Afro Yaqui Music Collective’s album “Maroon Futures” continues the group’s fusion of culture, forward-thinking politics, and music. Having formed in 2016, the group has won an ASCAP award, and their song topics are of social-political import.
In six songs, Afro Yaqui Music Collective discusses issues that impact people who identify as immigrant, that embody the struggles of a changing global climate, and people who are members of racially marginalized groups. The group is influenced by frontwoman Gizelxanath Rodriquez’s experience growing up in two cultures (Mexican and American) and her Yaqui Indigenous ancestry. “Maroon Futures” is replete with mesmerizing rhythms and vocals to appeal to a listener’s sense of musicality, and that will awaken his or her social consciousness.
About Afro Yaqui Music Collective
At first listen, Afro Yaqui Music Collective sounds as if they have stepped out of the 1970s with their socially aware, a few steps ahead of everyone else, blend of jazz, spoken word, vocal harmonies, and larger purpose. But the sound is up-to-the-minute and perfect for the imperfect times in which global citizens find themselves. There is something at once soothing and thought-provoking about the six songs found on “Maroon Futures.”
Comprised of 15 musicians or vocalists, Afro Yaqui Music Collective boasts an international cadre of performers. Co-founder Ben Barson was awarded the Johnny Mendel Prize from ASCAP for jazz performers under 30. The collective includes a former Black Panther and community organizer, a revolutionary, New York hip-hop artist (Nejma Nefertiti), Cuban percussionists, Julian Powell – -iconic hip-hop drummer, a pipa player who has performed with Yo-Yo Ma and several others.
The eclectic and kinetic sounds created by a combination of pipa, zheng, erhu, drums, saxophones, guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, and percussion, makes Afro Yaqui sound like the future that most listeners could not envision. But listeners do not need to know what each instrument is to appreciate how each works in this soundscape. Frequently, drums set the tone or the mood. Intensities change based on the type of percussion or drum is setting the pace. To be clear, this is not off-kilter art music. This is rhythmic truth-telling. The music and ideas expressed here can be appreciated by anyone who wants music that goes beyond the status quo to tell the truth of lived experiences in lyrical ways.
The group provides a quote from a Healing Justice Organizer, Kempis “Ghani” Songster, who expresses what comes after a reckoning and a break from people’s pasts that are full of slavery and imprisonment? “Maroon Futures!”
The song titles themselves reveal their content to would-be listeners. It is no surprise then that tracks like “Soul Sister” and “Insurrealista” are attention-grabbers. Full of big-sounding clashes of word and music, they make their messages clear. The spoken portions, the vocal harmony, and the instrumental fusion combine to make the sound as big as the ideas that inspired them.
“Sister Soul” by Afro Yaqui Music Collective
An eastern soundscape erupts, louder and louder. Voices begin- – one speaking a poem-like cadence, as rougher voices seem to yip in syllables. The voice speaking in verse details who Sister Soul is, “the matriarchs”- – as a light female voice begins to sing about being a member of this tribe that seems at once mystical, but with ties to earth. “The matriarchs choose life…” is an example of an answer provided by the lead speaker after she asks, “what will you choose?”
Heavy bass, saxophone and drums characterize the soundscape. There is call and response between horns as a sort of interlude. For eight-and-a-half minutes, the story of the matriarchs (Sister Soul) unfolds, with the instruments ducking in and out of the soundscape as necessary. The song is a triumph of artistry and one of the most interesting on the album.
“Maroon Futures” has a great deal to recommend it. Social enlightenment is just one aspect of it. CDs of this recording are available from Amazon.com and Neumarecords.org.