Black History Month: African Inspiration

Well, did you see it? Did you catch Black Panther on opening weekend?

I saw it on Saturday and I was blown away. By everything- the plot and the rich, human characters, the costumes, the scenery, the fights, the MUSIC, the message of hope and redemption. It was so tasty. I will see it again!

Last week I introduced you to Kendrick Lamar’s commercial soundtrack album for the film. Going in, I was really curious as to how the film score would draw from African sources. I knew the costumes were taken from various cultures, but I hadn’t heard much about the scoring.  Enter Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer who has worked with BP director Ryan Coogler before, as well as co-produced Childish Gambino albums with Donald Glover. He spent a month in Africa, soaking up as much as he could.

He tells Variety:

“I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?”

The result was a repertoire of leitmotifs and sounds from the music of Senegal that infuse the film with deeper, intrinsic meaning.

For T’Challa, Göransson used 6 talking drums (“tamas”- held under the arm and squeezed while hit to breathe and change tone) to signify the young king’s character and journey. His challengers for the throne matched the intensity with the sabar, a drum played between the legs.

You’ll also hear choirs singing in Xhosa, a Bantu language of South Africa, as well as the Senegalese artist Babaa Maal featured as Wakanda is revealed in the film.

The main antagonist of the film, Erik Killmonger, was represented musically by the fula flute, which Göransson describes as ‘sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive.’

Other instruments used include the kora harp and the vuvuzuela (which you’ll remember as the buzzing noisemaker we heard at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).

Did you catch any other African-inspired sounds in Black Panther? How did you feel the film blended all its source material into the final product? Tell me in the comments!

Black History Month: Getting Ready for Black Panther

There’s a lot of things to get hyped up about this February, what with the Winter Olympics, a Tesla Roadster headed off toward Mars, and Mardi Gras celebrations throughout the world, but few things have been as fervently anticipated as the premiere of the newest Marvel superhero film, Black Panther.

There’s so much excellence going into this film that I am incredibly excited to see it.  I can only begin to get a glimmer of how much this must mean to the Black community. On top of a whole cast of POC in featured roles, beautiful cinematography that properly lights all the skin tones of its actors (for the startling history on why this is an issue, start here), and celebrating a vibrant, joyful, enlightened culture in an (albeit fictional) African nation, we get a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar highlighting established and up-and-coming black hip hop and R&B artists.

In the official trailer, we hear snippets of the famous Gil Scott-Heron 1971 track “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“, a seminal call to arms to participate, to pay attention, to do thing that needs to be done NOW. In the context of the Black Panther trailer, I hear it as a call-out to all the times media and culture have said to the disenfranchised, ‘not now, we’re not ready for that, let’s take some time to think about this from all sides’. But the BP movie is not waiting any longer. It’s about time Marvel featured a black superhero that was more than a sidekick or side character. It’s about time they weren’t the only one in the film, but existed in a backdrop of their own vibrant, colorful environment.

There are plenty of haters out there, trying childish things to diminish the importance of this kind of representation. But that what isn’t diminished? The fact that the movie is outselling everything in pre-sale tickets, smashing records for opening day weekend before it even starts.

You might say, it’s just a superhero movie- it doesn’t solve the problems of our real world – but you’d be wrong. Representation matters. Seeing yourself represented in media means you start to think of yourself as powerful, important, valued, and most importantly, SEEN. Confidence comes with a voice, and voices speak up. The revolution will not be televised, brother. The revolution will be live.

Do you have your tickets? What about Black Panther excites you the most? 

February- Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, this blog and my other social media spaces will be sharing thoughts, performances, and resources  from and about Black artists. There’s an incredible amount of music in the world created by Black performers and composers, and one month can’t do it justice, but we are going to try! Hopefully the things we explore here together will lead to lifelong conversations and celebrations of the things we discover.

There’s a thread running on my Facebook page asking you to share your favorite artists of African heritage. Join in the discussion and come away with a new favorite!

Meantime, what did you think of Justin Timberlake’s tribute to Prince at the Super Bowl? Tasteful? Boring? Great? An assault on the Purple One’s legacy? In an opinion piece that argues the latter, Dante A Ciampaglia notes that Prince, hyper-viligiant of the use of his music and his image, would have be horrified to be remembered so. It brings up questions of what we allow ourselves when a beloved artist passes away, what they give up in order for us to memorialize them. Paisley Park is now a glorified theme attraction, Prince’s music is released on all the streaming services, and his image and reputation are being used to bring prestige and financial gain to artists and locations throughout the country. There are, of course, upsides to this for the average fan, but do you think we are managing Prince’s legacy correctly? Or are we selling him out? Does a white, privileged musician like JT, whose own career has been driven by the  appropriation of black music and musicians, deserve the honor?

Brass Lassie’s Debut Album: Over 50% Funded!


Brass Lassie’s Debut Album Fundraiser hit 50% exactly one week after we launch it- and it’s still going steady! We are a little ways off from our goal still, but the momentum is truly tremendous and humbling. If you’ve supported, thank you! Could you take a moment to share our music with your friends and encourage them to make a pre-order as well? If you haven’t- check us out!

 Brass Lassie Homepage

Brass Lassie on Facebook


Seeking: Higher Ed Applied Teachers & HS Band Directors for Collaboration

I am looking to connect with educators in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota/Wisconsin/Dakotas/Iowa) who would like to help me beta-test my new series of clinics and master classes. Specifically, I want to speak with applied teachers of low brass instruments and high school band directors whose students might be interested in holistic technique, fresh ideas for the music business, and social justice music education. I can offer up to a two hour clinic visit, plus additional individual lessons held on the same day if desired, for up to three schools.

More information about the clinics and booking for the 1819AY will be available in Summer 2018!

If you or someone you know might be interested, please get in touch with me by leaving a comment here with information on how to contact you, or send me a message through Facebook.


January Topic Article: Why Music Matters

This month I’m thinking and writing on #whyImakemusic, and on Wednesdays I want to share articles and resources that have gotten me thinking about why music matters to me and how I can better share my vision with the community.

A recent article in the Atlantic highlighted how jazz musicians communicate through improvisation, unsurprisingly using the parts of their brains dedicated to speech and syntax. On top of that- music has no discernible semantic meaning the way that speech does, because it means something different to each listener. When two musicians are improvising back and forth, they are talking- but they’re sharing more than just words.

From the article:

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

So in a sense- why I make music, why you make music, why most cultures have developed musical systems, has more to do with communicating beyond our normal language abilities than just developing something pleasant to listen to. And whether you make music or simply curate a listening library of your own, you engage in musical activity that fires up an important center of your humanity.

I make music…because music makes me human.

January Topic: Why Music Matters

Happy New Year, all!

I’m always excited about the psychological fresh start a turn of the calendar brings, and 2018 is no exception. I’ve got big professional and personal goals for the year and am feeling energized to Get Stuff Done.

I’m using this blog post to introduce a new series. Each month, I’ll pick a theme or a subject to blog about, share resources and articles relating to that topic, and ask you to weigh in on your thoughts.

January is a good time to think about what’s important to you, and where you want to take it. So my question to you this month is: Why does music matter? What does it mean to you? How do you see the importance of music in your day to day life?

On Fridays, I’ll ask you to share your photo, post, or video online with the hashtag #whyimakemusic and link back to me so I know where to find it.

For me, music is communication. Sometimes I’m socially awkward, or feel shy around new people. When I play, I have a tool I can use that breaks down those barriers, gives me a construct for conversation, and helps me express myself to others. When I teach music, I feel like I am helping my students unlock their inner creativity and utilize those same tools to make their world a better and more open place. Music can change lives, music can change history.

I can’t wait to see why music matters to you.