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Kahil El'Zabar

Internationally renowned percussionist and composer Kahil El'Zabar is considered one of the most prolific jazz innovators of his generation. Indeed El'Zabar is a true "Renaissance Man," with a musical style and content that flows from ancient Africa to the modern world. In his own words, "The spirit of one's approach comes first before the technical. All the facility in the world with nothing that comes from the heart doesn't make good music. The basis of the strength of any artistic evolution has come from ethnicity."

Even though he is fully grounded in the history and music of his African American community, he has taken his studies deeper, ingeniously incorporating African music and instrumentation, producing a unique and wonderfully engaging sound. He credits his community with providing some direction towards African sensibility. "I grew up in a period when African Americans, as a large body, finally started addressing our roots. With African drums there was such an appeal in the way of playing with the hands and the sense of the entire body being involved in the playing of the instrument." El'Zabar is an accomplished musician with mastery of a variety of instruments, from the elementary - congas, bongos, African drums, shekere, gongs, and trap drums - to the esoteric - balaphon, marimba, sanza, kalimba and berimbau.

Music holds no boundaries for El'Zabar, who has not only played alongside a myriad of jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderly, but was in the bands of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone (who he also designed clothes for) and Paul Simon, as well as recording with rock bands like Sonia Dada and Poi Dog Pondering and heading up the jazz/house outfit, JUBA Collective.

Kahil El'Zabar was born in Chicago, on November 11, 1953. One of three children growing up in a South Side neighborhood where he heard music in the streets everyday - doo-wop, r&b, gospel, blues and jazz. After attending Catholic schools in Chicago, El'Zabar went to Kennedy-King College and later to Malcolm X and Lake Forest colleges. In 1973 while attending Lake Forest college, El'Zabar was given the opportunity to study mime with Marcel Marceau in Paris, but instead opted to use the money to attend the University of Ghana and study African music firsthand.

At the age of eighteen, he joined Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by 1975 he was chairman of the organization. During the early 1970s, El'Zabar formed his own musical group, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and later another group, the Ritual Trio, with both of which he still performs. His talents have also extended to the cinematic arena, scoring and appearing in three feature films - "Love Jones" (New Line), "Mo' Money" (Columbia Pictures) and "How U Like Me Now" (Universal Pictures), costarring in the feature film "Savannah", and starring in two independent films - "So Low But Not Alone," and "The Last Set." El'Zabar was chosen to do the arranging for the stage performances of The Lion King, he has published a book of poetry, Mis'taken Brilliance and he tailors clothing both for his band and for others. From 1996 to 1999, El'Zabar organized Traffic at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, an inter-arts program featuring music and poetry. In 1991, El'Zabar was commissioned by Germany's Leverkusen Jazz Festival to present a 20 year retrospective of his work, which showcased Orchestra Infinity - a 25-piece big band formed several years ago.

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10
Album Review

Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Open Me: A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit

Read "Open Me: A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit" reviewed by Chris May


The first few bars of Open Me: A Higher Consciousness Of Sound And Spirit promise the listener is in for a treat. Corey Wilkes' muted trumpet plays Miles Davis' “All Blues" counterpointed by Alex Harding's rugged baritone saxophone and Kahil El'Zabar's ankle bells and kalimba. Here is Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in all its enchanting bare-bones singularity, barely a year since the release of the masterpiece Spirit Gatherer: A Tribute To Don Cherry (Spiritmuse). Eighty minutes later, the ...

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Live Review

Gent Jazz 2023

Read "Gent Jazz 2023" reviewed by Martin Longley


Gent Jazz Festival Gent, Belgium July 9-15, 2023 It looked dire in 2022. The Gent Jazz festival, a two-decade integral element in the cultural life of this wondrous Belgian city, was declared bankrupt, along with Jazz Middelheim in Antwerp, which had an even more august history. Amazingly, it's still here in 2023, just as strong artistically, and looking like it just pulled in larger crowds than usual. The Flemish booking agency Greenhouse Talent stepped ...

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Liner Notes

Kahil El'Zabar: What It Is!

Read "Kahil El'Zabar: What It Is!" reviewed by Howard Mandel


Behold and behear: What It Is!, the 58th recording to feature composer-drummer/percussionist-bandleader-music director and interdisciplinary arts activist Kahil El'Zabar. The album debut of a six-year-old band comprising three Generation Next players who've emerged from the school of Chicago's renowned AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) with chops benefitting from 59-year-old Kahil's mentorship, What It Is! is an hour of now-jazz that looks to the future while embracing the past. It's a statement of the joy of interactive play, ...

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Interview

Kahil El'Zabar: Quiet Shaman of Spiritual Jazz

Read "Kahil El'Zabar: Quiet Shaman of Spiritual Jazz" reviewed by Chris May


Percussionist, kit drummer and composer Kahil El'Zabar founded the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble back in 1977. The group's sixteenth album, the gritty, groovecentric and exquisitely lyrical Spirit Gatherer: Tribute To Don Cherry (Spiritmusic), will be released on April 21, 2023. The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has seen relatively few personnel changes during its long history. El'Zabar, who began a decade-long stint as chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) aged only 22 years, goes in ...

12
Album Review

Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Spirit Gatherer

Read "Spirit Gatherer" reviewed by Chris May


Anyone who was chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians for a decade knows a thing or two about keeping a group of independently minded artists focused on a common goal. Drummer and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar continues to demonstrate that with his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, an acoustic, improvising trio with an African foundation that has been recording since 1981. Most of the musicians who have passed through the group have been longtime members. The 2023 lineup comprises ...

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In Pictures

Novara Jazz Weekender

Read "Novara Jazz Weekender" reviewed by Luciano Rossetti


A collection of photos from one day of Novara Jazz Weekender in Novara, November 13, 2022 featuring Kahil El'Zabar Quartet and Jeff Parker. ...

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Radio & Podcasts

Kahil El'Zabar, Kyoto Jazz Sextet, Peter Somuah, Kevin Eubanks & More New Releases

Read "Kahil El'Zabar, Kyoto Jazz Sextet, Peter Somuah, Kevin Eubanks & More New Releases" reviewed by Ludovico Granvassu


Music from garages, cyberspace and outer space, tributes and collaborations, and all around good energy in this set...Happy listening!PlaylistBen Allison “Mondo Jazz Theme (feat. Ted Nash & Pyeng Threadgill)" 0:00 Wolcott Curran Collective “Any Number of Things" Any Number of Things—Single (Clockwork) 0:16 Host talks 4:18 Kahil El'Zabar Quartet “Eddie Harris" A Time for Healing (Spiritmuse) 5:23 Host talks 13:09 Kyoto Jazz Sextet feat. Takeo Moriyama “Father Forest" Succession (Universal) 14:18 Kevin Eubanks, Orrin Evans “Novice ...

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Recording

Kahil El'zabar's Ethnics Featuring Nona Hendryx "It's Time"

Kahil El'zabar's Ethnics Featuring Nona Hendryx "It's Time"

Source: Sound Insights by Doug Payne

Chicago-based percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Kahil El'Zabar, a leading member of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) since the 1970s, has become well-known for the huge and fascinating body of work crafted in his groups Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and the Ritual Trio. In addition to aligning himself with edgier jazz lights Wadada Leo Smith, David Murray and Archie Shepp, he has also played with Cannonball Adderley and Dizzy Gillespie, toured with (and designed outfits for) Nina Simone and ...

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Festival

Chicago Jazz Fest After Party - Underground Fest

Chicago Jazz Fest After Party - Underground Fest

Source: Kevin Johnson

September 3-5, 2010, 10:30 pm Toyota Creative Lounge 1564 N. Damen Ave Chicago, IL Friday, September 3 Kahil El' Zabar's Experimental Band featuring Edwin Daugherty (alto sax), Dudley Owens (tenor sax), Robert Griffin (trumpet), Norman Palm (trombone), Isaiah Spencer (drums), Xavier Breaker (drums), Justin Dillard (piano), Jeff Harris (bass) Saturday September 4 Dwight Trible w Kahil El' Zabar Quartet featuring Justin Dillard (piano), Sharay Reed (bass), Dudley Owens (tenor sax) Sunday September 5 Corey Wilkes' Abstract ...

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Performance / Tour

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in Concert: Chicago Jazz Legends at the Erie Art Museum on March 3

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in Concert: Chicago Jazz Legends at the Erie Art Museum on March 3

Source: Michael Ricci

The Erie Art Museum Contemporary Music Series presents a special concert of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble on Wednesday March 3, 2010 at 8 p.m. at the Erie Art Museum in the second floor annex. After 35 years, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is still serving their special brand of 21st century Griot music to people worldwide. The Chicago Tribune writes the trio is “harmonically provocative and rhythmically seductive," and they consistently deliver jazz that combines ancestral wisdom, exploratory improvisation, and crack ...

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Performance / Tour

Robbie's Schedules "Rapology" with Troupe, Bell and Burrage, Plus Shows from Kahil El'zabar's Ritual Trio, Bobby Watson

Robbie's Schedules "Rapology" with Troupe, Bell and Burrage, Plus Shows from Kahil El'zabar's Ritual Trio, Bobby Watson

Source: St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman

Robbie's House of Jazz has announced some additions to their upcoming schedule.On Friday, October 9 and Saturday, October 10, the club will present “Rapology," featuring a spoken word performance from poet Quincy Troupe with music from two St. Louis expats, guitarist Kelvyn Bell and drummer Ronnie Burrage, who will come back home for the gig. They'll perform sets at 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., with tickets priced at $20.On Friday, November 6 and Saturday, November 7, ...

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Music Industry

Kahil El'zabar's Ritual Trio Featuring Pharoah Sanders - Ooh Live (Bright Moments Records, 2008) ***a1/2

Kahil El'zabar's Ritual Trio Featuring Pharoah Sanders - Ooh Live (Bright Moments Records, 2008) ***a1/2

Source: All About Jazz

Kahil El'Zabar's has this magical touch to turn all his music into a pure joy, full of playful spirituality, reverent and fun at the same time. And yes, he tends to repeat himself at times, but then what, who cares, the performances of his Ritual Trio or the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble are always great to excellent. What more can you want? This one is recorded live in 2000, with Ari Brown on piano (predominantly) and sax and the late Malachi ...

181

Event

Kahil El'Zabar / Billy Bang / SLF @ The Five Spot Friday, November 10

Kahil El'Zabar / Billy Bang / SLF @ The Five Spot Friday, November 10

Source: All About Jazz

Friday, November 10 | 8pm KAHIL EL'ZABAR'S RITUAL TRIO with BILLY BANG with Kahil El'Zabar, drums/perc.; Billy Bang, violin; Ernest Dawkins, reeds; Yoseph Ben Israel, double-bass

+ SONIC LIBERATION FRONT with Kevin Diehl, drums/Yoruba-Cuban percussion; Chuckie Joseph, Yoruba-Cuban percussion; Rich Robinson, Yoruba-Cuban percussion; Ira Bond, Yoruba-Cuban percussion; Matt Engle, bass; Dan Scofield, alto saxophone; Todd Margasak, cornet

The Five Spot | 5 South Bank Street $12 General Admission

Join Ars Nova Workshop ...

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Performance / Tour

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang and Sonic Liberation Front, November 10 at The Five Spot in Philadelphia

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang and Sonic Liberation Front, November 10 at The Five Spot in Philadelphia

Source: All About Jazz

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio featuring Billy Bang + Sonic Liberation Front November 10, 2006 8:00 PM The Five Spot Philadelphia, PA www.arsnovaworkshop.com

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio is not about the return of the fire- breathing brigades of the '60's, come back to reclaim musical space inhabited by a young generation of buttoned-down post-bop clones. It is, rather, a very current version of progressive improvisational music - ...

174

Recording

Deeper Soul Recordings Presents Kahil El'Zabar Remix 2CD

Deeper Soul Recordings Presents Kahil El'Zabar Remix 2CD

Source: All About Jazz

CHICAGO'S DEEPER SOUL RECORDINGS TO RELEASE DEBUT COLLECTION OF KAHIL EL'ZABAR ORIGINAL RECORDINGS & REMIXES ON AUGUST 1

The double CD features three original recordings from El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble plus remixes from world-renowned producers Charles Webster, Osunlade, Henrik Schwarz, IG Culture (Bugz in the Attic) and more.

From the brawling streets of Chicago come an artist, a label, and an album that reflect the deep history, progressive ideas, and rich cultural make up of one of the worlds great ...

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Performance / Tour

Vandermark 5 + Leroy Jenkins/Myra Melford/Kahil El'Zabar at The Cinema in Philadelphia

Vandermark 5 + Leroy Jenkins/Myra Melford/Kahil El'Zabar at The Cinema in Philadelphia

Source: All About Jazz

Ars Nova Workshop presents: Tonight. Thursday, February 2 | 8pm VANDERMARK 5 with Ken Vandermark, reeds; Dave Rempis, saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello; Kent Kessler, bass; and Tim Daisy, drums

The Cinema (formerly CineMagic) | 3925 Walnut Street $12 General Admission MacArthur fellow Ken Vandermark formed the Vandermark 5 nearly 10 years ago as an outlet for the concepts he developed over the years working with NRG Ensemble, the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet, and ALLY. During the ...

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Photos

Concerts

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Spirit Gatherer:...

Self Produced
2023

buy

Spirit Groove

Spiritmuse Records
2020

buy

Be Known...

Self Produced
2019

buy

Follow The Sun

Delmark Records
2014

buy

What It Is!

Delmark Records
2013

buy

It's Time

From: It's Time
By Kahil El'Zabar

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