Harriet Tubman is a musical collective formed in 1998 by guitarist/vocalist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs & drummer JT Lewis. Harriet Tubman was an African-American woman born into slavery in 1822 in the southern US state of Maryland. Tubman is renowned as a liberator of other African-American slaves who like she, chose to defy the system of Slavery and seek freedom by escaping to the North. She accomplished this with the help of a secret network of safe houses, or “stations” on what was known as “The Underground Railroad”. Far from being underground, Ross/ Gibbs/Lewis have collectively performed w/some of the most important musical innovators & visionaries of the last half of the 20th century: Herbie Hancock, Henry Threadgill, Tony Williams, Don Pullen, Tina Turner, James Blood Ulmer, Sonny Sharrock, Leroy Jenkins, Cassandra Wilson, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Oliver Lake, Muhal Richard Abrams, Aretha Franklin, Lawrence Butch Morris, and so many others. The music of Harriet Tubman is both familiar & fresh, while allowing the listener to experience the music free from distracting labels of style or genre. At the same time, it is easy to perceive sources that have seeded the musical development of the trio. From the electric explosion of fabled Miles Davis bands of the 70’s; to the transcendent spirituality of the music of the Mississippi Delta & beyond; to the anointing cry of John Coltrane’s musical apex; to the open rhyme scheme of the rhythm invention of the American Urban 80’s; to the imagined sound of the endless expanse of the African savannah – Harriet Tubman uses ALL of their musical experiences to communicate a vision of musical freedom and musical invention for those who choose to take the journey.
I had the honor of catching up with two thirds of one of my guilty pleasures out there in the sonic landscape creation, Harriet Tubman and the collective within/around it. Friend of the proGram, JT Lewis and Melvin Gibbs took a moment to discuss what the scene on June 24th at Cafe Coda in Madison has the potential to be. We get deep into the paths of the music, from an ancestral calling and receiving to a future moment that awaits. We share in the belief of the unity and togetherness of the music, and how in a live setting, that can enrich the exploration and experience for both artist and audience. Whether you can make it to this show or not , and we are just a few of the lucky ones, if you have yet to discover these cats or this project – there is not better time than now. They can help you locate what your freedom feels like.