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Brittany Anjou: Visionary Soul


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It’s all exploration. I’m just trying to find the strongest part of my happiness, soul and heart, through each project.
—Brittany Anjou
I began a series of interviews with Seattle-based musicians in the summer of 2016, with half being dedicated to female instrumentalists. After my last interview with bassist Chuck Deardorf, I was given a new piano trio release on the Seattle based Origin Records label by New York based, Seattle born and bred musician Brittany Anjou. Named Enamigo Reciprokataj, meaning reciprocal love in the international language Esperanto, the album is her unique take on the traditional jazz piano trio. While she was back in Seattle this summer, I had the opportunity to hear the music from this well received recording live at Egan's in the Ballard neighborhood. A few days later, we ventured into the iconic Seattle jazz club, Tula's, for an interview before the club opened its doors for the evening. As a young student in Seattle, Anjou had been inspired by performances in that very room. What I found to share with my readers was not only a great musician and composer, but an interesting and brave woman with a strong and adventurous spirit.

All About Jazz: You are currently in residence in Kuwait for a portion of the year. Talk about your work there, and how it came to be.

Brittany Anjou: I am in residence teaching on faculty at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Cultural Center opera house in Kuwait, which they just built in 2016 as a gift for the people from the Emir of Kuwait. JACC for short. They started the JAAC music school. It's a youth music program with the goal of the opera is to build a youth chamber orchestra, and ensembles, fostering local Kuwaiti kids' talent. I'm helping them build the music education program and teaching kids piano, jazz, improv and pop music. Last semester I had 15 students—all girls. I've written a number of curriculums for piano and group instruction. For jazz class curriculum writing, I attended the Jazz Power Initiative teachers certification class this summer, and consulted with Eli Yamin who wrote the JALC Middle School Jazz Academy curriculum with Wynton Marsalis and a number of amazing people, to plan for my classes at JACC. I am the only jazz educator on faculty. I love it so much because I'm getting to arrange music for our faculty, which are mostly Arabic and classical musicians. I'm getting to work with and arrange for oudists, Arabic singers-we have a singer from Jordan who is just wonderful. She is Dr. Rula Jaradat, who leads a ten piece all woman Arabic ensemble from Jordan called Naya. She is just wonderful to work with, and she also plays qanun. So oud, qanun, and Arabic singing, as well as percussion. The opera house also has its own adult professional orchestra, so I will be seeing them around a lot and we get to rehearse with those peers. I get to arrange for faculty ensembles to put on concerts. Our goal this fall is to do one every month-one for the students every month and one for the faculty.

AAJ: When you say performing classical music, are you referring to European classical music?

BA: Yes. We have European classical musicians from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. We also have great Arabic classical musicians on oud, Arabic singing and qanun who are from Jordan, France, Egypt, Belgium, and Iraq. I'm the teacher who is the delinquent contemporary improvising musician—and boy, do I bombard everyone with avant-garde jazz, and of course, The Shaggs

AAJ: Does the Arabic classical music utilize improvisation?

BA: Yes, it's totally interesting. All three traditions have improvisation in their own ways. They call it taqsim, improvising in the maqam— which is the Arabic scaler system. It is the most ancient scaler system predating Indian scales. The way I think about it, coming from a jazz tradition, is through tetrachords that revolve around an oudist's hand position (four finger positions—four notes). I took oud lessons from April Centrone a few years ago when she hosted oud classes at my place in Brooklyn. The scales change from one to another depending on the performer's mastery and understanding of harmony. It's an oral tradition, and you can hear it being sung at mosques during the call to prayer five times a day in Kuwait. The whole country bursts into thousands of melodies five times a day simultaneously, and involving quarter tones, and of course, some cannot really sing, so it is a microtonal explosion I love. Especially after working with the Shaggs music. It is a very different way of orienting yourself around a scale, life and improvising mentally. I really love it. On the first day in Kuwait when I heard it I flipped out. I'm a total nerd.

AAJ: How did you end up with the gig?

BA: What took me out to the middle east in the first place was a very funny story involving my neighbor in Brooklyn. We'd been living in the same building for years. One day, he sat on a park bench in Washington Square Park and was smoking, and this theatre director who was looking for a music composer at the time, sat down next to him and asked him for a light. They struck up a conversation and the theatre director told him he needed a composer for his next play, He said he was doing it at NYU, and did he know anybody? He was a visiting artist from Kuwait via London. My neighbor said he actually did. That's how I was connected with this. So I did a play for that director at NYU in 2015. The next year he asked me to write music for another play which was premiering in Kuwait. I flew out to Kuwait, we workshopped on Failakka, a deserted island that was left untouched after Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990. That play was called In the Eruptive Mode: Hijacked Voices of the Arab Spring, by Sulayman Al Bassam. It was an all woman cast. I was the lone solo musician. I had lines in it as well, but it was six monologues in Arabic and English, I scored music for the entire play. It was political. It was a gift, a real gift and honor to have that experience.

AAJ: Do you speak Arabic at all?

BA: I love Arabic! I'm nowhere near conversational, but I think I have about a 200 word vocabulary. It's so beautiful, and I'm always astounded by translations. Instead of, 'How are you, I'm fine,' people respond just with, 'Thanks to God-hamdillah.' The word "I" isn't even there. Talk about removing ego in language. 'Ya teclafiah' means, 'God thanks you for your work,' and people say it every day all the time. For instance when you drive past a toll, you say it to the toll booth operator. I get high from these things. It changes how you see the world for the better. I try to speak as much as possible, but I have no formal study other than friends, the play, and some books. I wound up learning a lot of Arabic for the first time doing that play, because I had to memorize the monologues for the cues. In Brooklyn I practice speaking with cab drivers and Yemenis at my neighborhood deli. When I teach and audition kids I use Arabic, even though they know English. It helps get certain things across better than English anyway.

AAJ: You studied vibraphone with Stefon Harris. Were vibraphone and piano equal partners with you for a time?

BA: First of all, I can't believe I'm in Seattle and at Tula's! Totally. I grew up here in Seattle and went to Roosevelt HS. When I was twelve I saw the Roosevelt jazz band , and I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to play piano in the band. When I auditioned my freshman year, I was up against two insanely great pianists my age vying for the piano spot in the big band-Aaron Parks (laughter)! And a dear friend of mine, Brian Kinsella, who was a pretty ridiculous talent. I remember when I got out of that audition, I pressed my ear against the door and listened to them play and thought, 'I'm never going to get in the jazz band.' That's when I took up the vibraphone, to try to find a way to get into the band!

AAJ: Did you study vibes in high school with anyone?

BA: Yes, I took lessons with Susan Pascal for years, and that experience led to me at sixteen seeing Stefon Harris at Jazz Alley with Jacky Terrasson on piano, and that just blew me away. Terreon Gully on drums. My first jazz piano teacher was Christina Shinkle, and Dan Greenblatt in middle school was my first jazz educator. He taught me about blues and bebop scales. In college I studied mallets with Sherrie Maricle at NYU my first semester while taking piano lessons with the late great Don Friedman, and when Stefon joined the faculty in second semester I took lessons with him until I went to Ghana to study gyil (Ghanaian xylophone) with Bernard Woma.

AAJ: What is the commonality in the music that led to your interest in Ghanaian xylophone, or gyil?

BA: I was playing and competing in high school on jazz vibraphone, and I wound up at NYU the year that Stefon Harris joined the faculty, which was such a gift. I studied with him for three really intense years. He's the best jazz educator I have ever had, and Victor Lin on piano. He was at Columbia at the time, and I would go up to him to take lessons. I was studying marimba and xylophone then too. In my junior year in school, my friend Seth Paris had been in Ghana studying music, and met Bernard Woma, the Ghanaian master xylophonist, who passed away in 2017. Seth brought him to do a masterclass at NYU in 2005, where I met him, and was just blow away by the music, his personality, his vivaciousness, and watching him perform. That night, he convinced me and my program director to arrange my classes and graduation so I could study gyil and go to Ghana, and the rest was history. He was one of the biggest ambassadors of Ghanaian traditional music, and his loss was felt by the gyil community around the world.

AAJ: Was he teaching in New York?

BA: He was between Ghana and Fredonia, teaching at SUNY Fredonia in upstate New York. He has been a global international educator , and representative of sharing traditional Ghanaian xylophone music to the world. So I met Bernard Woma and found out it was possible to go to Ghana and study that music, just for a while, six months.

AAJ: Your work over the past few years has been framed by a full spectrum of expressionism. You play jazz trio, front a punk band Bi Tyrant as well as the LARCENY Chamber Orchestra, and a series of ensembles incorporating Ghanaian xylophone. Your work is as well influenced by modern composers like Bartok and Stravinsky. What is the same between these variant forms, and what is different for you as an artist?

BA: I think I'm starting to realize I'm a curious person. Full of curiosity. About anything and everything. I forget it a lot. I think just always trying to explore, find the vein, trying to stab the needle in! I don't know (laughter). It's all exploration. I'm just trying to find the strongest part of my happiness, soul and heart, through each project. There's a gift to pursuing all these things close to your heart. It keeps you running on a treadmill, in terms of the scheduling and organization of it. But that is a gift, and I have to remind myself of that when I'm buried in emails, and trying to organize a bunch of stuff.

AAJ: What draws you to the piano trio format?

BA: It was my first love, Bill Evans Trio, Ahmad Jamal, there's something so intimate about those first records I discovered, and wanting to be able to have that level of communication. That's the goal, and has always been inspiring to me.

AAJ: I was fortunate to see you perform in Seattle in trio with Evan Flory-Barnes and Matt Jorgensen. They integrated into the conversation extremely well. Does your unique approach to composition present unique challenges for your bandmates?

BA: This is such great feedback here, because I don't really hear this. It's interesting to me, to go through the process of composing for an improvised art form. You put it all on a page and hand it out to the band, and they start asking, 'What does this mean? What about bar 51, what does this snowflake mean?' Then you go through drafts, which is basically torturing your band because you're making changes. You try to get the maximum connection with the musician you're working with, which is always different when you change personnel. That's challenging.

AAJ: The music on Enamigo Reciprokatje is truly original sounding. As a listener, I sense the music visually, physically-as I would a dance performance. Now you are out on the road performing it, and with Evan Flory-Barnes and Matt Jorgensen, two musicians who were not part of the original sessions. Talk about the record, and how the music has evolved performing it live.

BA: The record definitely came out the way I hoped. I'm grateful for that. I think what's wild is that there's a point of departure for every record, and the life of the record has a separate life than the life of your tour playing it live. I think what is wonderful is getting to have the process of recording and releasing an album. To get to tour with it as well is special. What I found with the live life of it, I grew with each band I did it with, I grew deeper into the interpretations. Especially with Evan (Flory-Barnes) and Matt (Jorgensen), there's a point of departure where you start to read each other's minds-that's the most exciting part. It feels like I have a long way to go in that vein of finding that connection. You get to do that on tours, and you're playing every night. That kind of high I've always dreamed of experiencing.

AAJ: Each night, things continuously evolve and change.

BA: When you see heroic musicians who just get up there, and every night is different, that's the thing.

AAJ: That night, the second set was Jorgensen's music, adding trumpeter Thomas Marriott and saxophonist Pete Gallio. I came to the realization that the original approach one senses in your trio playing, applies as well to your playing in the quintet setting.

BA: When I played trio it was my music, my comfort zone, me, me, me. With that comes the responsibility of calling a set list, organizing the band. When you're playing a side role, it's such a wonderful gift after leading! It's a breath of fresh air. Ok, now I just get to play my instrument and dig into the tradition. There's trust, a framework, a deep lexicon, and a wind tunnel came over me that night onstage with Thomas, Pete, Matt and Evan. It was like a really good jazz movie.

AAJ: You had never met trumpeter Thomas Marriott until that evening?

BA: I had met him on a street corner once. I'm not in Seattle often enough to really know what's going on with the local scene.

AAJ: What he's doing is usually on the forefront of what's happening in Seattle.

BA: Yes I know! I've known for years. I think there's always that point when you're playing with someone you don't know, the ideal jazz position, that just happened to me at Egan's. The other night I literally got on stage with heroes who I've looked up to for years while growing up in Seattle, and I felt so much energy and excitement before the show, knowing I'm about to play with them as a sideman for the first time, and knowing my family was there to see it was incredible. It was totally surreal to do that for the first time. It's everything I could have dreamed of, and luckily it happened because I put my own stuff out, and Matt asked if I wanted to do a double bill of my trio and his band, and to sit at the piano chair in his band. He's been super supportive of my record and my career. Such a gift!

That's ideal jazz tradition, jam session culture. Being at home it was extra special because I felt a wave of childhood and home combining into the energy and it was amazing. Now that I have a record as a leader and composer on piano out, I feel more ease internally. Playing with those cats, I felt pushed forward in terms of the lexicon of hard bop. I think I was always a sensitive player comping for solos, I was always terrified I was going to over-comp. What's really important to me is that I'm really listening to the horn player. The top priority for me always when improvising is to have an open and curious ear, always trying to connect with what's going on around me. There's a fair amount of propelling, and there's a fair amount of being relaxed and letting other people speak. It was extra powerful to just get up there and do my thing and feel really embraced. Especially at home. Especially playing with jazz greats in your hometown. As a woman I've felt most of my career that I can't be myself in most pure jazz spaces, and I've been fighting to make that better. Jazz scenes need to bring that acceptance vibe in spaces. I love WIJO meetings because we make that space happen and vent about where there is a lack of that vibe in the most common spaces of the field.

One time at a jam session in New York about ten years into my time there, I was the only woman waiting to sit in, completely ignored when I approached the bandstand, and then literally thrown out into the bar when I didn't know the tune. No one acknowledged me when I got up there, all the players ignored me, called a tune without telling me, and dropped out immediately after the head in, leaving me to take the first solo, on a tune I didn't know and didn't recognize. After soloing for 16 bars, the session leader came up to me at the piano in the middle of my solo, grabbed both my wrists by one hand, slammed the piano lid down and said, 'You're done.' He pulled me across the stage by the wrists and threw me into the bar. I was so angry. It didn't help at all that I had pink hair. I never felt safe in that space ever again, a space where a lot of jazz players go to get work and make connections. It took me years to go back to that space, and when I did, I still felt sick to my stomach remembering that night. And then there's all this jazz shame. No one did a single thing, no one questioned the leader, no one approached me, no one introduced themselves to me. These days I go when I want and I laugh at the place for breeding and sustaining that energy. It's unfortunate when there's an interference when jazz is meant to be about individual expression, and then there are clogged arteries amidst the classical machismo of patriarchy.

Performing original music for theater was the first time in my life that a team of costumers came at me with makeup, heels, hair, and clothes for the stage. I was totally overwhelmed and shocked to be demanded to be a feminine person performing onstage for the first time in my life coming from jazz culture. Jazz school nor jam sessions were never the space where I, nor any girl or woman I knew, felt embraced wearing makeup or being feminine, not without the fear of suffering social consequences, judgment of appearance, or rejection. So having been through a lot you can imagine how much of an absolute gift it was to be hired and to play quintet with Thomas Marriott, Pete Gallio, Matt Jorgensen and Evan Flory-Barnes at Egan's in Seattle, and feel accepted. And with pink hair! Something in me before that show knew I needed to make my hair pink and so I showed up hours early and put pink streaks in my hair in the bathroom at Egan's. Now I realize I was subconsciously for myself undoing the trauma from being thrown out of a jazz jam with pink hair a decade ago, and in my own way, saying fuck that and getting up onstage and playing in the quintet tradition. There is a lot of PTSD that marginalized people experience in the performing arts. This conversation these days is opened, thanks to so many movements, and we're in a much better place, and I feel it because I follow that social conversation, and ignore the trolls. It's just a relief to be hired in what you do, be yourself, and feel welcome.

AAJ: There's still people in jazz whose actions are intrinsically misogynistic. We all deal with overcoming the biases of our parent's generation. But patriarchy in all shapes and forms has deep, deep roots.

BA: Sometimes stating the shittiness of reality just directs the conversation to a lesser consciousness, and can hurt those suffering from those actions constantly and bring down their mood. I've forever been so tired of seeing the all-men all-the-time dominant narrative rampant in jazz. I think we are killing ourselves from it actually. It's true, but we could also die from thinking it is true and not doing something about it. Everyday when I read jazz news I particularly look for the non-binary and women's narratives and I try to meet and bond with other folks. It's getting better. It's always on my radar. I know literally hundreds if not thousands of amazing women musicians and I feel that everyone should know.

We all know the world has thousands of years of patriarchy and in this country, hundreds of years of colonialism to overcome. I'm more interested in the spiritual, cultural, emotional fabric of healing that, and supporting and directing attention to those artists and speakers who are doing that. I think Marianne Williamson is really onto something when she says to pray for those who trespass against you. It frees you from the trap of feeling small and stuck, from the inside, and that can change who you are to the outside. For performing artists in the margins it is survival mode tactics of dealing with the world, dealing with people, dealing with business on and offstage. Every person who shares their honest real story is a gift to the world. When you try to explore really tough stuff and you share it, it's a gift to others. Sometimes that catharsis can be top heavy after you release something, but I think it all is your journey of growing our consciousness.

Hearing women, non-binary and transfolks stories and retelling them is an important part of our fabric and vivacity. I think in America we have a balancing act of seeing and hearing each other while not othering each other and while growing ourselves from the inside. I'm interested in seeing, crediting and connecting people who attend to this. We are starting to do that in film and TV. It's important that jazz thrives with the times. Paying respect to African-Americans to whom this music and country owes its existence, I feel America can progress socially when we deal with our history spiritually on a national level. You can't let the lie that is the dominant patriarchal colonialist misogynistic homophobic culture continually bleed into your worldview, and you can't lose sleep over fighting it every night, you have to rebalance your spirit.

I flee America as much as I can, loads because of this. A huge moment that helped me stay in the game and continue with music happened when I was 16 in Seattle. The jazz vocalist Lisa Henry came to my high school and did a workshop. She watched me take a few choruses of soloing on a B flat blues, and after, immediately told me in front of the whole class that I was onto something. Her recognizing something in me as an improviser, in front of all my classmates, changed the way my peers saw me, who were nearly all male, all of who I'd been wanting to fit in with for years. They would jam on Sublime, Nirvana and blues, and I wanted in on that, but felt I wasn't welcome. That day, Lisa saw me and saw that I had something to say. I remember her saying that I was good, and she wanted more, she wanted to hear more from me. No one had ever said that to me in my life in a group situation after improvising before. I remember it clear as day. She ignored the boy who was thought of as being the best player by all, and focused on me. The next day I walked in and felt valuable, for the first time in four years, with all my classmates. I still talk about it with them to this day. Recently a classmate of mine told me he remembered that day and that he thought of me as a better musician after that, and recognized that I hadn't been acknowledged by our peers before that. It was something that we didn't know how to name, and she did. And him telling me, decades later as adults, freed me of how isolated I felt when I was 16, and not knowing what others thought, being unable to have that conversation. I'm still grateful for that day and what Lisa Henry said that day.

It is so important to pass that torch on. I believe women need women mentors. I'm so stoked for the WIJO mentors program for this very reason. Last year I started to make a jazz history curriculum of all women jazz artists on all instruments for the kids jazz classes at JACC. I had a list up on the board all year of twenty great historical jazz artists and they were all women. I had all girls in my class last year and I wanted them to see themselves on that board. I didn't even put the usual 'greats' men's names on that list because seeing only them, foremost for all girls who are beginners just doesn't help the purpose. Of course we would listen and talk about all the usual greats, but I put women on the board because I want to tell a gender equal story. Eli Yamin just told me that Mary Lou Williams taught Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and was a staff writer for Duke Ellington. I didn't even know that until this month! It pisses me off that no one told me til now. I celebrate pianist Dorothy Donegan all the time, learning about her a few years ago through Mara Rosenbloom via Connie Crothers. And now I tell everyone I know about Dorothy Donegan.

AAJ: Did you expect the reaction the record has received? Outstanding reviews at All About Jazz, Downbeat, and Jazz Times. Widespread radio airplay. It has been quite a whirlwind of attention.

BA: It's crazy! I thought I had a good record, I took the time to carefully release it. I hoped I would have the opportunity for more work after-that's all I hoped for. It's so wonderful to be seen and heard. My goal is to play for them live. Connecting with people in a room is strong and important to me.

AAJ: Are you going to continue the trio explorations? What's next on the horizon?

BA: Yes, I really just want to tour in the coming years and I'm putting out new projects. I have this more explicit body of vocal and piano plus ensemble work that I've been planning to record under my punk band Bi TYRANT. And there's a challenge in that I have this gig in the Middle East where they have a lot of censorship rules. I've been doing it solo, duo, in piano trio, and was able to do it with an octet with support by Winter Jazz Festival in 2018, myself shout-singing at the piano with the trio of Shirazette Tinnin (drums) and Mali Obomsawin (bass), plus Jackie Coleman (trumpet), Rose Rutledge (sax), Angela Morris (sax), Viva DeConcini (guitar) and Rich Bennett aka Valerie Vetere (guitar). Last April I secretly left the Middle East for 36 hours to play a Bi TYRANT solo show in Berlin without anyone at work knowing, while trying to let everyone who I know in Berlin know. Life is getting weirder and weirder.

Enamigo Reciprokataj is definitely an ode to fifties and sixties piano jazz trios, which are my favorite. Now I feel I'm in a place to take more risks and to be vocal about whatever is going on deep and get more creative across genres without worrying about validation, because for the first time in my life, with the release of the album, I feel heard and seen as a jazz pianist just having it out there, and that's enough for me to feel complete and whole as a pianist in the world and now maybe I can be myself and get more work. The first Bi TYRANT record, getting to experience metal vocal catharsis on stage and in the studio was the most powerful thing I've done, shattering the misogynistic narrative for myself that was learned in my early early years in jazz that women instrumentalists can't be vocalists without being pigeonholed—one I long feared to ever embrace singing as a woman who wanted to work as an instrumentalist with jazz being my first love. So for years I felt a duty to deny any proclivities to singing and other art forms, especially 'feminine' or queer ones that are marginalized and looked down upon in straight ahead lion jazz scenes. Doing that record, making a punk and metal album freed me. Taking voice lessons helped shatter decades of internalized misogynistic jazz stress I didn't even know I was subjected to, challenging my own identity as an instrumentalist jazz pianist, vibraphonist woman coming out of male dominated jazz schools while shouting my identity as queer metal vocalist slash multi-instrumentalist—where I'd seen no combination of previously—enabled me to call bullshit on it all and move forward.

So all that brought me to singing and shouting about vaginas and clits at the piano with a jazz octet at Winter Jazz Festival at Zinc Bar. It was a freeing dream come true, right in the backyard where I went to jazz school. That was the thing—that it was where I went to school.

When I showed up to the gig, it took me back to that time on that night for some reason. I remembered that when I was eighteen and never would have felt comfortable writing or rehearsing my own shit like that in jazz school as the only woman to graduate in my class in a program of eighty men, and fat chance wouldn't have been taken seriously. In fact, the jazz program director used to make frequent comments about how lucky I was to have the women's bathroom all to myself. So, I couldn't have dreamed of the conversation.

Thank goddess for Brice Rosenbloom and Winter Jazz Festival. The obstacles you come across and grow the most from when you do music. Taking more risks with lyrical content—some of these things can be quite explicit. Anyway, my hope, for my work in the future, is to be myself at the piano, as a composer, songwriter, improviser, and human, and that the next generation of young women and non-binary folks can feel freer and safer to trust their guts, and be themselves in jazz, in music, in school, on stage and in the field.

AAJ: You have a new project as well with Ghanaian xylophone master Alfred Kpesaane.

BA: I have a new recording project I've been producing called Nong Voru with Alfred Kpebsaane, who is a master of Ghanaian xylophone, or gyil. After Alfred moved from Ghana to New York in 2017, we started jamming at my apartment in Park Slope, then playing out, and then we did a residency at Barbés last summer. It's an eclectic world music venue in Brooklyn. We are almost finished with the record, Alfred on gyil and vocals, and I'm playing synths, organ, vintage Casio 1000P, and Rhodes. It's going to be a mixture of really beautiful xylophone music. Alfred is a quirky cat on gyil. It's all his music and traditional gyil tunes. I'm producing it and playing keys on it, with producer/ engineer/ guitarist Rich Bennett at his studio, Acme Hall Studios in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I have a musical relationship of thirteen years with Alfred that started by studying gyil with him at Bernard Woma's Dagara Music Center in Medie, Ghana. April Centrone is on drums on the record. Beza Gebre has been playing drums on live shows, and pianist Alla Faberova joins us live too. On the record, Oren Bloedow guests on electric bass, and Michael Clemow on live computer processing electronics, using samples of what we recorded live and syphoning them back into the cyber console like little ping pong balls made of acoustic gyil fist bumps, using some crazy wizardry programs and Gleetchlab. The album is called Nong Voru, which Alfred came up with. It means fake love. Coincidentally, he didn't know about my jazz album, nor that Enamigxo Reciprokataj meant reciprocal love in Esperanto. But there it was-love is always central.

Gyil elders probably wouldn't approve of it as traditional gyil music. In fact, I'm really sad Bernard Woma isn't around any longer to tell me what's what about it, or to share it with him. But I think the fun part of this record is we're combining traditional Ghanaian gyil music with a blend of all this new western technological stuff. We have a few traditional funeral folk tunes, but mostly Alfred's original styles coming from the Dagara tradition, and a cross collaboration that resulted in a trip hop reggae jam we call "The Women Are Taking Over The Men." As for the project, Alfred calls it Afro-jazz-beat, Rich Bennett and I call it avant-gyil. It's a journey from this ancient world to the present. Traditional gyil music is funeral music meant to honor the dead.

AAJ: There is a lot of that in the origins of jazz as well. The funeral march with a brass band lead to marching bands and second lines.

BA: Second lines, yes. I just went to New Orleans for the first time this year and having studied Ghanaian music, I was just so blown away by the similarities between second lines and Ghanaian costumes. When someone dies in Ghana, you mourn for a month, and everyone dresses in red and black. They dance and celebrate, and the music has dancers, drummers, and everyone is dancing in a circle. You honor the dead by acting out scenes of experiences you had in your life with the person who died. In June, I went and saw Dr. John's memorial, my friend Chloe and I rushed down to the second line. I saw everyone with red and black was marching in this just brilliant marching band. Insanely tearing it up! I was overcome with emotion, I was losing my mind. We went around the corner near the cemetery, and the band played a slow march. I started crying when I saw the hearse go past. I couldn't believe I was there.

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