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tv   Witness  LINKTV  September 7, 2022 3:00am-3:31am PDT

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man: hollywood is the throbbing, beating heart of commercial entertainment, but, yo, south central is the soul, baby. [jazz music playing] this kind of scene, it has deep roots in south central. horace tapscott started the pan afrikan peoples arkestra in 1961 to fill a void of arts in th black community. the ark has had many different iterations. i am currently the leader of the pan african peoples arkestra. i was raised in the ark. i literally am a cld of the ark. i have a
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responsibility to pass down this culture and this legacy. [jazz music playing] announcer: this program was made possible in part by a grant from anne ray foundation, a margaret a. cargill philanthropy, the city of los angeles department of cultural affairs,he los aeles couy partmentf arts &ulture, an award from the national endowment for the arts on the
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web at, and the california arts council. [indistinct chatter] woman: check, check. 1, 2. test, test, test, test. [music playing] woman: [vocalizing]
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mekala: whoo! we are afronauts, god dammit. singer: ♪ aah ♪ [cheers and applause] thank you. we are the afronauts. jamael dean, mekala session, and i'm sharda. mekala: the sound of los angeles or this west coast, kind of like south central tinge has always been not unkempt, but untamed. it's wild. it's got a angle to it. you can't just tune out and bob your head, man. there's something going on there. it's not easy listening. hollywood is the throbbing, beating heart of commercial entertainment for the world. but, yo, south central is the soul, baby. like, we're the blues.
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that's where the love is. that's where the pain is. that's where the fear is, and the courage is. like, that's what you're hearing when you hear people from here make music. kendrick lamar, kamasi washington, terrance martin, charles mingus, eric dolphy. it's the kind of thing where there's always been the combat to corporate usings of music. this message has always been here. there are really deep roots in south central los angeles in leimert park. generations on generations of musicians. i am part of the scene that directly makes lit underground music for people who seek it. and it's never been easier to find it. [drumming]
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bro, what's going on here? man: oh, i'm just... mekala: ahh. so that part is in 7, because it's like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. [drumming] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. i started playing drums when i was one year old. that part is in 7, then the other part is in 10, which is... [drumming] papa went to work, and he describes coming home from work and finding me in the living room surrounded by like pots and pans and books and stuff, and i'm hitting them with twigs from the yard. and pop is lik "you want to play drums?" and i'm like, "yeah, yeah, you should get me a drum set." i'm one years old. and he's like, "all right. if i get you a drum set, you have to, like, practice." i grew up around music all my life. pop plays sax. pop plays alto sax, tenor sax, and soprano sax. he used to, like, practice
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sax around the house. and i would, like, as a baby, run around and, like, ask to play his saxophone and, like, sit in his lap. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. my father and mother took me to jazz clubs and, you know, all kinds of shows, you know, as a baby. pop played with multiple bands. and he used to always just kind of take me to rehearsals. [playing jazz music] solo. and you can you can immediately go into walking the solo. yeah, so that--that's what that's going to feel like. let's do it one more time. and then maybe gea solo in there. i'm currently the leader of the pan afrikan peoples arkestra. that's how it is. stops on a dime. i've been leading for almost 3 years. i guess this is a little over my second year. mike's tune. who needs a part?
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roper, big surprise, you get a bone part. gee whiz, who could have thought? [imitating instrument] you can play this in however... [imitates instrument] register you can because this is an alto part. horace tapscott started the pan afrikan peoples arkestra in 1961 to fill a void of arts in the black community. the ark has had many different iterations, a lot of members coming in, leaving and then returning. roberto miranda, william roper, fundi, and my father have been in the ark for decades. and then there's always completely new blood. like, every show we've done in the past two years has been someone's first show. aaron: you're counting 3 and then 6 happens. william: the question is, do you have the answer or do you have-- aaron: no, see that's this is ere the 6, 8 part is.
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william: shere's the pickup right here. ♪ boo boo dee dee da ♪ that's the answer. mekala: 1, 2. 1, 2. [playing jazz music] i was raised in the ark. i literally am a child of the ark. like, pop was not only in the ark, but like led it. mom was in the choir. the ark was my family. these people really are my uncles. like, i really do think that the ark is just like a really precious family community jewel. ♪ ahh, h, ahh, ahh ♪ roberto: just open 'em up. many of them are labeled. i would assume you're interested in the horace tapscott, correct? mekala: yeah. or anything of yours, any band you're in that you remember fondly. but, yeah, definitely stuff with tap. roberto: ok. through the years, i justollected them. some of them are things that i recorded at a rehearsal, people recording stuff at a gig and giving em
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to me, things like that. been a long time since i listened to my cassettes. well, this one is hoce tapscott, voices from the bottom, the creators, musician, little africa, songs for the unsung--i don't know where this was recorded. mekala: is it your handwriting? roberto: that's my handwriting. mekala: hello. this say "horace speaks" or "horace talks." roberto: that may be an interview that i did with horace, because i did--when i was doing my master's degree, i did several interviews with horace. i asked him questions about the history of music in los angeles. mekala: let me see it. roberto: let's do these two. why don't you put these two over there? that's the john carter and the horace tapscott. roberto, on tape: ok. all right. december 7th, two goodriends sitting around on a saturday afternoon talking about music. many times it can be and has been interpreted as
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anrtistic movement. it's actually a people movement. horace: during the sixties, i was forming a group of musicians in the community to preserve this music that's been used all over the world called jazz. and we would utilize music written by african-american composers--dead, alive, known, and unknown. wayne: this can totally be cleaned up. there's a lot of space to get the tape noise out of it. horace: the function of my arkestra was to be a vehicle that brought this music to the black audiences and to allow people to become aware of the music that is being created in their likeness. we take it to churches and schools. that was the biggest idea, having youngsters used to hearing live musicians. with that knowledge, preserving the black arts out of the black community because it's been taken away now. wayne: my first experience with horace was going down see him play sunday afternoons south
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central at that church that they would do a regular thing at. it was very bck-centric kind of a thing going on, you know, but it didn't have that kind of vibe of like pushing away anything and open to appreciating people appreciating it. mekala: i think that's why people loved horace so much, man, because he really did strike that balance of like not quite militant, but just, like, undeniably just like black and accepting and just, like--and so if you--just like you said, man, if you were about the music, that's all he needs. [playing jazmusic] horace: men and women who were part of the pan afrikan peoples arkestra, there was something real special about all these new types of players that they had coming out. all of the musicians that were in the city at that time, they were looked upon as they was nny
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playing guys, those guys that don't play all the changes, play different kinds of changes, different approaches. wayne: to me, one of the cool things about the earlier jazz players was that there was no jazz education. mekala: it was high stakes education. wayne: right? there was something about like the fact that you were goi against the grain and figuring out something by yourself. there's something that makes that more original. mekala: the way jazz actually happened was in nightclubs. cats showing up to play music, what was written, and then hanging out after and playing what wasn't written. there's a history of that since like the twenties or thirties or something. that's what we're dealing with here. wayne: horace hit right on that. mekala: it was--he hit that sweet spot, man. wayne: he was talking about like cats that are trying to do something a little different. mekala: and that's what happened when we institutionalized jazz and got it--you know, people wanted to learn it instead of live it. that's when we got so-called jazz.
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[laughs] buzz words--jazz, jazz music. it's just another one of those 4-letter words that means a lot to some people, absolutely nothing to other people, and everything in between. like, some legendary, and here come the air quotes again, "jazz musicians" hate that word because it doesn't describe what they were doing. it's more important to me what jazz means rather than what it is. a big part of it is reaching and pushing your own and each other's limits. jazz breaks
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boundaries and is always striving for something else. it lives and breathes, so it's-- to describe it as one thing is hard to do. sharda: [vocizing] mekala: jamael dean is like a ridiculous pianist. i remember him when i was like 15 and he was like 13. we were both in the lausd all-city jazz band. that was like a jazz band made of the best like jazz kids from all the different schools. and he was just like a beast when he was like 13. wait, wait, try that one more time. jamael: ok. mekala: i messed up. jamael: one more time. mekala: so like the afronauts is his band, but like the afronauts was the first jazz band i was in
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of just homies, just the homies. jamael: 3, 4, 5, 6. mekala: ok. jamael: 'cause i'm counting--for that to work out, it would have to be... mekala: his music is trippy because of the way he thinks about rhythm. see, that's the thing. you put it in 11-4, but really, you wrote it in like 11-8. it's really heavy. it takes a while to get into and learn. this is what it's doing, but you're like, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. and i'm like, ahh. to me, a big part of jazz is pushing the boundaries of your abilities. that's why i love jamael, man, because, like there are no boundaries with him. jamael: so, lawrence, could you play 7 dotted quarter notes in "e"? and then on the eighth one, just go da, and then back to one. you know what i mean? so like, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. yes, yes. lawrence: so it's not as swung.
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it's like straight. and then the last one is like swung. jamael: i like being adaptable. so if i'm in a situation where i'm feeling like i'm learning to be adaptable, that's ideal for me. [playing jazz music] mekala: both me and jamael are products of the ark. donald dean was his grandfather. he was one of the first cats in the pan afrikan peoples arkestra like all the way back in the sixties. i just remember him as that other kid in the band like who would do show shows occasionally. but at some point, we both found our own identities formed from that but existing outside of that. he has his own mission in music that the ark has just been a part of. and, you know like the same is true
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for me. it's really important to like forge my own identity as an artist. and it's just as important to push the ark's mission as the ark with the ark. man, we have a lot of stuff to rehearse. bass, tenors, piano... um. i started going through all this music today because we ha a gig soon, and i never like to do the same set two shows in a row, or even like really any of the same songs. yeah, it is new year's eve, which ain't all the way for sure yet. we were approached to play new year's eve at grand park, which is like a really big gig. if we get this gig, man, it'll be the biggest ark show tre's been in aong time, at least since i've been in the ark.
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when i put a set list together for a show, like there's a lot of things i consider, but at the end of the day, it really es come down to like what i really want to play or what i think the band will have lot of fun playing. pop was the one who suggested we should do "umatu," and i reallyike that song. my dad, michael session, wrote this song. from what i understand, it is one of his old girlfriend's names spelled backwards. don't quote me. [laughs] this is only like o parts for "umatu." look how much of a joke this is. like, you can barely read it. it's got--it looks like it has stuff on the back, but it doesn't. so i'm gonna need pop to give me some more parts on this. he better have them in lancaster, but i bet you he doesn't. and if he doesn't have them, he's gonna have to write 'em. i mean, we have to preserve it because we're the ones that care about it the most. cats like me and jamael dean, this band is a part of our identity.
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it really isn't just like a job. it really isn't just like a hobby. like, it's a passion. i feel like a certain responsibility to all these people that invested so much time and energy into me. i owe so much to this family. i owe so much to these songs. [playing jazz music] ah, ah, ah. no, no, no. yeah, exactly. now this goes to the break. we can go solo a bit here.
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hi, dad. how are you doing? how was your day today? hey, bud, you missed your own song. that's cool. how's it sounding? michael: i didn't hear no trumpet. i didn't hear the line on the flutes. mekala: chris is on his way probably. michael: so we gotta do it again. mekala: let's hope. michael: i just want--yeah, we'll do it again, man. oh, horace tapscott, yeah. michael on tape: yeah, yeah, yeah. [cheers and applause] michael: there were stages of our relationship. first i was an admirer, of course, going to see him play once i got hip to the pan afrikan peoples performing in my neighborhood. so i was
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like, what, a free concert? near the hood? so me and my friends went. as i was in the band, he became a mentor, and then started playing with him as his right-hand man saxophone player. he became my best friend. man: it's an honor for me this afternoon to be able to introduce the legendary horace tapscott and michael session, the session master heir apparent, on saxophone. michael: and one day horace came to my room, came up the stairs and said, "hey, buckwheat, i had a talk with the spirits last night, and the direction of the ark depends on you." man: can you tell me something about your relationship with horace tapscott? michael: how can i word this? just been a total honor to be here today to give props to a man that is more of a father to me than--how do you even say? and we just gonna keep on
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playing, right? we're gonna play real hard, right? you gonna play hard? yeah. the day he passed, i ended up in front of the band and have stayed in front of the band for the next 20 years. mekala: back up. 1, 2. 1, 2, 3, 4. michael: horace left us with a hell of a job to keep going, but it's really our honor to be blessed with such a privilege. y'all back off, back off. y'all back down. mekala: right after horace died, pop took over the ark, and it definitely slowed down a lot. michael: we're really hungry for gigs, so if you have gigs, any weddings or whatever, we'll do anything. mekala: it's hard keeping a band up with no gigs, especially with so many older cats that got jobs and that, you know, live far away. what was that? where were you?
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what were you doing? backgrounds in the solo- michael: background. last background going back to the head. william: well, we never got to the head. mekala: what do you mean? we-- this was still a solo. right. michael: yeah. so we are at the bridge. mekala: yeah. and it was gonna go back to "a." michael: we do the, uh... mekala: i thought we were saving that for the last head. i didn't think we were doing that in the solo. michael: that's not what we did? mekala: no. no. michael: oh, ok. mekala: we don't do "c" in the solos, man. if you do the background, do "b." but let it go right back into "a," you know what i'm saying? like, "c" is not in the solo. michael: all right. now that mekala's taking over the ark, i totally support it, love it. and what's so beautiful about it, he told me when he was about 16, he said, "i'm gonna take this over. i'm gonna keep horace's music alive." and he had grew up watching me leading the ark, and so he started growing into leadership naturally. [playing jazz music] mekala: when i graduated fro calarts about 3 years ago, i asked the k to play at my gr
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recital because i just want to flex and do something that other people can just do. so, you know, me being the session boy, it's really easy for me to be like i'm graduating calarts, please come play my grad recital. around that ti, zebulowas opening. and i guess jesse either just like knew about it or knew some people that were working there and he was like, "dude, we could probably do an ark show at zebulon." michael: he called me up. "hey, pop, i got a gig for the ark." i said, "you call.he said ok. so he got l the numbers from me and he called everybody. and we did the gig, and it was packed. very successful. man: give it up for the pan afrikan peoples arkestra one more time. [cheers and applause] i love this band. man: take it where you want it to go. mekala: at the gig, everybody made a big deal about, you're the leader of the ark, you do it w. and so my response was, "all right. ok. cool." like,
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what, do you say no to that? no one like asked me to do this, and i didn't ask to do it. i just kind of did it once and then had the opportunity to do it again, did it, and then everyone was like, "hey, you're doing this now. continue to do it." and i could--i went, "ok." renee: when mekala called and said he wanted to come by and talk about the ark, i was pleasethat the ark was continuing because it had pretty much started to die off. everyone was older and passing on. and it's nice to have somebody yng who's been raised around it and who understands the purpose of it and the importance of ito kind of carry the torch. you know, he's got to dit his w, but as long as it's done tastefly, we're ok. yeah. just want the
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music to be played. that's what's important. mekala: it's incredibly humbling and like an insane title to have. but it was still a completely surreal experience to be called the rector or leader of the pan afrikan peoples arkestra. that means a lot to me, but that has a 60-year history attached to it with literal jazz legends walking and not walking. kamasi washington was in the ark when i joined the ark. so it's--you know, again, like it's a--it's an honor to do it. but like i want to do it as hard as possible, completely up to--i put the most pressure on myself. rene it was my dad's vision to pass it on. and he made sure there was always young people the ark, and it was always at least what, 2, 3 generation? man: yes. renee: in the ark at one time so that it was always being fed new life.
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mekala: it's important to me to push this music because it's a really important community service. the main thing for me that identifies jazz is the culture. jazz is black american classical music. i like to describe it as fubu, for us by us. this music is supposed to teach and empower people and promote love. really black love and global unity. i am focused on the culture and the advancement of the music and the history associated and the community that it serves,
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because to me, this is medicine. it's basically what the black panthers were trying to do, but a lot less militant. [child sings indistinctly] elisia: he has a pretty voice out there. somebody is not shy, either. mekala: well, those kids are anything but shy. elisia: i remember when they first moved there, they was playing doorbell ditch. remember that day the doorbell kept ringing. they still do you lik that? mekala: i mean, if it's not that, 's other stuff, too. elisia: you know wha it's payback, because we used to do that as kids, too. we used to go at about this time. we'd go search out who's doorbell we gonna ring and run. mekala: you did way worse stuff than ding-- doorbell ditch. elisia: it's good to have kids.
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i like that noise. when there's kids playing, that's a healthy environment neighborhood. when it's quiet, something's going on. that's what makehe community, the kids. you remember going to leimert park and it was all those grownups? they used to love seeing you climbing off the trees after drum lessons. you go right outside and run and jump in a tree. you don't remember that? mekala: no, i very much remember that. elisia: you know, before you were born, that little spot used to be so hot, it really didn't come alive until like 1:00 in the morning. you used to be able to sit out and play chess and go in and listen to some music and get something sweet to eat. that's why it was fun to be in leimert park because we had everything there.
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mekala: leimert park, that's definitely my hometown. i always remember pop taking me to leimert park every sunday to hear the drums. he took me to drum classes on mondays. i was 3 when he started doing that. that's the beauty of leimert. it's a friendly environment and people have known the same people that have been around here for years, and you really feel that sense of community in the village. i love world stage. it's home to me. i used to go there every saturday morning in high school, where i met musicians i still know and play with. michael: if the world stage wasn't there, mekala would have never gone to those music lessons every monday. their pot was whatever you can put it in the pot, bring your student. man: what's your name?


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