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Drummer Hamid Drake to appear at Ashé Cultural Arts Center

25th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The healing force of music has long been recognized and utilized in cultures throughout the world. Drummer Hamid Drake, along with a host of others, taps into the music’s regenerative and unifying powers at a number of varied events this weekend as he acts as artist-in-resident at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. The shows include Friday night’s concert, when the multi-faceted percussionist is teamed with two of his long-time, like-minded, creative music associates and mentors, saxophonist Kidd Jordan and bassist William Parker. The ambitious program, which will be recorded and videotaped for an upcoming release called “Our Music is the Healing Force of the Universe,” also includes performances by such notables as vocalists Ger­maine Bazzle and Michaela Harrison, celloist Monica Mc­Intire, gospel singer Lois Dejean, the Kora Konnection plus a number of poets. It will be hosted by Kalamu ya Salaam.


Drake, who was born in Monroe, Louisiana and then moved to Chi­cago where he presently resides, has traveled the globe seeking musical and spiritual enlightenment. The drummer who is also highly proficient on tabla, frame and hand drums, has become a regular in New Orleans, one of our “adopted” musicians, in part be­cause of Jordan’s presence.

“Kidd is really one of our national treasures, not a just a New Orleans treasure,” Drake declares of the saxophonist who he met through one of his first mentors, the late Chicago saxist Fred Anderson. “He is one of the last of a generation of musicians who have spanned a large scope of the music everything from R&B – Aretha, Ray Charles, Fats Domino – to the genre of jazz that was happening before bebop, then the whole bebop era and then the modern jazz era and then moving into the more open playing of the music.”

The first time Drake, 55, encountered veteran bassist William Parker back in 1987, they both knew they were meant to play together and have enjoyed a working and personal relationship since that time. “It’s really nice to meet someone especially who plays the other half of your instrument – the drums and bass have a big connection – and that has the same views, ideals and similar spiritual philosophy as one’s own,” Drake says of Parker, who along with his wife produces New York’s highly-acclaimed, forward-thinking Vi­sion Festival. “He’s like Kidd, he’s one of those great treasures and he’s a student of world music.”

“We need to have Vision festivals in many different cities,” Drake offers. “And Vision also has to be extended to our youth that are living on the fringes to let them know that we are available to help.”

The Ashe Center’s Saturday night program, “Celebration of the Drum,” will have percussionists representing the styles of Cuba (Bill Summers), Brazil (Curtis Pierre), India, Japan, Ireland and more plus the rhythms of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. Each artist will perform a solo piece and during the second half of the show Drake will lead a drum jam.

The healing and call for peace and unity continues on Sunday afternoon with a Drum Circle from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Congo Square. Percussionist Luther Gray and the Congo Square Preservation So­ciety and Hamid Drake invite all interested musicians — not limited to drummers — to join them.

“I feel that we have to find the specialness of our unity and diversity,” Drake concludes. “I think New Orleans is a very good example of that. We’re coming up on a very special thing {the presidential election} it’s important for folks to not only be musically involved but politically and socially involved. We have to vote. And we have to work together as best as we can as a community because there’s a whole generation of people below us that are depending on us.”

Love Alive – Beyond the Singing

On Friday, June 29, 2012, the Val & Love Alive Mass Choir will lift its voice for a Praise Celebration musical event in recognition of the ensemble’s 25th anniversary. Its director, the much-recognized Valentine Bemiss Williams, had a vision back in 1987 to bring together children from neighboring churches for a summertime, community gospel workshop that would culminate in a concert. Soon children from all over the city came to join in.

At Friday evening’s free program, which takes place at 7 p.m. at the New Hope Baptist Church, 1807 LaSalle Street, the over-60 member choir will be filled with many of those now-grown children who sang in the original group as well as their offspring. Simply said, it’s a family choir with the common denominator being Val Bemiss Williams who, as an instructor and choir director, has been central to those who’ve been a part of the Love Alive community.

Originally named the Val & Love Alive Fellowship Choir, the ensemble gained recognition particularly at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for its size — the age span of its member range from toddlers to seniors —its vigor, and its excellent back-up musicians. Long affiliated with the Dimensions of Faith Choir, led by the brilliant, late keyboardist Sammy Berfect, the two choirs merged following Katrina to refreshen the Love Alive choir’s ranks. To reflect the merger, the name was changed to “Mass Choir.”

“The choir has lived up to its name — Love Alive — until today,” says Williams who has been deeply involved with music and particularly gospel music her entire life. Her father was the minister of the Fifth African Baptist Church and her brother is the director of the Shades of Praise gospel group. She began playing violin at age seven, moved on to piano and has taught music in the school system for 14 years. “It’s always been with me,” Williams declares. “My primary mission was to provide inspiration. It’s beyond the singing.”

This article was originally published in the June 25, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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