Home » Jazz Articles » Salim Washington: To Be Moved to Speak


Salim Washington: To Be Moved to Speak


Sign in to view read count
I’m privileged to be a part of this. The world of ideas, the world of politics, the world of music, the world of culture, all of these things are inextricably tied together.
—Salim Washington
To audiences in Boston or New York, Salim Washington is not just a great musician, he is a community builder. Having first established the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic, then the Harlem Arts Ensemble, Washington has throughout his career carefully nurtured collectives of musicians who in turn generated irreplaceable music scenes at venues like Connolly's in Boston and St. Nick's Pub in New York. In tandem with his collaborators, Washington also honed his chops as a composer, tackling ambitious, genre-defying works that recall diverse figures like Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Julius Hemphill, or Fred Ho.

Consequently, when Washington relocated to South Africa to teach at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the loss to New York's scene was painfully felt. However, the city's loss proved South Africa's gain, as Washington has turned into a central figure of Durban's Jazz scene as a teacher, mentor, and performing artist. With the 2017 release of Sankofa, an ambitious Pan-African project that finds Washington performing in the company of top-tier South African talent like Nduduzo Makhathini, Tumi Mogorosi, and Ayanda Sikade, listeners were treated to a remarkable new musical chapter in the life of an ever-evolving and ever-surprising artist.

All About Jazz: Going through your discography, a recurring theme seems to lie in your compositions' construction. They're ambitious, they have thick and rich orchestrations, and they employ a lot of atypical instruments for Jazz ensemble. Can you talk about your compositional style?

Salim Washington: The primary thing is that I was a composer from the beginning. Even before I had matured as a player, I had begun to mature as a composer. This is something that's very important to me, to have multiple voices.

AAJ: You also do an incredible amount of doubling on your recordings, across a surprising range of instruments.

SW: I'm from the same neighborhood, though a different generation, as Yusef Lateef, who also plays tenor sax, flute, oboe, and other instruments. I was also influenced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a player. As I got older, I realized that he also influenced me as a composer and arranger, too.

The other thing for me is that I have also spent my career as a bandleader like Horace Tapscott did, in the sense that community is important to me. When my peers were out trying to prove themselves as the best in the world at their instruments, I never really had that type of ambition. I was much more involved with having collaborators, people who were generous enough to learn my music and stick with me. That's been part of how I developed.

Charles Mingus really turned my head around when I was introduced to his music. People like him are total musicians, who have a vision for how they play, for how their music is presented, and what its purpose is. Because of all those things, I've gravitated towards mid-to-large-sized ensembles.

In fact, my dream is to perform with my Jazz ensemble paired with a philharmonic orchestra, a South African choir, a Pan-African percussion ensemble, and poets. I've been writing this music, and I know it's very impractical and expensive! But I feel like if I write this music, the musicians will come, and we'll get it documented somehow.

AAJ: What you're describing are threads that one hears across your various albums. Those arrangements and textures, the mixing of music and poetry, are all present in your albums to date. It makes sense they could congeal into something bigger.

SW: Yes, and I can't get the sound out of my head. It's something I'm supposed to do, so I am writing a suite of five compositions dealing with different aspects of love. Five is the special number for Oshun, the Orisha of Love. I've been trying for this for so long, that sometimes I can get discouraged, but now I'm going to solider on and continue to write this music.

AAJ: One album that stands out as a contrast would be Dogon Revisited, where you pare down to a much smaller ensemble. But even there you are taking unusual steps, using a viola instead of, say, a piano. Can you talk about that album?

SW: Dogon Revisited is unique in my discography. It was recorded as I was about to immigrate to South Africa, and I wanted a piece that encapsulated what I had learned during my years in New York, Boston, and so forth, before I left the country. So that album tries to distill my music and playing to some type of essence. That was the idea, and so it's a lot of my compositions on the album. But with playing "Dogon, AD" on the album, I am also paying tribute to [its composer] Julius Hemphill, who was for me one of the greatest writers of his generation. He's a composer in a very special kind of way in how he studiously avoids clichés—even his own—and I aspire to that level. I really wanted to play it, and often do you get to play a masterpiece in 11/8? What also helped was having Tyshawn Sorey on the album, who can not only play such compound meters fluently, he can make it groove. It was a great opportunity, I thought.

I'm attracted to the trio idea, but I had never really explored it that much. But I enjoyed it, and I'd like to employ it more. Billy Bang used to tell me I should play trio more, because people wanted to hear me more. I don't know, but I'm still thinking about what he said.

AAJ: You referenced this idea of community, which is certainly a running theme in your life and music. Can we talk about two of your ensembles, the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic and its later incarnation as the Harlem Arts Ensemble?

SW: The Roxbury Blues Aesthetic is one of the things I'm most proud of. We held that band together for many years, and it was remarkably consistent in personnel. But it came to the point in my life where I felt I had to go to New York in order to grow. In Boston, the local musicians who were older than me—and many of those who were more experienced—had retired, whereas in New York there were lots of elders still playing. I had a chance to play and learn from musicians that I had admired for many years. It was a rich environment in which to learn, and so I felt like I had to go to New York. I moved at a relatively late age because I was the father of four and all of my children lived with me. So I felt I needed a good plan for how to survive in New York in a way that was fair to my family.

As it turned out, the people who were with me in the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic continued to work with me in New York, and I continued to work with them. These people are like family. People like Kuumba Frank Lacy, Kurtis Rivers, these guys are unique voices that can't be duplicated. So while I had a wider range of people to work with in New York, and some of them appeared in the Harlem Arts Ensemble, I was still very fortunate and happy to keep the Roxbury Blues Aesthetic together as much as I could.

We occupied a cultural place in Boston, and it grew to be part of who I am musically. So the Harlem Arts Ensemble became a later incarnation of the same idea, of community. Our home in Harlem became a place where people came to rehearse, where people came for performances, all kinds of people. It was almost a cultural center, and so the music evolved again in a certain kind of context. There was a cultural and political focus to the music and our living styles, even activism.

AAJ: In both incarnations, you had venues—spots like Connolly's in Boston and St. Nick's Pub in New York—that enabled a standing performance possibility for the band.

SW: I feel fortunate, because I feel I'm at the cusp of a certain generation whose music has been shaped by black audiences. That is more rare than one would think, given the political economy of Jazz. Of course, it's different here in South Africa where I play for multi-generational audiences that are primarily black. But in Boston and New York, I was fortunate to have longstanding residencies in these bars located in black neighborhoods, Wally's, Connolly's, M&M's in Boston, and of course St. Nick's Pub in New York where I served as musical director for pianist/singer Donald Smith's Seven Bashiri for years. I felt I had the hippest gig in New York City, because the music was very hot and original, and the more we pushed, the harder we played, the more they liked it and encouraged us! Playing with Donald I learned a lot about how to be myself and how to communicate with audiences. And the St. Nick's audience was extraordinarily hip. It may well have been the most diverse audience in New York, what with its neighborhood regulars, the hipsters and hustlers, the artists and actors and musicians, the tourists, old and young, all ethnicities and sexualities generously represented. So the music was always being pushed to the limits of my abilities, and I continued to grow.

It's a beautiful thing to have music grow and develop in tandem with the audience. We had our regulars who shared in creating our aesthetic, a core audience who'd attend these sessions the way a congregation constitutes a church. You can't play your best, most subtle and nuanced music for an uninterested or uninformed audience. They are a part of what happens. So for me, the hipper the audience, the hipper the music could be, and so I felt fortunate to play for one of the most diverse audiences in a city known for its diversity. In fact, the closing of the Pub was one of the quality of life issues that made me feel like I could leave the States and be happy continuing my journey in South Africa.

AAJ: We lost something crucial when it closed.

SW: We did. Though by that time I had experienced the closing of Connolly's in Boston, which happened quickly and mysteriously. So while I was at St. Nick's, I had the pleasure of realizing how rare and special the experience was. Good things don't last forever, and it's a shame to realize something was extraordinary only after it is gone. So I did get a lot of joy from that gig. But you are absolutely right; it was a unique scene and such a thing can never be duplicated. New York has had many storied Jazz clubs: Slugs, Minton's, The East, Bradley's, and so forth. They were all significant and special and cannot be reproduced. But when you talk to the musicians and patrons who created those scenes you get a sense of how historically significant they were in their contribution to this thing of ours. I feel that way about St. Nick's Pub.

AAJ: Thinking of South Africa, when [South African electric bassist and composer] Carlo Mombelli visited New York in 2010, on his "to do" list was St. Nick's Pub to see you perform.

SW: That was nice! He also got to play with my son, drummer Malik Washington, which he enjoyed. Carlo understands the idea of relentlessly being creative, avoiding clichés, and the like. That's exactly the kind of place he should be in, because he's that kind of artist.

AAJ: Can you talk about your introduction to South Africa, and your initial trip there? It seems there's a wide gap between the two.

SW: I first became of South Africa in a significant sense after the student uprisings of 1976 in Soweto, which spread throughout the country. Gil Scott-Heron had a hit record called "What's the Word, Johannesburg," and I was a big fan of his. I loved the way he seamlessly combined political commentary, poetry, and humor with Jazz. It made me start investigating South Africa.

I remember looking at pictures of South Africa, and being amazed how much the people looked like African Americans in terms of their style and visual affect. I started studying their history, and realized that their social and political history was very similar to African Americans,' perhaps more similar to us than to other colonized parts of the continent. Some of the problems for how to build Afro-Modernity under an apartheid regime were similar, and some of the solutions were similar, and I found out that there was so much back-and-forth between our cultures.

However, I couldn't go to South Africa in the 1970s, because I would have had to come as an "Honorary White," and I couldn't abide by that. So the '70s were out to visit there. I was exposed to South African music, mostly of the exiles like the Brotherhood of Breath. I was shocked by the music coming out of South Africa. Jazz is everywhere, but it's usually not at the cutting edge, and yet here people were absolutely at the cutting edge for the time.

At that time, I also got involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and the people from the PAC [Pan Africanist Congress] told us that our job was to get institutions like schools and companies to disinvest from the apartheid government. So I worked in that arena, writing songs and poetry, performing at rallies, that sort of thing.

When the 1980s came, there was a cultural boycott of South Africa, which I observed. In the 1990s, I was raising my children, so it wasn't until the 2000s that I finally got my chance to go, initially as a Fulbright Scholar.

AAJ: What prompted your decision to move to South Africa?

SW: I fell in love with the country, and I felt that the revolutionary potential of this culture is immense. Of course it has its problems, but they are solvable problems from what I can see. I wanted to be a part of this young nation and contribute in some small way to the fashioning of what this place could become.

When I got the chance to come and teach, I jumped at it.

AAJ: It's interesting you bring up the cultural parallels. It's been written that African Americans were forcibly ripped from their countries, while black South Africans had their country ripped from them.

SW: I think that's very true! In the case of African Americans this caused a flowering of creativity as we had to fashion new ways to survive; out of our existential crises came new strategies and institutions such as Jazz. Suffering from settlers' colonialism and a particularly vicious form of racial capitalism, black South Africans found themselves facing existential crises as well of the same magnitude. The thing about South Africans is that they still have their indigenous languages and cultures. Musician/musicologist Sazi Dlamini has theorized a South African "triple consciousness" building upon WEB DuBois' famous formulation of African American "double consciousness." So there's a third level of richness that South Africans can bring to any cultural notion of expression. It's very rich, and we're only beginning to understand what's a stake here aesthetically with the music.

I'm intrigued by that notion, the ways in which South Africa can contribute to Jazz so meaningfully because of their social history and the types of constraints and possibilities unique to here. The other thing for South Africans playing Jazz and other African-American forms is that they're not newcomers to it. They've been playing it for decades, and so the stylistic developments in the States also happened here, in addition to South Africans' own musical styles.

I feel that outside of the United States, there are three great places for Jazz. We know of Cuba and Brazil as great Jazz cultures, so great that when you talk to New York musicians for instance, and say "play Afro-Cuban," they can do it. It means something to musicians. The same is true of Afro-Brazilian music, such as samba. It may not mean exactly the same as it does in the country of origin, but it shows that what Cuba and Brazil did is so profound that it affected the way Americans play their own music. I think South Africa's rhythmic contributions are equal in that respect, but because of apartheid, we were not as exposed to it.

When I came here in 2009, I was shocked when I discovered the artistry of tenor saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi. How could I not know about somebody that good? It's a strange thing.

AAJ: It can be so complicated with Jazz in South Africa. There's the universal-aspiring side to it, then the neo-tribal aesthetics that the apartheid government tried to force on the sound, and then groups like Sakhile flipping it on its head by re-using the traditions as resistance. How did you encounter the range of the music, and absorb it?

SW: I landed in Durban, though I play a lot in Joburg and Cape Town. But I'm living in Durban, and man, the Zulu-ness of this place is a thing to experience! They are very proud about who they are. They're dealing with [Zulu guitar style] maskanda, they're playing in [South African Jazz style] mbaqanga music, but they're also doing [traditional Zulu dance] ingoma. And you can hear these influences in the way they play drums in Jazz, or the harmonies the musicians use.

I've been inundated here with Zulu music, but the Xhosa people, the Sotho people are also heavily represented in Gauteng [South African province where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located], and so I'm exposed to that as well, especially through the disciples of saxophonist Zim Ngqawana. They use the Xhosa vibe a lot.

I'm here, and I'm trying to keep my ears and heart open, and people have been generous with me.

AAJ: Thinking about the album you recorded in South Africa, Sankofa, so many concepts intersect. You're working with South African musicians on it in some idioms that reflect South Africa, but at the same time with a term like "Sankofa" you bring in the broader African diaspora. How did you weave all these threads together in the concept?

SW: The fact that it is Pan-African in intent is quite deliberate and, I think, quite important as well. One of the things that I do not love about South Africa is the xenophobia that can erupt against other African nations. That's what the song "Imililo" is about. Imililo is Zulu for "fires." This was my response to the disturbing incident of a man being burned alive. Not only were people being burned alive, other people were standing there taking pictures with their phones instead of intervening! What are we, if we don't respond to this? "Imililo" is a plea for us to go beyond the strictures of fear and divisiveness and recognize both the possibility and need for Pan Africanism.

I thought, number one, I am a Diasporic African who has returned to the continent. And I learned something reading about Duke Ellington, when he would travel the world. He'd go to Turkey, but he wouldn't write like he was Turkish. He'd wait until he got back to New York and then he'd write using its influence. I think that's more honest. Don't pretend to be something you're not. So I didn't want to be the American who came over here and pretended like the music was his invention. I wanted to be influenced, but to be influenced in a natural way, and continue to be true to who I am and to my development.

The other thing is that I think that's what we need here in Mzansi. We need to recognize that we are connected, culturally. Through what they're calling the Black Atlantic. It's important, and beautiful, and richly rewarding. We don't have to be closed-minded about it.

One thing that surprised me about being here: in New York, Boston, and Detroit, hand drumming is being practiced at a very high level. Maybe not as high as Cuba, and definitely not like in Guinea and other places in West Africa, for example, but certainly a very high level. Not so in South Africa. And I was shocked. There was this real important part of music to me that I don't have access to here. I mean, if you can't play congas better than me, then you're not a conga player, cause I'm not a conga player! I think the idea of learning from learning from all of our cultural birthright is an important thing.

I'm now teaching here, and when I give my students a Ghanaian rhythm to describe, they struggle with it because of their relative unfamiliarity with it. This is an example of what can be lost due to the racial and ethnic skirmishes that so characterize our history here. So, my experiments with using Mozambican hand drummers in Sankofa are another nod to my Pan-African aspirations.

Sankofa is the Ghanaian mythical bird that flies forward as it looks backward. It symbolizes the need to know where we come from—our history and cultural origins—to help navigate our progress in the present. It also signifies the Diasporic African that has return to the motherland, and all of these meanings resonate with my personal life and my political thoughts and activism.

So, Sankofa is the beginning of me trying out my dream, of having the super-large ensemble. I'm using the sensibilities of all the musics I've studied, and it is Pan-African in scope.

AAJ: On one hand you hear a continued artistic development in the album, but at the same time, the thread of incorporating poetry remains. "Tears for Marikana" makes one think of other works of yours that incorporate poetry, like "New Invasion of Africa," or "In Search of Sane Alternatives." The poetry fuses with music, and moves towards social action.

SW: I feel strongly about that, and Charles Mingus is a primary influence for me in this. When I was young and developing my aesthetic, he really imprinted on me that this was a possibility. Also, a lot of my early music was done in political rallies, and it involved poetry. So Gil-Scott Heron, The Last Poets, these were guys I listened to a lot. I grew up in that, and so I think it's important to use music to make a meaningful statement. I'm not afraid to speak, and I feel we must.

Another aspect of it is that "Tears for Marikana" and "In Search of Sane Alternatives" were about epic moments that demanded artistic response. The invasion of Iraq on trumped-up, phony charges wasn't the first time America had imperial designs on sovereign nations, but they did it so nakedly and openly. I felt that this was a new low in American politics, in the same way that Charles Mingus felt the need to write "Fables of Faubus" to document the virulence of reactionary racism at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. But the recklessness with which American leaders like Bush, and now perhaps even more dangerously with the Trump administration, in reality amounts to madness.

When I saw the people being mowed down like dogs at Marikana [location of a 2012 massacre by police of miners on strike], I thought "my god, this is a human tragedy on another level." For me, Marikana is the confirmation of everything that is wrong with the New South Africa. This happened within months after I moved here, so I was moved and felt that we needed to be clear as artists. Otherwise, we're just entertainers, not truly artists. We don't have to agree politically, but I do think we have to be moved to speak to conditions, especially when there's so much suffering.

AAJ: "Tears for Marikana" is a collaboration with poet Lesego Rampolokeng, and the earlier work "New Invasion of Africa" was a collaboration with Amiri Baraka. You also write your own poetry though, so can you talk about the two different approaches?

SW: I like the collaborative element the best. It's hard to find someone who can truly collaborate. A lot of people want to write, but they aren't Jazz performers, so I find it very beautiful to work with people who are not only poets, but who are Jazz Poets, in a sense. I enjoy that. The problem is that it's hard to find people like that. Amiri Barakas and Lesego Rampolokengs don't grow on trees! But the collaboration is richer.

AAJ: Throughout Sankofa we hear the deep musical connection you've forged with pianist Nduduzo Makhathini. How did you and he begin working together?

SW: When I first came to South Africa as a Fulbright scholar, I was invited to Joburg to perform. I was looking for a rhythm section, and one of my students told me that Nduduzo Makhathini was the truth! So I thought that was quite an endorsement, and when I got there, we did some gigs at the Bass line. Man, it was magical, it was me and Nduduzo, [bassist] Herbie Tsoaeli, [drummer] Ayanda Sikade, [trumpeter] Feya Faku, and a singer named Brenda Joyce.

Nduduzo was able to stop time. He played something and it was so magical, that you could feel it in the whole building. It's like the entry from one dimension into another. This is not something that you can teach or coach for someone. This is something the person just has to learn to lift the music off of the page and take it to another land. That was amazing to witness and be a part of.

The other thing is that I'm a saxophonist, and the way a person comps behind you is a special relationship. Man, Nduduzo really understands that. He knows how to support what I'm doing, and the soulfulness of his comping makes me feel good, which means I can play better. He's very important to me.

I love when he's playing free. He's not necessarily known as a free player, but I think he shines in that arena. I get that soulful accompaniment, and it's worth its weight in gold, because it's hard to find someone who can do that. I remember talking with Pharoah Sanders, and then later in another context with Billy Harper. The three of us all have in common, which is Joe Bonner. Pharoah said that he loves Joe, he said "because Joe makes me sound intelligent!" I had never heard it phrased like that, but it makes sense. Joe certainly is that kind of player: brilliant composer and improviser, but also a brilliant accompanist. And I think Nduduzo brings that for me.

AAJ: This can be very interconnected. You bring up Joe Bonner, and he had that longstanding connection with South African bassist Johnny Dyani. And when you talk about your Bass line gig with Nduduzo, you essentially had Zim Ngqawana's rhythm section!

SW: That's right! I've been playing with Nduduzo and also with Ayanda very consistently ever since. I've got a young guy playing bass, but I love his spirit and heart. He's one of the few people here that's not afraid of the double bass. In South Africa, you don't see as much double bass. You see a lot of 5-string, 6-string bass work here. Of course, Herbie is one of our strongest and most musical bassists. And his sound is magnificent!

This year, I started having my bass players in my student ensembles play the upright. I'm trying to see if we can keep that tradition strong.

AAJ: You had previously focused heavily on building an artist community in Boston and in New York. How have you been approaching that in Durban?

SW: I'm certainly doing a lot of mentoring here. Here, it's been more mentoring students, whereas in Boston and New York it was more my peers. So I'm trying to get to that stage. But, how do I put this, in America I'm middle aged, in South Africa, I'm old! Although old doesn't have the pejorative connotations here that it has in America. But still, my focus here is more on education than it was in America.

Certainly, I've always been an educator and an artist. In New York, it was about 50-50, whereas I'm doing 60% education here in Durban. So, the community I've built here are with artists significantly younger than I am. That's a good thing, but it can also be a challenge. I'm more of a mentor here, and we need more mentors. Traditionally, you learned Jazz through mentors, and now people are learning Jazz through lecturers, and that's not the same thing. There is something that has been lost when people have learned solely through the academic environment.

I've been so moved by my students; they have achieved so much with so little. They are mostly coming from far more disadvantaged backgrounds than my students in New York. I feel like this is one of the contributions I can make, getting up on the bandstand with young people. There are things you can learn there that you cannot learn in the classroom. This has been one of my callings.

AAJ: Teaching at UKZN means you're tapped into one of the key Jazz Education backbones of South Africa. In terms of teaching the music and the full diaspora of the traditions, how do you approach all of that?

SW: I've been a soldier on that front. Sometimes it is an uphill battle. The education system in South Africa is full of atrocities. I'm at a university that used to be considered a white university. Then they were forced to integrate, and now the student body is almost entirely black. There are Coloureds [mixed-race racial classification under apartheid], Indians, and white students as well, but mostly the students are what they call Africans. And most of them are coming from secondary educations that are ridiculously under-developed. The legacy of Bantu Education [the education system under apartheid] remains.

So now you have people with vastly different educational backgrounds and different levels of preparation for tertiary work, and they're all forced to be in the same class doing the same thing. The results are a mixed bag, because there is very little formal acknowledgement of this problem. I have the experience of being in some of the best educational institutions and also some of the worst. I know that the difference between the best and the worst is not the caliber of intellect in the students, but the expectations that are made of the students. If you have low expectations, you get low results.

And then there are people who don't feel that black people are as capable as others. Even people who are entrusted with educating students! That's a real problem.

The other thing is that we are trying to redo the curriculum. I'm pushing for making our African Music and Dance program more central to our curriculum. UKZN places itself as an African research university, so you'd think African Music and Dance would be the centerpiece of our music program. It has not been, and has been marginalized.

So we are trying make two changes. One is that African Music and Dance need to be more central to our program, and other is that we must end the balkanization in the music curriculum. Everybody should be forced to do every component. Everybody should be able to play Jazz and improvise. Everybody should be able to do traditional dance and music from Africa. Everybody should be able to read Classical music, or produce an opera. All of these things, all students must do.

That way, instead of being a second-rate Berklee, we can be a first-rate South African conservatory. This is my dream, and I'm pushing with whatever influence I have to push in that direction.

Western Classical music says you must first become a virtuoso before you really start playing music. Black traditions are not like that; you become a musician first, and then virtuosity is your own problem. If you are truly a musician, you may develop it, but it's not a requirement to make music. That to me is a key epistemological difference. These differing epistemologies, say between a conservatory-modeled music program and the ways that musicians are trained in the black church, result in radically different pedagogical strategies and outcomes.

AAJ: Nduduzo has brought up similar points, noting in his music and outlook that returning to pre-Colonial musical and societal traditions of South Africa, pulling them to the forefront, and finding ways to have them shape today's South Africa is crucial. It sounds like you're pushing for a similar approach with regards to these traditions.

SW: That's exactly right. Nduduzo might even take it further! He wants to write a paper and cite a dream visitation from his grandmother as a source in an academic paper. So he's pushing the boundaries of what the academy really is. He wants Sangoma rituals, he wants ancestral visitations, and he wants all of this to be considered legitimate, which of course it is.

So what does it mean transform the academy? Does it mean that you tick boxes to get people from this race, this gender? Or does it mean that you change the way you think about the pedagogy? So I think Nduduzo is pushing in a very interesting way. A lot of people are afraid!

AAJ: In a way, it's advocating for a revolution.

SW: That's right. That's what it comes down to. And this is why people are afraid. They've built their careers on the old way of doing things. You can't just expect students to change, though; you have to change yourself. That's easier said than done.

AAJ: A lot of these points come up in current political debates in South Africa. This question of refining laws that were based on oppressive laws, instead of returning to earlier laws.

SW: It's important. Justice is not winning all the time, and Democracy is not the same thing as freedom. If the economic apartheid remains intact, if the land remains as it was after the Natives Land Act of 1913, then equality is not really achievable.

It would be one thing if this was a poor country, but this is a rich country. It's wealthy, but the wealth is in pockets. This is a basic question of justice, and it has been obfuscated.

AAJ: This ties back to your earlier point, of music playing a role in commenting on and shaping societal development and discourse.

SW: That's right. This is my life here, and this is what I came for. I'm privileged to be a part of this. The world of ideas, the world of politics, the world of music, the world of culture, all of these things are inextricably tied together. For me, music is the way to trust myself to enter this mix.

Selected Discography:

Salim Washington & RBA,Love in Exile (Accurate Records, 1998)
Salim Washington and Harlem Arts Ensemble, Harlem Homecoming (Ujam Records, 2006)
Salim Washington, Sankofa (Self Released, 2017)
Salim Washington, Dogon Revisited (Passin' Thru Records, 2018)

Post a comment




Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.