A Tribute to Africa – BlueShore Theatre

Taylor M. Kleine-Deters – Contributor 

On Jan. 25 the BlueShore Theatre plays host to A Tribute to Africa, part of the Capilano University Jazz series which is being led by artist-in-residence Dr. Kofi Gbolonyo. This tribute will feature faculty contributions along with traditional pieces and will be played by members of CapU’s Jazz Ensemble and notable faculty guests including Brad Turner (trumpet, piano), Dave Robbins (drums), Dennis Esson (trombone), Jared Burrows (guitar, arrangements) and Steve Kaldestad (saxophone). 

Fiona Black, the BlueShore Theatre’s Director of Programming and Producer of Capilano’s Global Roots & Jazz Series, is excited for this performance to showcase jazz from across the world. She explains that “the US kind of owns jazz… but there’s a lot of other jazz happening in the world,” and she feels that “having [Gbolonyo] here is a perfect opportunity.” Typically the tributes feature the Jazz Ensembles, A Band and NightCap but this year it has expanded to more of the Capilano Jazz ensembles. 

“There are four or five extra percussion because it is African music, and a lot of the Jazz Faculty volunteered to be part of the tribute as well.” Fiona hopes the performance will be illuminating for audience members that may not be familiar with West African music and that Gbolonyo will speak about the pieces as they appear in the cultural context of Ghana and West Africa as a whole. 

West African music is highly dependent on rhythm and traditionally will utilize various percussion instruments. In addition, the belief was that tradition was made to be broken and it was repeatedly. As the influx of American music reached the continent of Africa, its influence spread. Jazz’s greats artists such as Louis Armstrong performed in Ghana and the genre flourished and integrated itself into more traditional African genres giving jazz a Ghanaian flair. The West African influence on jazz is making the genre even more danceable – which seems like an incredibly exciting addition. 

Speaking with Margaret Gallagher on CBC Radio in 2015, Gbolonyo says that his first exposure to jazz was theoretical at college in Ghana. He did not have practical experience with the genre until he reached the United States for graduate studies. He explained “rhythm and improvisation hit me straight away. [I] came from a culture where, as a musician, you have two things to be aware of. Your role as an individual and then the role of the community that you are participating in… [Jazz] gives you the opportunity to bring forward what unique thing you have as an individual but you have to do that with cognizance of what the community is already doing.” 

He explains that “there are three categories of composers…. particularly in jazz. There are those that will emphasize traditional elements, those that will only bring a little of the traditional elements.… then there is the group that falls right in the middle that give equal access and prominence from both sides,” and affirms that he believes the latter is the future of the genre in order for listeners to hear both the past, the present, and glimpse the future of the genre. 

Gbolonyo continues in that interview to express his belief that as long as rhythm and polyrhythms are a focal point in jazz, the traditions of Africa will be present in the music. He also observes that jazz is far from static and is constantly evolving to include other aspects of genres from around the world. He explains “the more jazz does that the better it becomes,” and states firmly that “music is a way to help us understand each other… the more jazz allows other elements to come the more peaceful we will become.” 

Tickets for the A Tribute to Africa can be purchased online or at the BlueShore Theatre’s box office.

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