Around this time 40 years ago I had just landed in Lagos Nigeria. The Creative Musicians Big Band Troy Robinson Director .
For days I’ve been revisiting the experience in my mind and wanted to relate a few things .
Originally scheduled to happen in 1975 and or 76 But, there was an assassination that postponed the event. The band takes another break. The word comes back ”you cats need to go get your shots”. Meanwhile I’d be praying for this trip to happen, pray my self to sleep every night. Wow, we rehearsing again, the band is chosen and we are on the way. Out the door I tell my mom ‘don’t say anything if I write you and tell you ‘I played with Stevie Wonder’.
We left L.A. to San Francisco to pick up dancers musicians visual artist onto Chicago and New York to do the same. This is the 2nd leg or other half of the 600 peoples of African descent to represent the U.S. slave descendants. Now you are starting to realize magnitude of this festival of Festivals.
At this time 1977 Jimmy Carter is President, Andrew Young is the Ambassador or the U.SA. 75% of America is literally frozen from extreme weather conditions.
Citizens of America were not privy to the information that the festival was happening. Of course the conscientiousness of most of America was forboden or unconscious to many truths that people are still faced with. The national fad or pastime for the masses was jogging, whilst governments and other agencies were doing there thing.
Anyway, we are starting to get acquainted with the other participants on the plane. Wow, talking with Lerone Bennet Jr. Sr. editor Ebony –Jet magazine . Minster Louis Farrakhan from the Nation of Islam. Sun Ra and his Arkestra, his band members wanted to know who was playing the alto all the way ther. Nardi Dedmon). Nard played from L.A. all the way except for the stops . Only stop after New York was Madrid .
Ladies and Gentleman ;
I will have to do a video interview to reveal a lot of back drop information solely from my interpreted own experience, also, up coming information in this script .
We Land !!! Armed Military everywhere . We are transported to Festac Village,14 miles around 8 miles wide rows of apartments to house all the participants from every last country on the continent of Africa and all descendants . Special lanes in the middle of the rode for the busses transporting participants. What a monumental task to organize. So, we got our apartments room keys settle in for the night. I’m trying to feel the significance of being here and all, nothing has manifested yet . Next Day, Sun Ra is reprimanding a band member of ours for playing all night ; after it was suggested to him by Sun Ra to cool it till the morning . It wasn’t Nardi. Won’t say who at this time. Our regular guy Wynell Montgomery went on the rode with Billy Preston so we picked Nardi and the reprimanded. Well, the drama was intense as sax guy tried to stand up to the Sun Ra, while his band members was trying to tell him “you don’t Talk to a master like that. Ra would talk about the god Sun Ra calling father when he visited the inside head of the Sphinx, -much much more, all being corroberated by band members. I don’t know what to think. Sun Ra said if this guy performs he will not in Africa. Okay mmm? What -,whats to say . Later in the afternoon the U.S. contingent was transported to the Secretariat Building. Along the way Sun Ra spoke pointed out some graveyards and spoke about John Coltrane wanting see the face of God . We see the National Stadium ; built in the form of a generals hat.55million was spent on that as I understood it . You have to remember Nigeria was the 2nd largest oil producing nation on the planet at the time .
The Secretariat gave a tremendous speech of encouragement to all the contingent ;exclaiming “Africa is not third world but 1st world”. (refer to video)
The General and Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo also greeted and energized our presence.
Next Day free to move around trade ,take it all in whatever you can understand about you being a part of this . Something going all the time impossible to see all the events, see what you can . Saw Mariam Makeba that night . Were Talking Camel races in Kaduna and festivities in constant .
Troy says” Round up the cats we are on this evening . So here we go . We’re at the venue : oh voltage difference , must go through the house . Band consists of 6 saxes 2 trumpets 2 double bassist (who double fender as well)Drummer , Percussionist. Yes , we performed 1st out of the contingent ; Sun Ra shows up to hear , 1 of the sax guys was not there , yeah that one , but not by our doing . Now I can tell shit is starting to happen fast . We on the super highway real time . Talk to Sun Ra every Day ;very cordial individual. John Gilmore very sweet person , Playing with Ahmed Abdullah tr. David Williams bass in the apartments ,they have to hide to smoke weed. I’m thinking I wasn;t smoking from the time I left L.A. ; I was smoking in airports ,planes and land . Around this time I’m smoking again cause my friends had met up the Fela’s Guitar Player and Manager . He says he plays with the Baddest Band in Africa mon. My friend Craig Bright told meif I’m in Nigeria ‘you must go see Fela. So, I was harping to my friends about him any
way . Now we our near the Shrine its still some daylight, alleys with bails of weed and pre rolled spliffs called Jumbo’s -jambo’s . Learning Fela’s bass lines , next we are in the compound . Culture shock all the way , Heavy --- his wives dancing around while I’M BLASTED OUTTA MY GORD. Fela comes out 2am dressed sharp ! and, taking every one across the street to the shrine . ( refer to video ) Earlier that day we signed up to be Young African Pioneers Y.A.P. , In the Shrine !!! Also the name of Fela’s Newspaper Y.A.P. news . I noticed while signing up to this organization my friend put his name down as Miles Davis , started to occur to me that was a good idea to not put your real name down. I realized now, Fela was on the original committee for Festac and resigned for his reasons. The YAP paper had his image with barb wire across his face signifying his boycott of the festival . It was a lot of disorganization ,but what do I know I’m in Africa.
Fela and the African 70 completely blew me away . I’m still going through culture shock .( video ), I realize I’m in a real revolutionaries house who is a musician. Vibe, thick and heavy ,a feeling of never wanting to leave but scared to go back there . Could it have been a lot a tension in the air between Fela and Government ? Speeding up – Fela sent a car for us everyday – I’m orientated.
I’m walking about in the apts (festac village )I see Stevie Wonder sitting by himself on the porch , Like, is that Stevie ? I GO OVER and converse ,how sweet this is. We also had a mutual friend Thoko ,who taught him Zulu translation for I Am Singing ‘ Key of Life album . Before I know it the people are gravitating over to his energy. But, we had discussed the possibility of playing ,he bought it up ! I’m stoked ,shits happenin fast! Kologbo tells us to be at the Shrine tonight .Ok , now the chaperone is saying the U.S. Contingent must meet at the cafeteria so’s we can give thanks as a whole , which I haven’t a problem with that ,I was told to past the word as I just finished visiting with Stevie .Incidentally,she was apart of that gathering crowd. So I say ,” will Stevie be there?” She did reply yes , I was content enough to pass the words to my constituents and band and whoever was black from America. Yes be there . We all held hands giving thanks that we were here ;in Africa, a part of the Festival ; something so beautiful so Spiritual you cannot grasp the magnitude of what it is , what it means to ones self and how it could and continue to effect the rest the world . Yeah , Lost for words ;but we all hit a pitch of an Ohm together to sound and vibrate thankfulness into the Universe. Did not leave the village after that.But ,Stevie was not at the gathering. So guess what ? Kologbo (Fela’s guitarist) shows up in the morning asking us where were we last night.” Why you did not come to the Shrine”? In the middle of an explanation he says Stevie was @ the Shrine last night . Damn , missed it. Stevie went to pay Homage to his brother Fela !! Stuff is happening fast .that day we grabbed our instruments went Fela’s and played in his backyard , he joined in on trumpet in is Bikini underwear . So we bring our stuff back and return to the shrine that night for the performance . So much to say I have to reserve stuff for video interview ;any reference to ideology , philosophical interpretation ,spiritual connotations and the ladder can and will be discussed in the near future . Before we left the compound Fela tells us to come band rehearsal tomorrow and he would share how he write his material. Done deal as far as I could know . Next early afternoon Troy says get the cats together we have to go play at the Embassy for Andrew Young . Awe hell, here we go- We told him know cause of thwe Fela invitation. After some mulling over the situation we decided to go play . It was wonderful and we got a chance to hang out and talk with Andrew Youg when things were winding down. But at the height of that party we reunited with Stevie and He invited Harvey and me to his suite to discuss a performance he e’d had in mind. The brother gave us the address ,we bailed off the bus not telling any of the band what was up . Unfortunately , Stevie’s brother left out 1 letter of the street name and now we’re lost .A lady named Dorothy ( my moms name helped us find our way to Festac village . Talk about being bummed out !.The next day we set out with Kologbo to go to AJ.s house an Black American eigineer living there.After all his talk had been exhausted we all felt the need to get back to our apartments . Soon as we arrive we see Sanders ( percussionist ) standing oput with his stuff. Whats up ?I’m going to play with Stevie Wonder – Well I know I’m playing –was invited by the Man . In the Interim Stevie had picked others to play as well . We got our stuff ,inside 20 minutes a little van pulls up ,we load up and drive 100 yards to this bungalow . Low and behold Stevie was right there.Stevie senses Kologbo is in the room calls out Kologbo answers yeah man I here . To make along story longer we rehearsed an hour in a half anon the way to play at the National Stadium filled to capacity.Shared the stage with Osa Bisa Hugh Masekela and Violinist Michael White . What a night; After the concert we went Stevie’s Suite greeted by Minister Farrakan. Who watched us on the television and congratulated us on how great it was . Before long Fela barges through the door with 6 or 7 wives .Its on , gthe ladies pulling jumbos out the purses. Fela and Minister Farakan on the balcony talking , the Chief Priest Fela talking loud too! Communing with Stevie on the living room floor ,closest thing to nirvana. Next day Fela reprimanded Kologbo on stage for playing a Festac event ;enen if it was Steveland Morris. To be in the vortex of all this positive spiritual energy , whereby your thoughts could manifest in reality instantaneously, or before you could expect them to .It was movement some type of universal synchronicity.Have to speak on that too! How I got my Yoruba name ‘Balogun ‘ Harvey Estrada is Anikulapo Kuti after Fela .And, what it was like for me and my experience around Fela’s environment. Wow its so much! Next Day Festac came to the Kalakuta Republic to the African Shrine . Michael Veal speaks about this day in his book ‘Fela’ .The Creative Musicians performed along many groups.One thing is not so mentioned is that over the stage of the shrine is a sign that says BLAKISM IS A FORCE OF THE MIND. Now It’s a few things I wanted to let Mr. Veal know about that particular night. Also , what the flashpoint or ignition that would quickly culminated into an raid on Fela’s house .Besides the tension between the President Fela and the Nigerian government.this particular day an army guy was the a driver for the van that took us to Fela’s compound . He did not want to take us but did . His mistake was to slap Kologbo for his personal reasons kologbo being a star and all. I have to tell you how that went down too.Who was there and so on. Guitarist Kevin Johnson was in the van with us . This is where the fuse was lit . (refer to video) They actually waited to for us to leave the country and executed the raid. Fela lost his Mom in that mayhem.
I saw so much at this monumental festival it feels a bit better to get some of it out. Every one coming together as one . But , its always knuckleheads in the bunch . I mean; amongst the U.S. contingency. Some people didn’t get it . bringing there conditioned values and negative baggage with them and then back to the States. Just hope they have grown; spiritually ,mentally and so on. Me too! I think we are still in this growth and understanding continuum as we learn more ;how to love our history ,our humanitarianism and how to extend and share from the heart and soul .Sharing love from deep inside the minds eye; THIS LOVE AND STRENGTH WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO FIGHT AGAINST all evil. Celebrating Life as we know it is key ;for life expressions of the good and creativity to flow like rivers . The closing ceremonies was so colorful seeing the tribes I’ve never seen from every country in Africa . As we see whats happening these days . ALL peoples need to move together for the highest good for humanity.All people on the side of good that is ! I will list other persons that I know made the pilgrimage later. People from the World Stage area would know Sika . Love Peace and Music and will hit you back
Wanna Thank Mr Jeremy Monteiro , Showtime Jazz , his sponsor's, his Friends and Fans of music and everyone involved. Jazzy Business Show was epic and spectacular to the point of beyond words for me right now. Truly an experience of a lifetime for me about his lifetime in music. All is spiritual on our journey of life and I am Thankful; gracious for being a part of Jeremy's milestone event celebration of life and music (music in life). Thank you again Maestro for your phenomenal accomplishments and the music celebration show this weekend !!! 'Peace Love Music Always' Oh! I will speak on this magnanimous event get together when I can formulate the words . Love to all
Los Angeles: Performed with Alphonse Mouzon featuring Ernie Watts, followed by Azar Lawrence and Roy McCurdy Mahesh Balasooriya @ the Seabird Jazz Lounge Long Beach Ca. Courtesy of Jeffery Littleton.
St. Andrews park Jazz festival with DD McNeil, Kenny Elliot, Ricky Woodard and Sam Hirsh.
Performed with Bobby West and Fritz Wise @ the Billy Higgin's World Stage and at the infamous Lighthouse Cafe with Louis Taylor, Theo Saunders and Marvin Smitty Smith.
Was nice to spend some cherish moments with the great composer, jazz pianist and four times Grammy Award winner Billy Childs (see picture). Always has been a great inspiration in my life !
New York City: Engagement @ Smalls Greenwich Village with Eric Wyatt, Benito Gonzalez & Jay Sawyer.
On July 23rd I was able to reunite with Friends and pay tribute to two great giants of men, Dr Louis Thomas and Troy Robinson (original AACM! ) Growth in many ways was for me and countless young men and women of Compton for being blessed to encounter these gentlemen. My big band experience started with Mr. Thomas and then Mr.Robinson came and recruited us out the same class to form a community big band at the Communicative Arts Academy, then Watts Towers, playing creative original music from his library of compositions (yeah, everybody had to solo). I am thankful we had people like this to keep us off the streets and to teach us and show us to love, nurture our own creative spirit in music in arts and the like. Big thanks to Mr.Mrs Wynell Montgomery for organizing this wonderful day ! So much to tell, but not this blog this time. Peace, love, music for everyone !
With Gregory Vaughan, Christy Smith, Cheryl Cooley, Lonnie ChipStarr Greene, Troy Robinson, Frederick Dotson, Louis Thomas, Kenneth Meredith, Gay Brown, Kayo Carter, Harvey L. Estrada, Alford R Jackson, James Speed Jr, Kevin Davis, Stanley H Freeman and Henry Adam Prejean.
As we are at the end of Black History Month (African American History Month) 2016, I wanted to share something historical that happened in the last 50 years: The Festac Festival 1977 (2nd Annual Black and African Festival of Art and Culture). Participants from African countries in one location. Slave descendants from all over the world returned home to Africa. A monumental task for the organisers. Special thanks to the late Jeff Donaldson (Howard University) and Dr. Semella Lewis for helping us to make this trip representing Black African Slave Descendants of America. Under the leadership of Troy Robinson and John Outterbridge we were able to participate. Well this event needs a lot attention but, I can tell you later in another blog what it means to me.
Of course, I will name all parties involved as this will be a part of my own book. For now I'm thanking Kevin Johnson (participant) for his dedication to get a proclamation from the city of Los Angeles acknowledging us individually as well as collectively, with Troy, as participants in this hallmark event. Kevin had previously got a proclamation years earlier acknowledging Troy our conductor. So thats whats up? This is the 38th anniversary of Festac. Thankful to be a part of this, we all a part this, for it is historical and meaningful on so many levels. Dedicated to Black lives matter past present and future. Realisation of this consciousness is and in all ways a continuum. Thank you Harvey Estrada for keeping in the loop with Kevin.
Salute to all the Black Artist of Los Angeles past and present. And to you all Love peace, and the Arts !!!!!!