Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: The New Chief
Filmmakers Amitabh Joshi and Erik Spink spotlight Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, the Grammy-nominated, modern jazz musician from New Orleans who defies the expectations of jazz music while challenging how music is taught in universities nationwide.
- I grew up in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans,
as it was called at the time,
two blocks away from William Frantz Elementary School,
which is the first desegregated school in this country.
It was desegregated by Ruby Bridges
when she was a little girl.
And eventually, as more Blacks came into the neighborhood,
for the folks that could leave, you had white flight,
and for the folks that couldn't, they had to stay there,
and for some reason, this topical stuff,
they view each other as nemeses.
I started to see that the only moments
where they could let that go a little bit
was when the music was around.
The second line bands, brass bands.
Sound seems to have some power here.
If I could create a space musically
that showed that all of the cultures
could essentially occupy the same spaces,
then maybe I could heal that sort of rift.
Thank you guys for coming out.
I'm gonna play this last composition for you.
It's written for my grandfather.
It's called The Last Chieftain, and it's about love.
(audience clapping and cheering)
(slow piano music)
(upbeat instrumental music)
When people think about jazz and New Orleans
and these sort of things,
one of the things they don't think about
is the fact that this music is originally a fusion.
People all the time, they ask me, what is my music,
what do you call it, how do you think about it,
and to me, it's blues.
Jazz and blues are synonyms for each other,
and that jazz was just blues
that learned to speak all languages.
Historically, when we speak about music
that has a higher melodic and harmonic content,
we speak of those forms of music as being sophisticated
and nuanced and regal and beautiful.
Usually, when you speak to cultures of music
that are more rhythmic, the adjectives that we use
to describe that music is usually a little harder,
when someone says tribal or street or ghetto
and these sort of things.
For someone that cannot hear the harmony and rhythm,
they may just listen to that and say,
it's just someone beating on drums.
I love that though.
- It's so mellow.
(bass thumping and clapping)
- Okay, when you write this as a MP3,
can you write one with the claps and one without?
I think what most people know about my family background
starts with my grandfather.
My grandfather's a guy named Donald Harrison Sr.,
or Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr.
He is the only man to be a chieftain
of four different tribes or clans
of Black Indians in Louisiana.
My grandfather was a frighteningly intelligent person.
He was also a person that was concerned
with creating environments
where people felt love and welcome.
- I miss old boy. - Mhmm, me too.
- [Cara] I remember the first thing I beaded for you.
- A spade. - A spade or--
- A heart. - A heart.
- [Cara] Those were the first two things.
- I remember the little boy, though, sitting down--
- Yeah, that was second. - And a smoke signal.
- Yeah, that was-- - (laughs) I used to love it.
These Adidas Y-3s and all this stuff is really cool,
but when I put the ceremonial regalia on,
these are my clothes.
My mother made that, I made that,
my grandmother made that, my aunts made that,
my uncle built this.
- The reclaiming and recalling is one thing,
but there's also a concept called knowing
and it's probably best described as a feeling.
When you go to a second line parade,
it's automatic. - Right, yes ma'am.
Mother is the word for God on Earth
and I'm valid, I'm very grateful for you.
I love you. - Thank you.
I love you too, honey.
- [Man] You can take a picture right here, man.
- Yeah, man.
Me and my little brother.
That's really cool.
If you think about how music is disseminated
to you historically, the music is actually hyper-racialized,
and that causes a lot of tension.
It's like if I asked everybody in the room
to visualize a Western classical musician
and then I asked you to visualize a trap musician
or a salsalero, you see completely different people, right?
And so, do you?
If I say a Western classical musician, do you see me?
- No. - Right.
This music is really centered around trying to find,
to try and find a way to de-colonialize music.
And when I say that, can anyone guess what I mean
when I say that, to de-colonialize music?
- You know how we was colonized?
- [Christian] Mhmm.
- Take all that away and have us all together.
- [Christian] Mhmm, perfect.
- [Boy] Alright ready, one, two, three.
- What we're talking about here is as American as it gets.
We're talking about things
that deal with the African-American experience
and the First Nation experience in this country.
It's really hard to have this place
if those folks didn't exist, so it's really American, too,
it's just the way that it's being broadcast is different.
It's showing a different narrative to the American tapestry
as opposed to the one
with apple pie and crossing the Delaware.
Those are different.
Thank you all so much.
We'll see you all later.
- [Announcer] Let's have another warm round of applause
(audience clapping and cheering)
for Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah.
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