The Ogún Meji Duo is drummer/composer/educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II and tenor saxophonist Edwin Bayard. The pair have worked together regularly in duo, trio, and quartet settings, and notably on Lomax' groundbreaking 12-CD digital box-set 400: An Afrikan Epic (CFG Multimedia, 2019). That collection recounts the four-hundred-year history of black people in America from 1619 Jamestown to the current condition of our country. #BLACKLIVESMATTER was recorded in 2014 to memorialize the hundreds of black, unarmed Americans who lost their lives to a lingering, grotesque systemic racism. The album makes a powerful statement that could have been a response to Emmett Till in 1955 or George Floyd in 2020.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER is a three-part suite running almost forty-five minutes. It opens with "Amerikkka" and a fiery sermon/history lesson from Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. About one minute in, the toms slowly rise like an approaching storm, and Wright accelerates through a litany of governmental failings, Lomax quickens his pace. Seven-minutes in, Bayard joins with a fiercely reimagined sampling of "America, the Beautiful," breaking it down to rage and discord. "Stop Singin' and Start Swingin'" begins with the words of the late Afro-centrist psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing, followed by Malcolm X. When the duo joins in it is with an extended and incendiary free improvisation that doesn't let up for the next ten minutes. Civil Rights activist and Black Panther Party leader Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) picks up the narration in the final minutes of the movement. He reminds his audience that "You can only win freedom on reason" urging consciousrather than unconsciousrebellion. The final section"Black, Beautiful and Powerful"is introduced with a segment of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech given the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Bayard's anguished tenor and Lomax' thundering drums expressing a visceral sense of desolation. MLK finishes the piece urging black Americans to secure their own emancipation.
Lomax and Bayard are wise to have let the spoken narratives interweave with their playing. It appropriately designates the human voices as the most important instruments on #BLACKLIVESMATTER. It makes the message inescapable and if that's uncomfortable to some, so be it. The suite runs counter to complacency and it does so passionately, effectively, and without reticence.
Part 1: Amerikkka; Part 2: Stop Singin' and Start Swingin’; “Part 3: Black, Beautiful and Powerful.
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