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Michael Wimberly presents “Alive” ahead of album

This new single combines both the past and the future, a taste of his forthcoming album Afrofuturism in which the veteran percussionist and composer shows the breadth of his repertoire, ranging from pop to funk to R&B to Afrobeat.

I’m looking to use my music to reflect on legacy while envisioning a future.” Michael Wimberly sees his album as a reflection on how to project oneself onto life while remaining in harmony with one’s deep roots. “I’m hoping my music can drive social change, shift perceptions, and transform the way we think. That might be a tall order, but it’s worth striving for.”

The album shows the extent of Wimberly’s own tastes. Already well known in the jazz world for his work as a member of a legendary group of personalities such as Charles Gayle and Steve Coleman, he meets the Gambian kora master Foday Musa Suso at the home of composer Philip Glass, where he stays when he is in New York. “Mr. Glass was working on composing something, and Foday took me one floor below and began to play the kora for me,” says Wimberly. “I could hear Mr. Glass above me, and Foday in front of me. Needless to say, I was in heaven … ” In a way, this experience is a perfect metaphor for Afrofuturism, his first album in which he brings a rich variety of musical traditions together under one roof.

The album goes far beyond his jazz roots – Michael Wimberly offers a powerful blend of funk, West African music, R&B, gospel and pop, developed with a kaleidoscopic array of collaborators, including Musa Suso (co-founder of the Mandingo Griot Society who worked with Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell), singer Joss Stone, and drummer Jonathan Joseph (Jeff Beck, Weather Report). As such, Michael embraces the vision of total music invented by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, “ancient to the future.” As a result of his work with the Martha Graham School of Dance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Joffrey II Ballet, not to mention his fashion show music for Donna Karan, he has developed a seriously holistic view of the arts.

Working with dance, theatre, and film directors has taught me how to create music that serves the work, and most importantly, supports the emotional arc of the text or narrative,” says Wimberly. “I use the same approach while improvising. I’m supporting the soloist to help them reach a dramatic arc that they wouldn’t reach without my energy driving them … ” Although he wrote some tracks a few years ago – “Madiba” in homage to Nelson Mandela, which was composed a few months before his death in 2013, or “Revolution” in the early 1990s – most of the pieces are more recent. The funk of “Dance With You” mixes the cascading kora lines of Musa Suso with the powerful vocals of Stone, who takes on the role of griot, while the deep grooves of songs like “Radio” and “Revolution” reflect Wimberly’s love for Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Sly & the Family Stone. Other songs are explicitly inspired by West African traditions: “Solei” is a marvel, distinguished by the balafon playing of the Guinean Famoro Dioubate, the agile strikes of Wimberly’s djembe and the husky, soulful voice of Missia Saran Dioubate. For its part, “DDK Groove” collides the funky bass lines of Trevor Allen and the supple groove of drummer Joseph with the cyclical kora patterns of Musa Suso and the ecstatic propulsion of the leader’s djembe.

The album Afrofuturism will be released on February 19 via Temple Mountain Records.

Listen to Michael Wimberly in our Songs of the Week playlist on Spotify and Deezer.