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Hannibal Lokumbes African Portraits

I personally find large scale pieces with an aim such as this one to be overwhelming and

somewhat challenging to fully grasp within the first couple listenings. It almost becomes akin to

a textbook written by only one author (in this case that author being the composer). It is quite a

feat and I have great respect for anyone who takes on such a project. I feel as though African

Portraits is a successful piece that depicts a personal experience of the African American history

of the last three hundred-fifty years.

While this is a very large spanning choice of topic I think it works well. The music

created almost reminds me of some of Charles Ivess music in that theres vastly different

musical elements juxtaposed on top of one another throughout such as full orchestra, choir, jazz

ensemble and spoken word. I believe what makes the piece work is that different musical

elements take the foreground at different points and represent one particular part of the history.

For example, in scene 3 when David Honeyboy Edwards emerges out of the end of a large

orchestral passage playing solo blues guitar/singing it becomes a very powerful moment of the

piece. Even without imagery the work starts to feel like a play in which each movement is a

scene with a different stage behind it.

At certain points throughout the piece unmusical dialogue enters the foreground with a

musical underscore. To me these moments would resemble an oral history. For example, in Act 2

Scene 1: Auction: Potters Mart, Charleston, SC, 1833 the dialogue is referencing a slave

auction. I found this particular movement to not really be a musical experience but rather a visual

one. It also made me feel uncomfortable which I assume was the intent.
The figures he chooses to represent arent well known and I think that adds to the allure

of this piece. It becomes a broader/more relatable history due to its representation of African-

American history as a whole rather than focusing on specific actual characters within that.

Though, I find it interesting is that despite the history being broad it is still from the position of

one mans (Lokumbe) experience with the history. This in turn makes it personal as well as

broad at the same time.

I found the juxtaposition of the burning modern jazz of The Three Dueces Club to be

somewhat jarring and appear out of nowhere. That may sound like a negative connotation but I

think it opened up some space in the long line of the piece. It felt like all of a sudden we had time

travelled to the present. Furthermore, the present felt all that much different due to the history

that had just been told to us (us being the audience). Having the musical information of what

preceded jazz in its modern state thoroughly told to you and all of a sudden being thrust into the

present makes the mind hear the same music differently.

Due to there being a small jazz ensemble, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, choir

and soloists on stage I feel as though nothing is really left out in the artistic representation. I also

feel that having all of these different musical settings under one roof makes it that much more

accessible to an audience. I believe it would be incredibly challenging to pull off a piece of this

grandeur with only one of the aforementioned groups. Each of the different ensembles lends

itself to a particular way of storytelling.

While I am very much into listening to large scale works such as symphonies, concertos

or ballets I often struggle to enjoy pieces with a goal such as this one. I find it challenging to

absorb so much vastly different musical information in a relatively short period of time. With

more classical like long form pieces they tend to work because its the development of very
small themes and ideas. I think this piece does the opposite of that and it feels more episodic than

linear. That being said its effective and certainly has given me new perspectives on African-

American history.