The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has been “breaking the habits of boredom and pushing beyond nostalgia into the present” for 47 years. Their music fuses traditional African rhythmic and melodic sensibilities with popular African American musical expression and the array of instrumentation endows their music with a warm textural richness and depth. Within a framework of organic, understated compositions, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble imparts an ancestral wisdom and conjures an energy and spark rarely encountered in contemporary music. In 1976, Kahil El’Zabar, having just graduated from the school of Chicago’s legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, teamed up with tenor saxophonist and Edward Wilkerson, Jr. Wilkerson has been called “one of the most thoughtful minds in modern experimental music,” and is himself the leader of the premier Windy City octet Eight Bold Souls and big band Shadow Vignettes. Kahil El’Zabar is an accomplished trap drummer, having worked with acclaimed soul, blues and R&B artists Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, and jazz greats from Cannonball Adderely to David Murray, he is also a virtuostic kalimba player, master of Mandingo-style earth drum, balaphonist, flautist and vocalist. Over the now 47 years of traveling the world and sharing a uniting vibe, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has a trio of musicians that sets a new standard. With the incredible Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Detroit’s own baritone saxophonists, Alex Harding rounding out the group, the fabric of this spiritual afro-futuristic jazz outfit is just starting to warm us up.
I had the chance to catch up with Kahil El’Zabar ahead of the February 29th event here in Madison at Cafe Coda. We get into the players and how they work toGether to create moments where a spark in time in which heightened sensibility & a higher consciousness can be universally shared. We dissect a track off the groups 2019 release “Be Known Ancient/Future/Music”, and how someone like a Mr. Roy Hargrove (RIP) transcended the music and humans scene. As we sit here in 2020, we don;t have to look to hard it seems to find reasons to heal, or send healing vibes….on the day I spoke with Kahil, the EHE had just played a show at Artlore Studio in Eerie, PA which is a venue of our friend Stephen, whose family just went through a tragic situation and their spirits definitely needed to be raised.