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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Amina Claudine Myers: Traditional Songs and Memory

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If a jazz musician’s success depended on her authenticity, Amina Claudine Myers would be unanimously recognized as one of the biggest names of her generation. In a way it is, but appreciation for this pianist, composer, singer and educator is not as widespread as one might hope. Myers is classic ‘musician music’, well loved by peers and more specialized fans, but hidden amongst more popular names and other artists of his generation who have managed to position themselves at the forefront.

It hasn’t been easy: Amina has never chased popularity or the limelight, and that authenticity that characterizes her has propelled her decade after decade to build a solid but entirely independent career. This has been the case since the beginning, when in the 1960s she was one of the first women to become part of the mythical AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) in Chicago, alongside such important figures in improvised music as Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton or Lester Bowie. That’s what he told EL PAÍS shortly before in San Sebastián received the Donostiako Jazzaldia Award this year: “I was invited to the AACM by Steve McCall and met all these musicians, Roscoe [Mitchell]Joseph Jarman, Kalarusha [Maurice McIntyre]… The AACM was designed for musicians who write and perform their own music, and it gave us space for that on Chicago’s South Side. I say that I was invited because someone had to take you, you couldn’t just join, and there were painters, writers, dancers… It was like a hive of creativity, for me it was very important; Nobody judged you or told you what to do and you could ask anyone to play with you. There they were [Anthony] Braxton, Steve [McCall]Wadada [Leo Smith]… And everyone had their own style. That inspired me, made me say to myself: ‘I can do this too’. That’s how I started writing my music.”

Although Myers is highly regarded in the jazz community, he hasn’t been swamped in Spain, making his presence in San Sebastián a minor event. Although already known as one of the inevitable names of the AACM since the 1970s, her music contained many traditional elements that transcended the avant-garde practices of some of the association’s greatest exponents, and in some ways set her apart from the AACM’s main tracks, creative of that scene . Amina, an outstanding pianist and singer, has defined her career in two directions: on the one hand as an accompanist for various African American personalities such as Lester Bowie, David Murray or Archie Shepp; on the other hand as a freelance artist without creative ties. All the great roots of black music converge in it: blues, gospel, jazz… In his short discography we find brilliant brushstrokes in all these musical genres.

Amina Claudine Myers, at another point in her performance.BASQUE LOLO

Today, at 80, Myers is one of the great African American female icons, a true pioneer who came to San Sebastian to present Generations 4, a vocal quartet in which the pianist highlights the gospel heritage not only musically but also ideologically : “Many people today know what gospel is, but not how it developed, what our people went through to become what it is. It’s like in the Jewish religion, for example with the Holocaust: they don’t want to forget it; and we should never forget where black spirituals or blues come from. You have to inspire young people to know the story and carry on the legacy.” This pedagogical desire is very present in the music of Myers, who approaches his concert almost like a gospel masterclass, complete with presentations on the various blocks and allusions to the historical context of some of the compositions of one of the group’s singers, Richarda Abrams (daughter of one of the founders and most important names of the AACM, the pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams).

The magic of Generations 4 lies, as usual in Amina’s music, in their authenticity, in their desire to completely strip the songs they play and distill their essence to offer them as raw as possible. No dry bluntness, but absolutely warm and familiar: the group’s concert resembles a communion talk in an African-American home where, as the name suggests, different generations of the family gather around the piano to sing the songs they have loved their entire lives have accompanied for a long time. Songs they all grew up listening to, at church, at school, at home. Religious songs that speak to the community and remind them of their history, origins and beliefs, from classic spirituals such as sneak away, Swing low, sweet chariot either go down Moses, to hits of the genre in the fifties, such as Jacob’s ladder either God smiled at me and even two original Myers songs, Do you want to be saved? Y call him.

The reduced choir, with only the piano and Amina’s voice supporting the other three voices, sounds domestic in the best sense of the word and offers interpretations as authentic as one can only expect from a family formation, with a touch of ingenuity but also with full conviction . In this way, Amina brings the songs to the fore, freeing them from all artificiality, in a concert that is more than just a concert Demonstrate Musical. In this purity, totally different from the usual gospel artists we hear in Spain, with brilliant costumes, polished harmonies and a vocal exhibitionism that sometimes borders on the gross, lies the beauty and importance of Amina’s proposal. The real, with its flaws and rough edges, is almost always better than the shiny.

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