From the Abyss to the Astral


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Ars Nova Workshop is thrilled to welcome the Jemeel Moondoc Trio, featuring bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Chad Taylor, to West Philadelphia for a free concert at The Rotunda on Thursday, January 20. Saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc was a co-founder of Ensemble Muntu, one of the most daring and innovative Loft Era groups, which included dynamic musicians such as William Parker, Rashid Bakr, and Roy Campbell. Muntu Ensemble’s music was nearly impossible to track down until last year, when Lithuanian label NoBusiness released Muntu Recordings, a three-disc set of the group’s outstanding studio and live recordings. The collection includes two essays on Muntu and the Loft Era by Ed Hazell, one of which can be read at Point Of Departure, and one written by Moondoc about studying with Cecil Taylor at Antioch College and Muntu’s formation. NoBusiness kindly shared Moondoc’s essay and a few selected paragraphs appear below:

Muntu: The New African Culture obviously inspired me in as much as I named my first band after this book. Muntu, a Bantu word, is usually translated as “man,” but the concept of Muntu embraces the living and the dead, ancestors and deified ancestors: gods. This concept is common to all African cultures. The soul of the African cultures exists in their complete celebration of life, and in the spirits and deities surrounding life and death. The book Muntu depicts the survival of African cultures, in conflict with a modern world. When you consider that American Black music is deeply rooted in the African experience and this experience survived more than 300 years of slavery, Black music in America, and subsequently the creation of jazz, came about through the institution of slavery…

Muntu is about the transition and survival of an old world culture connected to me by birth. Muntu is about me traveling back centuries into an ancient world known to me only through my ancestors. This connection is spiritual, and embraces the living and the dead. When performing music, the execution of contacting the ancestors requires a religious belief. This process can be an outer body experience causing one to be possessed, but can also bring into the room the spirits of ancestors known and unknown. The intent of the performance is not to merely entertain, but to uplift, and awaken the listener’s spiritual powers. One of the spirits that I always try to evoke during a performance is that of an ancestor, much talked about when I was a kid, Moondoc, the moonshiner and medicine man, who would heal anything that ailed you with a powerful cure-all concoction of home-distilled peach brandy and herbs, bottled and corked. Many a day the Moonshine Doctor would vend his remedy from the back of a wagon with a song and a dance while playing a violin.

We are the Blue Men
We have been carved out of the dark, hard ebony of Africa
Our shapes are awesome as well as beautiful
Our lines are jagged and sharp as well as soft and smooth
We are symmetrical and asymmetrical in the same instant
We span a vertical line from the abyss to the astral
For we are dark unto ourselves
And in the bright and glistening noon-time sunlight
We reflect a magnificent midnight blue
We are the Blue Men.”

The Jemeel Moondoc Trio will play a free concert on Thursday, January 20 at The Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street).

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