Music Saved Me: Hannibal and One Land, One River, One People, a Philadelphia Orchestra World Premiere.
OCTOBER 16, 2015
How did Hannibal Lokumbe get from the cotton fields of segregated 1950s Texas to the concert halls of the world? (Including, on November 13-15, Verizon Hall, for the world premiere of his new “spiritatorio” as he has named it, One Land, One River, One People, commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra.)
“Music saved me,” Hannibal says. “Society said that I and all the people who look like me were illegitimate. But when I was in the fields with my grandparents, and heard them start singing at one o’clock, when the heat was unbearable, then I knew they were legitimate. I knew I was legitimate. I saw a transformation in them physically and mentally. I began to realize there was something very special about that music. It saved their lives; it saved my life. It keeps you from madness, from hatred … it’s liberating.”
Fast-forward a few years, when Hannibal saw a remarkable filmed performance from 1956. Leonard Bernstein was leading the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the “Saint Louis Blues.” The soloist? Louis Armstrong.
“I would liken it to going on a pilgrimage or something. For me it was a visual pilgrimage, because I saw this great conductor and his love and respect for a form of music [the blues] many people attributed to being evil. And then to have the good sense to have the great Louis Armstrong there … and to say these truthful glorious words about him [Bernstein hailed Armstrong’s music as “real, and true, and honest, and simple, and even noble.”]. … That film footage put an imprint in my mind. I mean, this is the mind of a 16-year-old young man, who lived in a place where it was nothing to be routinely stopped and have a gun put to your head by a policeman. That was commonplace. I saw the white/black-only water fountains; I lived all of that. So for me to see that [film], it countered that, it challenged that madness, it challenged that ignorance that plagued the world I grew up in. And I saw that, and I thought, ‘Now that’s truth!’ I keep thinking about it. Now I can do that for someone else.”
Listen to Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin talk about Hannibal’s work.
Hannibal’s latest work, One Land, One River, One People, is an oratorio for vocal soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra. The Philadelphia Orchestra previewed the first part (or “veil” as Hannibal calls the different acts) last January on its Martin Luther King Tribute Concert at Girard College, but this will be the first performance of the full work.
While some composers have a muse, Hannibal says he has an ancestral guiding spirit: his great-great grandmother, a Cherokee shaman. It was through her, he says, that he realized the meaning of this piece: One Land is about the physicality of humanity; One River has to do with the blood of humanity; One People refers to the spirituality of humanity.
“She explained the true meaning of the work,” he says. “It’s a work of liberation. The main purpose of it is to speak to the divinity of humanity, and to remind people that it’s very important to look to that part of themselves which is divine.
“Any form of beauty we are required to share. That’s why I’m so honored to be a musician, because I can share with people what I have experienced. It’s a beautiful thing. Then to share that with other great musicians, every day I pinch myself just to make sure it’s real!”
Which brings us to working with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Hannibal says he knew this piece was in good hands when Yannick Nézet-Séguin saw an early version of the score, then said he’d take it home and “meditate on it. He didn’t say ‘go over it.’ He didn’t say ‘take a look at it’ ... you know? I don’t think it could be any clearer than that; that means that the stars are aligned!
“To hear the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians playing it is a gift. If there isn’t a heaven, then it’s OK with me, because when I hear great musicians play, for me there can be no greater place, no greater state of mind.”
Hannibal’s One Land, One River, One People has its world premiere November 13-15 in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center. The Orchestra will be joined by soprano Laquita Mitchell, tenor Rodrick Dixon, and combined choirs featuring Delaware State University Choir, Lincoln University Choir, and Morgan State University Choir, all under the direction of Donald Dumpson. Those performances are made possible in part by the generous support of the Presser Foundation. Please click here for more information.
© The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. All Rights Reserved
2015 Performances and Events:
Tuesday, November 10
Wednesday, November 11
Thursday, November 12
Friday, November 13
One Land One River One People
One Land One River One People is a creation story told in three veils. Veil one is entitled The Veil of Creation. Veil two, The Veil of Imparted Knowledge and Divine Instruction. Veil three bears the title of Eternal Being. At the harmonic center of this composition lies the blues, in the key of c minor.
Initially I did not fully understand the timeless and universal meaning of the titles. After living for sixty six years in America as a Man of Jonah, I assumed that One Land referred to Africa, One River to The Nile, and One People to the African. This was cleared up by a visit from the spirit of my Great Great Grandmother, a Cherokee Shaman who escaped Andrew Jackson's death march known as The Trail of Tears. She hid in a cave on the Colorado River in Upton, Texas where she met and lived with my grandfather's grandfather. She was the consummate healer of both body and spirit. I was thirteen and facing certain destruction when her spirit first visited me.
She made clear to me that One Land refers to the physicality of humanity, One River the blood of humanity and One People the spirituality of humanity. The bulk of the text comes from her.
The use of the piccolo pays homage to her guidance and acts as a translator of that which exists yet cannot be seen.
The soul purpose of the composition is to remind Human Beings of their divinity.
The story unfolds by way of its two principal characters Amma and Nommo.
Amma is the name for The Creator and Nommo the name for humans in Dogon Spirituality.
The Dogon is a nation of people living in the country of Mali located in West Africa and are well known for their extraordinary knowledge and perception of astronomy.
Although the content of this composition is filled with cosmological references, it was not created based on Dogon assertions or beliefs.
Three very powerful entities are dominate in the work those being science, spirituality and the harmony which exists between them. Ultimately, in my estimation, they are one in the same.
In Veil One, the composition opens with the word light. From light Nommo is made, and so are we all.
Growing passages of sounds in the woodwinds symbolizes the physical creation of Nommo.
The undulating bass patterns represents the life force growing inside of Nommo, the manifestation of his spirit and his flesh.
A violin then speaks to the phenomena which lies between the seen and the unseen.
This solo also speaks to the healing, trans-formative nature of music.
The choir is symbolic of many entities through out the work. In their first entrance, they represent forces yet to be understood. The closest description which comes to mind of their first representation entrance in the story would be the term Dark Matter. Amma refers to these forces as The Celestial Winds of Creation. Nommo's unique form inspires these celestial forces to respond in their language which consists primarily of tones. These tones are represented in the score by the vowel E. *astonishing how music can give form to something we can feel yet not hold in our hands.
Amma says to Nommo's motionless, soundless human form, speak into the universe the essence of who you are. Nommo responds by saying, light, light I am. What was the first word humans ever spoke? On one of my Great Great Grandmothers visits, I asked her if The Beings would ever find peace. She removed a small white candle from her leather pouch, lit it then left. The single flame glowed in the dark night, suspended where she lit it. And to this day it glows in me. My greatest suffering comes when I, for reasons of my own, fail to see it glowing in others and when others fail to see it glowing in themselves.
The beauty and power of Nommo's words are so compelling, they inspire The Celestial Winds of Creation to repeat them, and in doing so, speak for the first time in words not just tones.*the singing of Nommo's first word light, should evoke the intrinsic power of the flame of a single candle. Not a glass shattering high c but the sound that comes when we are liberated from our own doubts and fears.
The Celestial Beings are inspired and speak many parables one of which states from the light we have come, the new being of flesh, blood, mind , spirit.
In this new state of being Nommo is perplexed and pleads with Amma to help him understand the truth of his now spiritual and physical union to which Amma responds, Even I the light of you have envy of what you have now become, a being of two worlds, one of spirit and one of flesh.”
Amma induces Nommo into a spiritual state of rest and begins to harness the elements to create a place to hold the part of Nommo which the wind cannot.
This harnessing is represented in sound by a musical form/technique I have given the name, Falling Leaves which means-the relentless rapid playing of a series of notes in a pattern of ascending and descending waves of sound. The great master John Coltrane's term for this pattern was”Sheets of Sound.”
At letter L , the choir recites text which stems from a question I asked of my Great Great Grandmother. She always refers to humans as The Beings. Again I asked my spirit guide, would The Beings ever be at peace. This time, her answer was given to me with hand gestures to her, womb, eyes, heart, head, ground then sky.
From those gestures came the text at letter L, which begins with, All the beings of the world will one day come to see the truth of their nature, and the lies ignorance, fear and hatred will be gone from them and all that they do.*a person in harmony with the universe can stand in an open field of humanity and sow crops of endless bounty, and not speak (drop) a single (seed)word.
Veil one ends in a whisper, much in the same manner as veils two and three.
I trust a whisper infinitely more than I trust a shout.
Veil Two opens with a musical term I created called Blugue. It derives both from my fondness of the master composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and the great guitar Blues Master T. Bone Walker with whom I had the life altering pleasure of playing with as a teenager. The term Blugue is a fugue based on blues changes.
The Blugue in this case represents the black hole and is symbolic of that most sacred space called the womb of a woman. *To be born of a woman is to be born of light, not of sin as human's, in my opinion, are so destructively, and incorrectly taught. What space is more sacred and important to life than the womb of a woman?
As in the case of the Black Hole, the Blugue intensifies resulting in my musical depiction of The Gamma Ray Burst. There is a measure of silence which speaks to the silence within us.
The Gamma Ray explosion is preceded by an instrument created especially for this section which I respectively call, Einstein's Rattle, an obvious tribute to the breathtaking genius of Albert Einstein.
Einstein's Rattle was created by master New Orlenian Sculptor, Martin Payton, who created another instrument used in this composition which I gave the name Brother Martin's Emmett Stick. It is a long stick with a series of bells washers and bone attached, and was created initially for my composition God Mississippi and A Man Called Evers, an opera composed in honor of civil rights legend, Medgar Wiley Evers. The word Emmett is in reference to the slain civil right icon Emmett Till.
The piccolo sounds a spiritual calling and initiates the gamma ray burst which calls for the choir to begin a series of lamentations which I term Universal Cries of Renewal. These cries pay homage to the suffering of humans, past present and future. They are also expressions of human birth.
With the gamma ray burst, the earth and the galaxies are born just as from the womb of women, humans are born.
Nommo is awakened by Amma from his state of spiritual slumber and looks upon the earth in awe.
Veil Three is the Veil of Imparted Knowledge And Divine Instruction. Here Amma begins to impart to Nommo the wisdom he will need to live in the world of the spirit and the flesh.
The earth is made in the image of you, she begins to explain. At its center there beats a heart of fire which forms an aura to keep the sun from destroying it. This heart of fire refers to the earth's core, the aura refers to the magnetic shield.
Amma informs Nommo that, like the earth, he to has an aura. The hand motions of my Great Grandmother made it so clear that everything is connected. The mind to the sky, the skin to the bark, the river to the blood, the spirit to the air, on and endlessly on it goes.
Amma helps Nommo to understand his essence by saying, your aura is made of light, in it we are one.
This speaks to the universality of my Great Grandmother's gestures. It set me free and compelled me to offer it to the world in song. The Divine Force resides within us.
Nommo is overwhelmed by Amma's words and begins to dance in celebration of his new state of being. Amma continues to pour into Nommo the insight he will need to live as a dual being.
Nommmo's spirit is at peace with Amma's words and actions, his flesh however is not.
How could there be a name a to describe who you truly are,Nommo asks to wh ich Amma responds, do not worry to define me, I am everywhere for you to know.
In this section of the score I pay tribute to a form of music called the Work Song. These were songs which The Jonah People sang to gain strength and solace while working in adverse conditions, for little or no pay. Some of this work included the building of canals, railroads, levees, cutting timber, chopping cotton and a myriad of other labor intensive jobs.
This tradition continues to live in sound and spirit by way of the Stomp, a very powerful step and shouting action used by fraternity members at colleges that were historically built only for The People of Jonah.
Amma tries patiently to explain to Nommo that she is life and the actions of life, not a distant inaccessible deity. Nommo understands this best when Amma states, I am what you feel when you say I am sorry, I am what you become when you say I forgive you.
Through out this section the choir repeats the refrain I am that I am. *Enslavement occurs when one fails to see their own divinity. The divine attributes of Beings are not capable of murder, racism or en- slavement. It is the acknowledgment of the divine self which allows the physical self to be seen as the profound miracle that it is.
My dynamic markings at letter N simply states, cumulus cloud. For me it this description evokes a clearer intent as to the way the sound is to be projected as opposed to other common terms such as adagio, or andante.
At the close of Veil Two.
Amma declares her love for Nommo which moves him to acknowledges the covenant of life made between them.
Veil Three is the veil of Eternal Being and begins with another call played by the piccolo in honor of the ancestral spirit of my Great Great Grandmother. It leads to a fanfare that grows to eventually encompass the brass. It is my attempt to encompass the whole of humanity in a call of love. The first tone of the fanfare came to me at Congo Square while playing at The Maafa, a yearly living memorial to those lost in The Middle Passage. This annual ceremony was initiated and is sustained by The Ashe Cultural Arts Center, a beacon of cultural light in the city of new Orleans.
I think of this fanfare as The Maafa Call.*The immortality which the flesh often seeks is a reality, if seen through the lens called energy. As is proven, energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Nommo is left to make his way in the world, and to pass on what he has learned from Amma to his off spring .
Before Amma leaves, her final words to Nommo are, let peace be your master, let grace become your bed, love all that you see, then time will be your bride.
The Ancestors and nature are my greatest teachers. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. My text and music comes from them, as is most evident in this composition.
The orchestrations are informed by nature and one of its most astonishing components, humanity.
Every living being has an aura, regardless of who they are, what they believe or not believe, have or not have, see or not see. This aura is the validation of our humanity, our existence, our divine worth. To my ,mind it is the supreme human manifestation of Albert Einstein's favorite word, energy.
The foundation of this work lies in the text. The orchestration is the river, the text is the ground within which the river flows.
I pray that it will hold you and give to you the peace, healing and liberation it has given to me.
Man of Jonah
from the journal of hannibal@ 2015 all rights reserved
*The Jonah People are those Africans and their descendants who were forcibly transported by boats through out the world for the purpose of enslavement.
This term Jonah People, was given to me by The Creator upon asking what name does The Creator give to those Africans, and the descendants of those Africans who were forced aboard the slave ships centuries ago.
*Spiritatorio- A genre of art which uses images,music and text to evoke a profound intellectual and spiritual response.
The terms Spiritatorio and Jonah People are trademarks by Hannibal Lokumbe Music. All rights are reserved.
This is an image of an instrument I call Brother Martin's Emmett's Stick in honor of slain civil rights icon Emmett Till. The stick was made by New Orleans master artist Martin Payton, and was used in the production of my opera God Mississippi And A man Called Evers, a Spiritatorio composed in honor of Medgar Wiley Evers and was performed by The New Jersey Symphony with the venerable Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley sitting next to me. Mrs. Till is the mother of Emmett.
Einstein's Rattle was made by Martin Payton to duplicate a sound I have carrying around in in my head for some time and will be used in my upcoming composition One Land One River One People. It was designed to emulate the sound of the Gamma Ray Burst.
I realize my great fortune having someone create many of the instruments I hear in my dreams.
The Venerable Dr. Donald Dpson, my longtime friend and collaborater, helping to make sense out of what I composed.
The images created here were made to relieve the enormous eye strain which occurs when composing a work of this magnitude. The twelve foot walls of my studio in New Orleans provided ample space to hang the scrolls, climb a ten-foot ladder and write text upon them.
Imagery and sound to me, are one in the same. They also provide the best description of what I refer to in this composition as The New Being. Some aspects of this New Being is implied in the form found on the scroll entitled One Land-The Veil of Creation.
The New Being is a male female being that, through evolution, acquires the capability of self-regeneration.
The New Being is free of fear, hatred and other spiritual poisons and is thereby not in need of a deity to worship or a demon to dread.
It was never my intent to show the scrolls except to a few whom I adore. Yet I am elated to find so many
with a desire to experience them and hope that some measure of worth will be gained by those who do.
Man of Jonah