Silkroad seeks support to commission and develop Emergence (working title), a new work by Ethiopian-American composer and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen that illuminates the “spiritual jazz” developed by pianist, harpist, singer, and composer Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (1937–2007).
Alice Coltrane was a significant influence on the music of her husband, John, and after his death, forged a new genre of musical expression that drew on the gospel of her childhood, her accomplished career in jazz, and Indian spiritualism. Mekonnen will develop the piece with Silkroad through a workshopping process that will engage the musical traditions of Ethiopia, India, the U.S. and others in a revisionist historical dialogue about the artist’s legacy. Just as Alice Coltrane fused elements of the diverse musical traditions that influenced her spiritual development, Emergence will draw on the rich tapestry of traditions that make up our many-layered contemporary identities in an act of radical cultural collaboration.
The work, for six artists (music and dance), will include sparse moments for soloists, as well as group improvisation. The piece will be ~20 minutes long. Personnel will feature female artists rooted in jazz and Indian traditions, and those aligned with Afrofuturism.
This project will broaden our thinking about what constitutes jazz, who creates it, and who performs it. The 1940’s-1960’s are widely viewed as the golden age of jazz, and this codification eschews the innovations that came after that period, including fusion and spiritual jazz. The work that Alice Coltrane developed at her ashram in the 1980’s-1990’s gives us a new lens through which to reconsider the parameters and possibilities of jazz.
Emergence will generate a discussion about what constitutes American music. Mekonnen believes it essential for American music to source inspiration from a diverse array of cultures within the U.S. and abroad, and Alice Coltrane’s work reminds us that this practice is a central component of the American jazz tradition.
Emergence will be workshopped during late-2019/early-2020 at Harvard and Rice University in an open process that invites community members to observe the creation of the work and explore its themes with Silkroad artists. We will develop learning programs to accompany touring activity and make curricula, learning tools, and videos available on our website. Emergence will premiere in fall 2020, likely in Detroit, MI Alice’s hometown.
Emergence represents a significant departure from the repertoire of Silkroad’s first two decades. As explained in Silkroad’s profile, we made the strategic shift to use the historical Silk Road as a metaphorical framework, rather than a literal one. This project amplifies questions that we grapple with as an organization—Which artistic traditions should be given cultural currency? What is American music right now? Who can be a Silkroad artist? As Danny states, “It is one thing to form a task force on diversity; it is quite another to work together to create an artwork that seeks answers to these questions and disrupts audience’s expectations. Alice Coltrane is a fitting guide for this work.”
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble perform “Musicawi Silt” at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, April 2015. This classic Girma Beyene composition from 1978 was arranged by Colin Jacobsen for the Silkroad Ensemble.
“And All the Light,” composed and performed by Danny Mekonnen (saxophone and keyboards), 2017.
Exceprt from”Wild Seed,” composed by Danny Mekonnen, 2018. Chinling Hsu (crystal bowls and voice), Julia Watson (violin), Juliano Vendemiatti (rabeca), Louise King (cello), Chloe Chung (flute, dizi), and Danny Mekonnen (tenor saxophone).
Start and End Dates
11/16/2019 — 10/17/2020