The local composer’s ambitious musical ode commemorates an ugly past while seeking a brighter future.
During an unproductive period in 2015, local composer and jazz drummer Mark Lomax began to meditate. The year 2019 popped into his mind. He soon realized that year's significance—the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade.
For almost 250 years, slavers captured and sent approximately 12 million Africans to Europe and the Americas, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database website. Nearly 1.7 million died en route.
“I realized this was the anniversary for the Maafa, which is Swahili for ‘holocaust' or ‘great tragedy,'” Lomax says. “I figured this would be a great opportunity to use black music to highlight this, and why not do something epic?”
He hatched ideas and narrative arcs for a 12-album musical ode, “400: An Afrikan Epic,” which is divided into three movements representing the past, present and future. Lomax typically creates original blends of jazz, gospel, soul, R&B, classical and hip-hop. His compositions for this project are based on historical African folk music and rhythms.
“Essentially, the collection of sounds and rhythms are inspired by this epic narrative and represent my attempt to inspire all of us to work toward a better world together,” Lomax says. “Stories are a powerful thing. They help us to remember who we've been and empower us to shape who we will become.”
Lomax has completed six of the 12 albums so far, and the music will be available to stream once it's released on Jan. 23, 2019. The finished project will feature a website linked to 400 African-American artists, scholars, storytellers, clergy and educators. Next January at the Lincoln Theatre, he will showcase the work with a 90-minute performance of a suite of his commemorative music, designed to celebrate the resilience, strength, genius and creativity of the people of the African diaspora.
Lane Czaplinski, performing arts director at the Wexner Center for the Arts, which is supporting the project, says Lomax will serve as guest curator for a music series at the center next season. “I was instantly amazed by Mark just in conversation before I even heard him play,” Czaplinski says. “Mark is an absolute experimentalist ... and this huge, deep project will look at the legacy of jazz from the past all the way to the future.”
Eddie Bayard, a saxophonist who has played with Lomax for two decades, says Lomax likes to set the bar high. “When he said he wanted to do this project, I knew he would get it done,” Bayard says. “With the scope of the times we are in, I think it is definitely needed. I hope people will sit down and listen and take something important away from it.”
Lomax's musical enterprise is important for examining contemporary social and political issues relating to black Americans, Czaplinski says. Lomax wants his art to encourage the community to consider and discuss such topics. For example, slaves were subjected to horrendous physical, spiritual and psychological trauma, and that treatment's consequences remain, often referred to as internalized oppression, Lomax says.
“We need to heal collectively,” he continues. “I don't want to fight something 400 years old, but we've got to face it by looking at it and addressing it head on.”
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