UNDERTONES: Aural Memorial for the African Burial Grounds
"UNDERTONES" is an hour-long composition to acknowledge the historical significance and reclamation of an African burial ground in Richmond, Virginia. "Undertones," tells the story and history of Africans who were brought to America during the Transatlantic Slave trade.
Through music composed by Ashby Anderson and a narrative developed by griot Sekou Shabaka, the completed work was performed by a modified twenty-two instrument jazz orchestra featuring a 76-year-old griot, six African percussionists and a second acoustic bass along with the standard fifteen instrument jazz orchestra. Anderson named the large ensemble the Afrikan Arkestra to denote the African-centered history and purpose of the music and it's development from African-derived concepts of rhythm, architecture, folklore and mathematics.
The descriptive term Arkestra was chosen in place of the orchestra as Anderson's concept and design were influenced by and have similarity with historical Arkestra's like Horace Tapscott's Pan-African People's Arkestra and the Sun Ra Arkestra. The term Arkestra was also used to denote that the ensemble performs and preserves a musical message for future generations like an ark from biblical times such as the Ark of the Covenant and Noah's Ark.
Anderson entitled his composition "Undertones" to describe, in general, the 21st century racial climate in America, to state that history in any form, although covered up or hidden always leaves information or undertones that acknowledge its existence and to point toward the future of resolving America's racial undertones through collective work by the American descendants of slavery. This work was commissioned by NEW MUSIC USA in partnership with the Jazz Arts Consortium.