Pioneer Press: Composer and jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe will debut his musical memoir at the annual 'Witness' concert Sunday
When composer and veteran jazz trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe talked with troubled teens at St. Paul's Totem Town and Minnetonka's Hennepin County Home School in recent weeks, he asked them to try to turn their lives around by getting in touch with who they are. He suggested they start by researching their family histories and keeping a journal.
When Lokumbe wanted to tell the story of his own journey, he decided to do it in music. He composed a musical memoir called "In the Spirit of Being" that will receive its world premiere Sunday at VocalEssence's annual "Witness" Black History Month concert at St. Paul's Ordway Center.
And a very interesting history Lokumbe has had. It began on a Texas farm, where a barefoot boy ("I didn't wear shoes for the first eight years of my life," he said) went on to address a lot of the anger he felt about racism and discrimination by channeling it into music. He moved to New York City and became an acclaimed jazz trumpet player named Hannibal Marvin Peterson, best known for his work with bandleader Gil Evans and his own recordings with cellist Diedre Murray and saxophonist George Adams.
Since becoming Hannibal Lokumbe, he's found new audiences in classical concert halls with ambitious long-form compositions that incorporate elements of both jazz and classical. Like his oratorio, "Dear Mrs. Parks," which VocalEssence performed at the 2007 "Witness" concert. Lokumbe calls the piece being premiered Sunday - "In the Spirit of Being" -- a musical autobiography, but it's more about the process of self-discovery, represented by four veils.
"Life is a series of veils that are pulled away, making it clearer and clearer who we are," he said last week. "You can move from place to place, but you can't have a veil removed from your eyes and be the same person. One of the veils in my piece is called 'Struggle,' another 'Metamorphosis,' because I was able to see what I could not have seen had I not struggled. There's always struggle, but it's what you do with it."
That theme comes through in the conversations with young men in juvenile detention facilities with whom Lokumbe visits wherever he travels.
"The young brother I was talking to today, his biggest battle is with anger," Lokumbe said. "He had a bandage on his hand where he struck the wall instead of hitting the counselor. He went on to explain his life and history, and it became very clear why he was so violent. I let him know that I understood his situation. I also saw violence as a way out until I met music. I told him that, once I started learning my history, the true history of my ancestors, that removed a veil of anger from me. Because I realized: 'Ah-ha! I am not who this country has said I am.'
"Today, I gave some of the young men some lifework. Not homework, but lifework. I asked them to contact the oldest living member of their family, interview them, ask them about their job, their dreams. Some of them say that they never thought of doing such a thing. And this is why there's so much hemorrhaging in the heart and soul of people. They're missing the guidance of elders. They need to learn about the heroes in their own families."
Who: The VocalEssence Chorus with conductor Philip Brunelle, singer Tonia Hughes, the Macalester College Percussion Ensemble, the Ramsey School Performing Arts Magnet Children's Choir and a jazz quartet featuring trumpeter Hannibal Lokumbe
What: "Witness," featuring Lokumbe's "In the Spirit of Being" and traditional music from Africa
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
Tickets: $40-$10, available at 651-224-4222 or vocalessence.org