In the past few months I’ve been getting ready for an exciting event that seems to transcend a mere concept of a musical concert. Inspired by the year-long theme of learning about other faith traditions at Ansche Chesed, I set out to find a partner to join me and our Community Chorus Shirei Chesed on a musical exploration of the shared texts – especially the psalms – and to ponder how our different religious traditions manage to draw on seemingly incompatible musical styles while creating a shared spiritual experience.
The group that will join us this coming Sunday has exceeded my most daring expectations. Its name says it all:
The Afro-Semitic Experience (http://afrosemiticexperience.net/). Imagine a band that smoothly and creatively moves from Klezmer to hard bop in the same piece. Imagine musicians who have found a way to play with the feel of both a synagogue and an African American church. This is root music– soul jazz meant to move you with a joyful noise!!!
Their CDs have garnered critical acclaim and made numerous best-of lists. Sid Gribetz, the producer of WKCR-FM in New York City (who also happens to be a judge for the Bronx County Family Court and the Ansche Chesed member!) was so enthusiastic when he heard that the band will be joining us that he wrote to me:
“I absolutely love the group, have heard them perform several times and have savored listening to their albums… an authentic, ingrained connection with Jewish music and identity …and a first rate musicianship and jazz “feel”…
Indeed, the group has great fans among the critics across the music world: the self-taught, internationally acclaimed resonator (slide) guitarist and violin player Stacy Phillips has been called “one of the hottest pickers around” (Guitar Player magazine), “a totally fluid, totally present practitioner of American roots musics” (The Klezmer Shack on-line reviews) and “a resonator guitar virtuoso . . . stretching the stylistic limits of his instrument” (Dirty Linen magazine).
I noticed that just rehearsing with this incredible group in preparation for the concert felt to me like a profound spiritual experience. As I read the bios of the artists, I began to realize some of the reasons behind this feeling that went beyond the joy of effortless music making with masters of their craft. Among the musicians you’ll hear on Sunday will be a percussionist Alvin Benjamin Carter, Sr., who proudly carries the name “Abubakar Kenyatta Ojinga Molefi”, bestowed upon him by The Communal Family of Afrikans in the Americas and translates to “noble musician, he who drums, and is a keeper of the traditions”. And a group member Will Bartlett has been not only a professional musician, composer, arranger, and music educator for over thirty-five years, but also a student of the Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Founded in 1998 by pianist Warren Byrd and bassist David Chevan, The Afro-Semitic Experience is celebrating its Chai (18th) year. The journey that has begun when the duo were invited to play at a Martin Luther King memorial service continues with the full seven piece ensemble that can play music of almost any style from the Jewish and African American musical traditions. In so many ways the Afro-Semitic Experience is a truly American band, albeit the America of immigrants and forced migration, and it is the music of freedom that brings these musicians together. Ansche Chesed is honored and thrilled to be a welcoming home on this thrilling musical and spiritual ride. We can’t wait for our Interface/Interfaith Experience!
The Concert will take place at Ansche Chesed Sanctuary at 4pm on Sunday, May 22, 2016.
The doors open at 3:30pm.
until 12am midnight on Saturday May 21: $15 Adults, $10 Seniors and Students;
or buy them at the door: $20/$15
For more information call (212) 865-0600
Ansche Chesed, 251 West 100th Street, New York, NY 10025