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Wadada Leo Smith: A Vital Life Force

Lyn Horton By

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"To teach and create and not expect or demand anything in return."—Wadada Leo Smith, quoted in an article printed in The Houston Chronicle, November 4, 2006

On the nine-by-eleven inch cover of the February, 2010, issue of Wire magazine is a full-page photo of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Only the upper half of his body is pictured. He is wearing a dark blue, nearly black, Mandarin collar jacket, which stands out against the dimly lit, grey stucco wall that acts as the photo's background. His black dreadlocks drape softly over his shoulders and behave like a hood covering his head. His arms are lifted slightly away from his body; his hands are held in a meditational mudra, his thumbs and index fingers delicately touching. Graced by a black-speckled white full beard, Smith's face exudes warmth. His lips are pursed a bit; his smiling eyes are cast upward to the right towards the sky. He appears as though he is a monk, who has come into the light, to share his wisdom with the world.



Smith speaks in his own vernacular. His voice is not loud, does not have a consistently high or low tone, but is often emphatic. His words are pronounced with vestiges of a Mississippian accent. He carefully shapes his thoughts. The cadence of his delivery at times simulates his music. He repeats phrases as if to sing choruses of a song. When he laughs, he expresses joy and transmits the innocence that laces his creativity. His name appropriately means "love" in the Amharic language.


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