See a ‘One-man Afrograss Folk Rock Ensemble’
May 13, 2008
"If you don’t listen, you can’t make good music," says multi-instrumentalist and one-man ensemble Arthur Lee Land. "It allows you to make harmony and find your own melody. I use it as a metaphor. Listening is a life skill: It’s how you find your own song in life."
Lee Land is speaking over the phone while driving. His tour bus is his car and he just drove from his home in Colorado to Wisconsin to share his lesson with an assembly of kids. He will teach again tomorrow at the Oakley School in Summit County, a day before he performs for Mountain Town Stages Home Concert Series this Friday.
Lee Land illustrates his words of wisdom about listening by deconstructing his songs on a machine called a "live looper," a recording device that allows him to record and play back riffs on various instruments. Collectively, the recordings are then played together to create an orchestra of sound.
"In terms of looping, you have to listen to every part, because every part has to work in harmony with the others. The only way they will fit is if you pay attention to each part as it’s laid down What I tell kids is, you have to do that in life in terms of getting along with others. You have to hear each other."
At the dawn of the new millennium, Lee Land’s ability to listen led him to construct a new genre that married a funky folk jam-band sound with beats from West Africa. In 2001, one year after he was introduced to live looping, Lee Land came back from a three-week tour of Ghana and Nigeria with an army of exotic percussive instruments including talking drums, that can change in pitch depending on how you squeeze their strings, and a djembe, a skin-covered hand drum shaped like an oversized goblet.
"Paul Simon is into South African sounds," he says. "But Nigeria has this very creative, high-energy vibe that amazes me."
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The confluence of the technology and eclectic rhythm yielded "Afrograss," Lee Land’s self-invented new genre.
"Looping was a way to get the sound I was carrying in my head after the trip," he explains. "It made sense that you could play all these African percussion parts with looping."
Lee Land’s passion for the music of Africa runs deep. "It changed my life," he says. "It changed my music."
He recalls watching Afropop and Nigerian Juju music legend King Sunny Ade when his band performed in Boulder, Colo., Lee Land’s hometown. Taken with the music, he found himself in the front row, hands thumping on the stage, connecting with the oumalay drummer, one of six percussionists in Ade’s group.
"I was just tuned into this guy and I was vocally playing back to him what he was playing and he was just laughing at me. If I didn’t have it right, he would correct me," Lee Land remembers. "I mean, how many people are into the oumalay player? I was just all about him. When he saw me, he just hugged me and I went back stage."
Lee Land says later he ended up buying the very drum the oumalay drummer used in that performance.
Lee Land’s most recent album, "Dragonfly," showcases his virtuosity in instrumentation and his slightly scruffy voices. Unlike his live solo act, the recordings are decidedly collaborative projects. Accompanying him on the 2005 release are members of various other American jam, country, rock and bluegrass groups. Michael Travis from The String Cheese Incident plays the djembe and congas; and Greg Liesz, who performs with Joni Mitchell and k.d. lang, plays the Dobro. His wife, Carol Lee, a lyricist and artist in her own right, helped to pen all 13 songs.
Lee Land says Mountain Town Stages members found him at the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival and School where he teaches each year. Though Lee Land has performed in Park City at The Spur Bar and Grill during Sundance Film Festival, the upcoming Mountain Town Stages gig will be his first (and the third Home Concert performance for the organization.) "I’ve done a lot of house concerts — They’re cool because they’re intimate. I’m looking forward to it," he says.
See Arthur Lee Land
What: A potluck and an intimate concert
Who: Arthur Lee Land, credited with fusing African beats with bluegrass, funk, reggae, rock and folk music to create a new genre known as "Afrograss."
When: This Friday, May 16, at 6 p.m.
Where: At a Mountain Home Concert, presented by Mountain Town Stages. The concert will be held at a private home.
How much: a suggested $20 donation.
How to see him: RSVP with Rebecca Eton at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (435) 640-7829.
For more information: visit arthurleemusic