The year 2020 has been tough on America. With the tragic outbreak of COVID-19, to racial unrest due to police brutality along with a highly contentious election coming up; it might be easy to say that America has lost its way. It’s among this backdrop that legendary Kahil El’Zabar decided to release a new album ‘Kahil El’Zabar’s America the Beautiful’.
El’Zabar, a Chicago native and a renaissance man who for more than five decades has done it all: percussionist, drummer, composer, bandleader, and more. He was mentored in his youth by two of Chicago’s luminary founders of the legendary AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), Phil Cohran and Muhal Richard Abrams, and then eventually became the Chairman of the AACM. He is considered one of the true creative innovators in jazz.
On ‘America the Beautiful’, El’Zabar a speaks directly to the heart, mind and spirit by using the music to speak about the turbulent issues in America today.
This is evident from the very first song, which is El’Zabar’s take on the standard, “America the Beautiful.” It is the song that every American child grew up with, but with a completely different interpretation. There are many layers, altered harmonies and contrapuntal rhythms. These are intended to reflect American society: with many different cultures, beliefs and people. All different, but when mixed together properly, they can be beautiful.
Another familiar song on the album is “Express Yourself” originally by Charles Wright. This song has been remade many times, but the message might be more prevalent today than ever. The song is upbeat, funky and dare I say fun. The message being that using your voice to protest the status quo need not be the work of some dull politician. Speaking up and doing what is right is impactful and effective and can even be a funky good time!
Music critics have been waiting for artists to capture this unprecedented time in American History. I believe that El’Zabar has come as close as possible with this album. It’s an album to listen to while reflecting on our society and how we all play a part in it. It speaks to the issues we have in our country, but also expresses compassion and hope for the future. America hasn’t lost its way if we come together, like El’Zabar’s music, to make a positive impact.
Photos by Jim Quattrocki and K Joseph Fotos.