Guewel

Harris Eisenstadt

Guewel

(Clean Feed) (2008)

PERSONNEL

Harris Eisenstadt (drumset, sabar, compositions), Josh Sinton (baritone saxophone), Mark Taylor (french horn), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Nate Wooley (trumpet)

"...an essential modern recording that deserves all the accolades one can bestow, and is highly recommended to all progressive jazz and world music listeners."

-Michael G. Nastos
All Music Guide

NOTES AND INFO

Guewel (pronounced geh-well) is the Wolof word for griots, or hereditary musicians. This record is a sequel of sorts to my 2003 recording Jalolu (CIMP). Both are love letters to a part of the world that I draw great inspiration from.   I began to conceive the music for Guewel during my second trip to West Africa February-March 2006, made possible by a Meet the Composer Global Connections Grant. I went to Dakar to workshop a multi-media performance with local musicians and filmmakers. While there I also took Sabar lessons with Malick Faye, a fantastic drummer and ensemble leader, and a young member of one of the major Sabar clans, the Sing Sing Rhythms family.   Wolof is the major ethnic group and language of Senegal, and Sabar is the name of the traditional dance and drumming used to mark life-cycle events like baby-namings, weddings, youth-to-adult rites of passage, national holidays, and often just for folks to get together and party. I was fortunate to attend many Sabars (the name for the event itself as well as the dance/drumming) during my stay in Dakar and was always blown away by the incredible joy, energy and sense of community at these events.   The music for Guewel combines arrangements of traditional Wolof rhythms with transcriptions of classic Mbalax, the pop music of Senegal that began to gain international recognition in the 1970s. Where adaptations of traditional drumming and traditional songs seemed the perfect homage to my experiences in a small Gambian town for Jalolu, a combination of traditional and modern materials made the most sense in assembling the music for Guewel. Senegal’s capital Dakar, where I spent the bulk of my second visit, is a major West African city, congested and bustling and resembling in many ways a neglected Paris. So I wanted the music for Guewel to reflect this confluence of old and new. Each of the 5 pieces on Guewel places an Mbalax song inside an arrangement of traditional Sabar rhythms. I decided which drum piece would go with which tune, arranged a roadmap for the improvising, and off we went.   After returning to my home in Los Angeles from Gambia in 2003, I was frustrated to find there were no Mandinka master drummers to continue my studies with. By contrast, when I returned to my new home, New York, in 2006, I went straight to Djoniba Dance Center in Union Square and started playing for Sabar classes.  Members of the Sing Sing Rhythms family emigrated from Dakar years ago, live in Harlem’s vibrant Little Senegal neighborhood, and teach/accompany dance classes four times a week in Manhattan. Through the generosity and patience of Cheick, Abdou, Brigo and Babacar Mbaye I’ve developed my Sabar playing for the past year and a half and look forward to continuing to learn from them. The process of learning on the fly, of internalizing the drumming by playing it over and over at full tilt, more closely resembles the African learning process than the Western approach of private lessons in which the rhythms are slowed down, examined under a microscope and learned incrementally.   I am grateful to Taylor, Nate, Mark and Josh for bringing these arrangements to vibrant improvisatory life.  Each of these guewel is an accomplished and creative individual who helped shape the music with spirit, elegance and focused intensity. Enjoy.   - Harris Eisenstadt, Brooklyn, 2008