument makers of harps and flutes and horns. So the whole concept of music was created in Africa and then spread to Europe and spread to other parts of the world. Most people don't understand or realize that.

Wherever I go, I try to explain that if you love music, you have to know where it came from. Music was based upon spiritual values. In other words, you can't have a civilization unless they had music. African traditional societies have music for every single activity. So our ancestors brought that concept, even in slavery, they brought that concept to the Americas. So whether we were taken to Brazil or Cuba or Jamaica, whatever, that whole concept of Africa continues. All the names, whether you say jazz or blues or bossa nova or samba, salsa, all these names are all Africa's contributions to the Western hemisphere. If you take out the African elements of our music, you would have nothing. But Africa has been put down so much that we have not had a true history of Africa when it had its great civilizations. So that is where music came from, Africa in the first place.

FJ: Why does modern history being taught in schools today, ignore those contributions?

RW: That is not modern. That has happened from the time we arrived. When you are taken away from your home and you are taken as a slave and your history is taken away. That is not something modern. When I was a kid, luckily, I had strong parents at home that made sure that I knew my history. But at the schools and at the movies, Africa was a place of people who had no culture and no history and the whole world has come from African civilization. Everything has come from African civilization, but you have to take time to read and study and listen and watch and I did all that. When I heard Monk play the piano, I heard African music. You don't hear nothing like that in Europe. It doesn't exist. In traditional African society, there is music for every single activity and that is where we come from. That is why, because of slavery. When you are defeated and you are taken as slaves, the first thing they do is take away your history.

FJ: Is it fear of the black man?

RW: Just ignorance, omission. If you don't get it in school and you don't get it at home, you don't know any better. I would chant like Tarzan just like all the other kids. I didn't know any better because it is not being taught. All humanity comes out of Africa. All people come out of Africa. Africa has enriched the whole, entire planet. Once people start to realize that, then they would have a different way of looking at us. They say that jazz began in New Orleans. That is ridiculous. This music began thousands of years ago. It was just carried on to European instruments, European languages. We have just not had the true history of Mother Africa, which has enriched the whole planet.

FJ: You have made the journey to Africa numerous times.

RW: Yes, I was there this year.

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