Leni Stern: Finally The Fame Has Come

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: I have listened to many other artists that have attempted to integrate African and Indian music into jazz. Frankly, it often sounds quite disjointed. As in, here are twenty seconds of jazz, now here are twelve seconds of chants, followed by ten more seconds of jazz, etc. Your fusion is remarkably seamless and blends as one. It must have indeed taken a total immersion of time and focus to climb this mountain and reach such spectacular heights.

LS: Thank you very much. One of my favorite things is Shakti. This is John McLaughlin's band that is a mixture of jazz and Indian music. John studied, and can teach, Indian music. He is a very good friend of mine. He played on Finally The Rain Has Come. So did Zakir Hussain. I studied African music for ten years after the ten year study of Indian music. I finally am feeling my way. There is so much music in Africa. Every tribe has their own take. Africa is a continent and a treasure trove of music and languages. This adventure was modeled with John's work firmly in mind. Some people think that African music is savage music with people banging around on the drums. That's just not true [spoken with emphasis]. The songs are over nine hundred years old. The Americans justified slavery and colonialism by saying that these people are like savages, and we have caged them. That's not true! They conquered an empire and subjugated them. I sometimes think that is why Western artists are so arrogant and think that it would be just like one, two, three to learn the African music. There is no one, two, three of learning hundreds and hundreds of rhythms. The mixture of cultures is the ultimate. The cadences are so different. It can take years to grasp how a cadence works.

AAJ: You mentioned earlier sometimes playing South American rhythms.

LS: Yes we went on a tour of South America last year and we found all these great South American bands. We played all over Argentina and we met a lot of other musicians. We have here, in New York, a Colombian percussionist, bandleader, and arranger extraordinaire named Samuel Torres. He is one of my favorite people. He comes in and sits in with us sometimes. So then we are mixing the South American and African rhythms. There is a song on the new record called "Colombiano" that was written for him. People get excited when they hear that the Colombiano is coming in today.

AAJ: Thank you so very much for taking the time today, Leni. Your skills of composition, your voice and phrasing, your guitar and n'goni skills, are beyond reproach. Yet, you have often been considered more of a niche artist that somehow has stayed under the radar. It seems as though that tide is shifting and that after over thirty years of writing and recording top shelf material, more recognition is coming your way. Does it feel that way to you?

LS: Well, it is hard for the little tree to grow in the shadow of the big tree. I hope so, and yes, I think so. You know, my talents are in composing and performing music, not in marketing myself. I have never wanted to do something just for the sake of being successful. It's more about being true to yourself and the music.

AAJ: We will look forward to your new record release, 3, on April 28th. Thank you again.

LS: Thank you. I really enjoyed talking with you. Be sure to send me some cat photos.

AAJ: I will indeed.
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