Witness composer Hannibal Lokumbe plants seeds with music

Hannibal Lokumbe is about to get the answer to a prayer he made 25 years ago.

The jazz trumpeter and composer regularly played in nightclubs where patrons had to lay down quite a bit of money for dinner and a show. But the experience didn’t sit well with him.

Music is communal in nature – it belongs to the people. Not everybody can afford to buy tickets and see it performed, so it’s a mandate for me to go to other places to hopefully be of some service to the people that I meet.

hannibal_lokumbe-1.jpgLokumbe remembered something his grandfather told him about planting seeds deep in the ground, so that they are sure to take root and thrive. Lokumbe wanted to do the same with his music.

Now he’s getting his chance.

Lokumbe is this year’s guest composer for Vocalessence’s Witness Concert. But it’s much more than just a musical performance. For the past several months, thousands of students – ranging from 1st grade to high school – in 39 different schools have been learning about Lokumbe, his music, and the events that inspire it. They’ve been learning about African and African-American music, slavery and civil rights.

This coming Monday and Tuesday those students will fill the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts four times over, as their studying culminates in this performance. It will feature a performance of different types of African music, as well as the premiere of a new work by Lokumbe.

For Lokumbe, that’s approximately 6,500 seeds being planted deep in the ground.

The soft-spoken composer says the piece, titled “In the Spirit of Being,” is a bit like his life story:

I’m so busy learning new things that I never feel confident enough to write a book about my life, but I did feel I could put my feelings and concepts about life into music.

The piece could also serve as an allegory for many people’s lives. It is divided into four “veils” – as opposed to movements – titled “The Gift of Life,” “Struggle/The Wall of Pain,” “Metamorphosis” and finally “Ever Unending Circles of Peace.” It features a jazz quartet, a children’s chorus, a mixed chorus and soloist Tonia Hughes.

In addition to the children’s concerts, there is also a public performance this Sunday afternoon at 4pm.

What does Lokumbe hope people will take away from the performance?

I would like people to know that at the end of the day that we are what we’ve come from, and that’s divine. And no matter our struggles, ultimately we will return to what we’ve come from. So then it becomes a matter of whether you will use this extraordinary gift of life to give thanks and live in a certain kind of peace… or in a certain kind of terror. The gift is life, and life is time. That’s the tragedy of choosing to want to rule something or someone, or destroy something – because then you miss the beauty of the gift, you miss the beauty of being.

Lokumbe, who lives in Texas, says his work in the Twin Cities does not end with these concerts. He will be back to tend to the seeds he’s planted.

“I have family here now,” he says, smiling.