Sunday, November 30, 2008

Josh Weinstein swears to Baba Mike and the drum

Tonight (Sunday, Nov. 30) Josh Weinstein will host local performance ensemble Sworn to the Drum on his great KDHX show All Soul, No Borders that plays from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. That's 88.1 FM on the dial, online at and archived on the show's site for two weeks following the show.

Josh reports:

"The group bills themselves as a 'musical salute to the drum'. They play improvisational jazz, with a variety of world drumming infused. The group is led by Baba Mike Nelson. He plays trumpet, flügelhorn, conch shells and assorted percussion, including the bata drum. Sunday's lineup will include Aaron Parker on alto sax and flute, Mondel on congas, Ariel on bass, plus the poetry of K. Curtis Lyle and vocal/rhythmic accompaniment by David A.N. Jackson."

I have known Baba Mike a very long time, through many evolutions and incarnations. I first wrote about him some fifteen years, when he recently had had the halo unscrewed from his skull after breaking his neck falling backwards off a ladder. He hadn't slept, really slept, in years. Life was a daze to him, in many ways, but he forged forward, compelled by music and structured by his spiritual practice and friendships.

The healing process of his central nervous system was then advanced beyond the capacity of physical science's predictions and explanations by Mike's emergence as a sacred bata drummer in the Yoruba tradition. That's another story!

Much like the poet K. Curtis Lyle, his friend and collaborater, Mike is more committed to his art and its sacred traditions than he is to the drudgery of self-promotion. Few know that, in Curtis, St. Louis harbors a poet with a range and accomplishment that merits comparison to Derek Walcott, Les Murray or Paul Muldoon (and surpasses acclaimed lesser talents like Amiri Baraka).

And few who mourn the exodus from St. Louis of our many jazz geniuses realize that Mike is the strongest of a number of living links to that tradition, who are keeping the music alive right here. Mike studied jazz trumpet and arranging under Oliver Lake (World Saxophone Quartet), David Hines and Lester Bowie. He also studied West African drumming with the likes of Mor Thiam, whom Katherine Dunham brought to East St. Louis from Senegal and who sired a baby boy while here who grew up to be the international pop star Akon.

Persisting as a creative musician who respects and bridges multiple traditions in a town like St. Louis is trying, and I have seen Mike struggle to keep together a number of musical groupings. I pray for some stability for his music so that he can develop it, as he has always longed to do. When Josh saw the current lineup Tuesday at The Gramophone, he writes, "the sound was groove-oriented, exploratory, and trance-inducing at times."

That sounds like the right stuff.
Sworn to the Drum also performs 7-9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7 at The Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, which will be previewed this Thursday in The St. Louis American.


Photos of Baba Mikes and Josh Weinstein from the Nailed Seraphim Art Invitational by Elaine Marschik.

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