400: An Afrikan Epic – drummer, composer and educator Dr. Mark Lomax II‘s monumental new 12-album project focusing on the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade – is OUT TODAY, Wednesday, January 23, 2019. The project is a landmark exploration of the ancient history, 400-year struggle and inspired future of Black America, depicted in a stunning variety of musical settings. The albums feature seven different groups ranging from solo drums to a cello quartet.
The recording is being released on Lomax’s 40th birthday, and brings his discography to 40 albums as a leader.
Lomax celebrates the release with a CD release concert on Saturday, January 26 at the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH – with more dates to follow.
“Lomax is the rare drummer who leaves you wanting more, leading his bandmates through a strikingly terse, brilliantly counterintuitive and ultimately joyous series of explorations.” – Lucid Culture
“Like Max Roach and Tony Williams, Lomax approaches his instrument like a musical instrument, something especially evident in his solos which eschew grandstanding for story-telling.” – Textura
CD Release Concert on Saturday, January 26 at Wexner Center, Columbus, OH
In 1619, a Dutch ship carrying 20 enslaved Africans landed off the coast of the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia, marking the foundation of slavery in America. To honor those four centuries of struggle, triumph, tragedy and community, drummer, composer, activist and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II will unveil his monumental new project, 400: An Afrikan Epic on January 23, 2019.
The stunning 12-album cycle traces the epic history of Black America, not only during the 400 years from the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade but back through thousands of years of history on the African continent and into an optimistic future for the African diaspora. Telling the story in settings as fundamental as the drum, through the visceral improvisation of jazz interplay and the bracing architecture of modern classical composition, the music celebrates the resilience, brilliance, strength, genius, and creativity of a people who continue to endure while offering an inspired view of the future.
400: An Afrikan Epic is the culmination of a lifetime of musical and historical study for Dr. Lomax. By his early teens Lomax was establishing himself as a gifted drummer on the jazz scene in his native Columbus, Ohio, while being introduced to an Afrocentric view of American history via the work of his father, the renowned pastor and educator Dr. Mark A. “Ogunwale” Lomax. Early in his career, Lomax envisioned a melding of the two pursuits, leading to an ambitious, wide-ranging composition that offers an educational opportunity as well as a breathtaking listening experience.
The January 23 release date coincides with Dr. Lomax’s 40th birthday and the 12-album collection brings his discography as a leader to a remarkable 40 albums, a prodigious output especially when considered in parallel with the challenging pursuit of his Doctorate in Music Arts at Ohio State University. It was during those studies that Lomax discovered the path his music would take, inspired by Béla Bartók’s embrace of the folk music of his own Hungarian heritage as well as the ground-breaking work of early 20th-century American composer and bandleader James Reese Europe.
“We have our own racial feeling,” Europe notably said, “and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies.” Lomax eagerly took that pronouncement to heart. “I started to use the music I grew up with, spirituals and the blues, as source material.” He drew on his upbringing in the church, his experience touring with jazz artists like Delfeayo Marsalis, Marlon Jordan and Azar Lawrence, and his exploration of African folk traditions.
That decision met with resistance from some of Lomax’s professors, who deemed his incorporation of gospel and blues influences as unworthy of the western classical tradition. At the same time, his innovative arrangements of gospel tunes for symphony orchestra were embraced by such esteemed ensembles as the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., and the Czech National Symphony.
The composition of 400: An Afrikan Epic was a passion project undertaken after he experienced resistance to his concepts in college. The seeds for the project had been sown 20 years earlier, with the writing of his first commissioned piece, “Tales of the Black Experience.” An overview of the horrors of slavery, a reimagined version of that work makes up one piece of 400.
The 12-album cycle comprises three suites. The first four albums make up “Alkebulan: The Beginning of Us,” which spans the thousands of years that civilization and music had developed in Africa prior to the encroachment of colonialism. Titled for the original Arabic name for the continent, “Alkebulan” begins with “First Ankhcestor,” featuring a gathering of master percussionists, and continues with “Song of the Dogon,” a tribute to the West African people credited with establishing ancient Nubia and Kemet (the original name of Egypt). “Dance of the Orishas” is inspired by the religion, culture and art of the Yoruba people, while “The Coming” introduces the onset of the slave trade via the words of Daniel Black’s novel of the same name, read by the author.
The bulk of “Alkebulan” features Lomax’s longstanding Quartet, featuring saxophonist Eddie Bayard, pianist William Menefield, and bassist Dean Hulett. Those same collaborators recombine in various trio and duo combinations throughout 400, reflecting the deep relationship they’ve forged over more than 15 years together. “These are the musicians I trust most with my compositions.” Lomax says. “We’ve developed a music and a language that have made me a better musician, and I’m grateful to have them a part of this project.“
The second suite, “Ma’afa: Great Tragedy,” focuses on the 400 years from that fateful day in 1619 until the present moment. The first piece, “Ma’afa,” is envisioned as a ballet that takes place during the 90-day voyage of a slave ship. “I was intrigued by the idea of a ballet set in a place where you’re physically confined but spiritually free,” Lomax says. That piece features the composer’s large group, The Urban Art Ensemble, which teams a traditional string quartet with an improvising trio.
“Up South: Conversations on American Idealism” consists of two extended pieces examining the North’s economically-driven, complicity in southern slavery, before Lomax narrows his lens to focus on individual icons. “Four Women,” written for UCelli: The Columbus Cello Quartet, pays tribute to Queen Nzinga, the 17th-century leader of Angola who used a combination of hard and soft power to resist Portuguese colonization; Ida B. Wells, the pioneering journalist and early Civil Rights leader; Angela Davis, the fierce 1960s counterculture activist; and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the modern-day Nigerian novelist. “Blues in August,” meanwhile, is inspired by playwright August Wilson’s century-spanning Pittsburgh Cycle.
The final suite, “Afro-Futurism: The Return to Uhuru,” envisions the healing and thriving of Black America, and all of humanity, over the next 400 years. “The last stage points to where humanity is headed,” Lomax explains. “It’s about what it means to be a fully optimized human being, collectively as well as with regards to Africans in America who have slavery in their lineage and Africans on the continent who are still dealing with the ramifications of colonialism.” The overwhelming history ends as it began, with the unaccompanied drum.
In embracing the story of the African diaspora, Dr. Lomax has not only created a landmark composition but a living, breathing work of musical storytelling that will continue to grow and evolve. He has adapted the full work into a more compact suite for performance, and has created a curriculum to present the story in classrooms through performance and lectures. He also plans to launch a website called “The 400 Years Project,” which will promote artists throughout the African diaspora who are using their creative abilities to tell this story.
“My research gave me a cultural and historical context,” he explains, “and the music started to come from the research. This has become my life’s work.”
Dr. Mark Lomax, II
Critically acclaimed composer, recording artist, drummer, activist, and educator Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University Artist Residency 2018 Award recipient. Dr. Lomax holds a Doctor of Music Arts degree in composition from The Ohio State University. His myriad experiences have allowed him to create a unique blend of styles in his music. Whether he’s interpreting the Negro Spiritual through jazz, arranging gospel music for a symphony orchestra, or performing his original works, his music is relevant, probing, and inspiring. Heavily influenced by his father, a pastor, and mother, a composer of gospel music, Lomax was introduced to gospel and jazz at an early age, continuing his study of gospel music with Dr. Raymond Wise, founder of the Center for the Gospel Arts. Besides performing with gospel choirs around the country, Lomax has toured with the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet and worked with notable artists such as Clark Terry, Marlon Jordan, Azar Lawrence, Bennie Maupin, Billy Harper, Ellis Marsalis, and Wessel Anderson, among others A highly sought-after lecturer, Lomax specializes in the socio-political and spiritual aspects of African-American art, music, race, and the usage of the arts to build community. These ideas are documented in his TED Talk “Activating The Transformative Power Of Trust.”