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Oluyemi Thomas: Positive Knowledge

Martin Longley By

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Thomas appears to have been particularly active in recent times. "I performed at an International Spring Festival, UC Berkeley and at the San Francisco Baha'i Center with the wonderful Ijeoma Thomas," says Thomas. It's the long-running Positive Knowledge band, with his wife Ijeoma on 'poetic vocals,' that Thomas still considers as his main conduit. "I've worked in San Diego, Los Angeles and more recently, in May, with legendary artist Henry Grimes and Ijeoma in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trio dates in New Mexico were so positive, enlightening and inventively embracing; they were a complete pleasure. I've also led a powerful workshop in my Creative Music class in the Oakland Public School system, with Rasaki Aladokun, a talking drums master. I've been a student of African music for several decades now. African music arrives on 'the one' from another angle than Western music, so I love it and find the tales that are being told connects with my rewarding and humbling-of-the-heart experiences during my travels in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana.

"I'm a world citizen," Thomas concludes, "and conscious of it. I approach all my music from that standpoint. I believe that music comes from the world of the beyond, as a precious gift to each people and culture, to convey collective reality about the world inside the community and to celebrate life together."

With his brother Kenn, Oluyemi used to play games and then invent new games. They're still doing the same thing today, on a musical level and this is surely the spirit that infuses Thomas' workshop sessions. "A few days ago, I shared some of my music with a group of diverse seniors here in Oakland: the eldest person was 98 years young! I loved it, along with all of them. The wonderful seniors joined me by listening dearly, closely and whole-heartedly. Their eyes tell a tale in themselves, very pure and receptive. I shared my world music systems, similarly, as with other sessions. Sometimes, I'm a little more patient with the construction of my pieces, but I still get to the thickets of the music because it's for our learning and growth about being human."

Besides Positive Knowledge, Thomas also works with his African drum units and in various trio, duo and solo settings. He's also assembling material for a new album that he hopes will be released early next year. "My exciting new works for the new disc projects will feature solo works of mine, duets with Ijeoma Thomas, Wimberley and Kenn. The music-vocal systems will continue to explore and consolidate new tonal joys, along with inner clarity."

Selected Discography

Oluyemi Thomas/Henry Grimes, The Power of Light (Not Two, 2006)

Positive Knowledge, First Ones (Charles Lester Music, 2005)

Sunny Murray, Perles Noires, Vol. 2 (Eremite, 2003)

Positive Knowledge, Live in New York (Edgetone, 1999)

Alan Silva/Oluyemi Thomas, Transmissions (Eremite, 1999)

Oluyemi Thomas/Gino Robair, Unity in Multiplicity (Rastascan, 1995)

Photo Credit

Frank Rubolino


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