appropriately recorded in the month of February, African History Month, at
Avatar Studios in NY from February 23rd to February 25th. 1998. This
recording could easily have been named "Sankofa" because it required all
the participants, from the musicians, to the scholars, to the researchers
and writers, to the listeners, to the arranger,
Melba Liston, and even Randy himself, to go back, to reach back into
the past to learn more about the past in order to understand the present
and go forth into the future.
This recording is titled "Khepera" because the Sankofa principle used in
reaching into our great past must imbue our present generation with the
energies for our transformation, our regeneration - The Khepera principle
- needed in order to create a greater future. Khepera also celebrates the
transformation that Africa has impacted on world cultures as in this case,
Recently deceased, world -reknowned historian, John Henrik Clarke often
said, "there is no World History without African History." Randy's music
has been influenced by African history, culture, and spirituality since he
was a boy living with his father, Frank Edward Weston, and in the Black
Church with his mother Vivian Moore. "All of this has produced who
and what I am today through continuous regeneration, 'Khepera:"
Randy says, "When I did 'Earth
Birth' it had a particular direction... ballads, strings, Melba's
beautiful arrangements and the 25 strings of the Montreal Symphony
Orchestra. Everybody was a little surprised at this move. But, this
particular recording is somewhat like 'Spirits of Our Ancestors; in that
kind of a historical recording. It reaches all the way back. How far back
I'm not sure myself. Maybe it goes back to the time of being in my
father's house as a boy seeing these unusual maps of African Kings,
Queens, articles, and books by J.A. Rodgers.
"But, I'm sure it also goes back to my experiences with the Gnawa, my
experiences with the Black Church, my experiences with spirituality in
music which I've certainly experienced in Africa. All of this has produced
who and what I am today.
"And, so with this recording, I want to do several things. I want to
produce music that is truly spiritual and, in a sense, ritualistic, and at
the same time produce magic and mystery. I want to put all these elements
together to create something very beautiful, very creative but different
from anything else I've done."
For this reason, Randy was very careful about the selection of musicians
who include Pharoah Sanders,
Alex Blake, Victor Lewis,
Benny Powell, Billy Harper. Chief Bey, special guest Chinese artist,
Min Xiao Fen (virtuoso pipa player) and, of course,
Melba Liston, arranger.
"One of the reasons I got Chief Bey is that he supplies that traditional
African drum. You see, there are different kinds of African Original Drums
and the ones used in Latin America have their heads tight with a sharp
sound when you hear them played. I wanted the African drum that is more of
a speaking kind of drum. So I wanted to have Chief Bey on the bottom of
the rhythm section. He was the key because he does all the basic things,
the basic things are what holds everything together.
"I cannot over emphasize the importance of Victor Lewis in the rhythm
section. The rhythm section is so important. Although I'd never worked
with Victor before Jean-Philippe Allard suggested that I use him. I am
happy I did," Randy explains. So where did Randy get the idea to focus on
China and invite Chinese artist, Min Xiao Fen to play and record with him?
"The Chinese picture happened over 30 years ago. Sometimes things happen
in your life that you really don't connect to or understand until 30 or 40
years later. When I was in Rabat, Morocco in 1967, I met the director of
the Conservatory of Music and he had this huge, huge piano. It was almost
the size of a Bösendorfer piano, 9' or 10' but it was made in China. So I
said, "I didn't know that China made pianos." The director said, 'Yea,
this piano was a gift from the Chinese government. When I went to Beijing,
I heard the music and you know the Chinese Symphony Orchestra uses the
same instruments that we use in Morocco; he said."
Randy also remembers another incident in the past that hadn't seemed as
important as it does now. "I remember that when I went to the South of
Morocco the people looked very Chinese. Their music was also very Chinese
to the point that when I played for someone in Morocco they said, after
'That's Chinese music!'" Hence the connection of Africa in Chinese music
just as there is Africa in World Culture. Africa being the cradle of both
humanity and civilization.
So when Randy and Min Xiao Fen were introduced to each other in Atlanta,
Georgia (USA) in 1997 after both had performed in a concert there
separately, it was more than just mere coincidence. The pieces were
beginning to come together for Randy and eventually for Min, too.
"Min told me she lived in Brooklyn too. She came to play for me at my
house. We talked about the Shang (the African progenitors to
Chinese culture). She had heard of the Shang but knew very little about
them. I started doing this research about the Shang then Min brought me
this big book on Chinese musical instruments and arts. The pottery,
sculpture, etc., looked very African."
Ancient Egyptians who gave civilization to the rest of the world were
definitely Black people. Diop had proved this through linguistics,
anthropology, geology, physics, history, etc. And Diop's discovery would
come at least 20 years before the world acknowledge that Africa is the
birthplace of humanity. Diop was educated in his native Senegal, West
Africa and at the University of Paris France. He was the director of the
Radiocarbon Laboratory at the University of Dakar until his death in
February, 1986. Cheikh Anta Diop is also the author of several
books based on his research and findings. Historian, John Henrik Clarke
wrote, "Cheikh Anta Diop is considered to be one of the greatest scholars
to emerge in the African World in the twentieth century"
Further elaborating on the theme of the "Khepera" CD recording, Randy says
"For me the whole idea was to look at the world as an African. How I see
the world, number one, spirituality, that's the key. Wherever you find
Black people, wherever you find African societies, you will always find a
heavy recognition of God. That spiritually transform the individual when
the true knowledge of one's past generates a higher consciousness.
"And, I can't emphasize too much the importance of author Wayne Chandler's
contribution to this project. I first read his writings in the 'Journal of
African Civilizations; edited by historian, Ivan Van Sertima. I wanted to
talk to someone who was not only a scholar but who was also connected to
the grassroots community. He's so great, a very warm human being.
"I told him that I wanted to connect Egypt, Nubia, China, and West Africa.
Wayne is the only one I can remember who mentions and explains the
original civilization of 'Egypt.' The word is of Greek origin. The real
name for 'Egypt' is 'Kamit' or 'Kemet The Ethiopians or Anu came
from the south, area of the Sudan, and Uganda.
"From the 'Anu' people came the gods Osiris and Horus, and the goddess
Isis. These are the people who brought civilization to Egypt.
"Talking to Wayne and from reading his writings (and others, such as
Chinese author and professor of archeology, Kwang Chih Chang's, 'Shang
Civilization') I've learned that the first historical dynasty of China
called the Shang was of African origin," Randy explains.
Their cultural influence, as a matter of fact, persisted in China up until
the end of the second dynasty and the basic Shang styles and ways
of life lasted for centuries almost up until the second century B.C., even
after the Chou conquest of the Shang. The Shang, according to Kwang Chih
Chang, was the first literate civilization in East Asia as well as one of
the most politically powerful.
ABOUT THE SONGS
"I wanted to choose the
artists on this recording very carefully. I chose Pharoah Sanders because
Pharoah knows how to capture the spirits of the ancients and the ancient
times. I chose Chief Bey because of his traditional African drumming and
style. And, of course Min with the Chinese contribution. All of the
artists on this recording are very, very important. Some I play with all
the time like Talib Kibwe, Neil Clarke, Alex Blake, and Benny Powell. And,
of course Melba Liston always has to be there, whenever she can, with her
beautiful arrangements. She's great.
Creation is all the pieces of nature coming together to create the
planet earth and civilization.
The Anu are a mysterious people who made a tremendous contribution
The Shrine represents all the places of worship, regardless of
religion, particularly of African people.
The Shang is simply about the Shang in Chinese history and what Min is
doing is telling their story on her instrument. In the song, I represent
Africa and I bring Africa to China, like the Shang did.
The Prayer Blues represents African traditional society. There's
simply no separation between secular and spiritual music. The purpose of
the 'Prayer Blues' is to show that the two elements are very much a part
of each other. It's a pretty, melodic blues.
Boram Xam Xam is a Wolof word to describe Cheikh Anta Diop, a very
powerful and spiritual man of great contribution.
The Portrait of Cheikh Anta Diop is my dedication to the spirit of
Niger Mambo is a recording I've done before describing my
experiences in Nigeria many years ago.
Mystery of Love is the theme of my group, 'African Rhythms' written
by Guy Warren of Ghana.
"I thank everyone who contributed to this recording. Special thanks to
Professor Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi, translator of Cheikh Anta Diop's books
and research, the son of Diop (Mbacke Diop), who lives in Paris and who is
also a scientist, his brother (Samory Diop) and Wayne Chandler, scholar,
and writer. God bless you and keep you strong."
1998 Rhashidah E. McNeill