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A Multicultural Tribute to Yusef Lateef on His Centennial (VIDEO)

Multireedist and Lateef protégé Oran Etkin pays his respects with a video in which he teams up with Zimbabwean musicians

Oran Etkin and members of the Chigamba family in Zimbabwe
Oran Etkin (far left) and members of the Chigamba family in Zimbabwe

Today (Oct. 9) marks the 100th birthday of the great multi-instrumentalist, composer, and educator Yusef Lateef (1920-2013). In honor of the occasion, one of his protégés, multi-reedist Oran Etkin, has released a video called “The Tribute: Karigamombe.” Etkin—playing bass clarinet—made the video on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe as part of his ongoing Open Arms Project, a monthly series of collaborations with musicians around the world. His fellow players and singers here include 80-year-old mbira master Tute Chigamba, his daughter Irene Chigamba, and various other members of the Chigamba family. Karigamombe, a traditional song form in Zimbabwe, literally means “He who is stronger than the bull” and is sung to the spirits of venerated ancestors.

Etkin began studying with Yusef Lateef when he was 19; in 2009, Lateef wrote the liner notes to Etkin’s debut album Kelenia. “One of the many ways that Yusef Lateef influenced me is the way he related to the music of other cultures,” Etkin said in a statement. “Brother Yusef had a way of engaging in conversation through truly listening in a powerful way and then sharing his own perspective honestly. In many ways he was the same way with music—he would always try to understand the music from the perspective of the culture from which it was born. He would incorporate certain elements that spoke to him from the music that he encountered, so that he could express his own music honestly and directly. I never saw him try to just imitate or mimic a style. He was always himself and always in honest dialogue with the music.”

This won’t be all that Etkin does to commemorate his mentor’s centennial. On Oct. 12 he will play a live-streamed tribute concert from Smalls Jazz Club in New York; he’s also planning a live outdoor concert in Plainfield, Mass., close to Lateef’s longtime home. In addition to the video here, portions of the footage Etkin brought back from Zimbabwe will appear in a multimedia project, “100 Responses to Yusef Lateef,” presented by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where Lateef taught for nearly three decades.