Rhythm Revolution: Cedric “Im” Brooks

Saxophonist Cedric Brooks weaves the rebellious history of Jamaica into his music




When did you go back to Jamaica?

And was that when you first started working and recording with Count Ossie?

I was part of the jazz scene in Jamaica, and, most of the time, we would go up into the hills with Count Ossie, and we would have sessions on Sundays.

And was that done in a jam-session style, not songs but a steady workout?

I eventually developed my group, the Mystics, and we would perform independently. Then, because I used to climb between the hills and the regular sessions, what I did was to introduce them, bring them into the regular situation. It was very successful once people saw them for the first time doing their thing; people were very ecstatic about their music.

Did this band lead into the band you created at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Divine Light, or was it separate?

The Count Ossie drummers were strictly Rastafari drummers, and my rhythmic concept was to use not only the Rastafari drumming but also the other types of drumming, like the Burru drumming and other types of drum influences that were present in the Jamaican cultural scene.

Your next group, the Light of Saba, saw more Ethiopian influences. When were you introduced to Ethiopian music?

I was into African music, generally. And I used to play some Afro sounds. But while I was in the Bahamas, I got an Ethiopian record, and it really blew me away. It was the record that gave a kind of kaleidoscope of the Ethiopian music, so they gave you music of different cultures in Ethiopia. Each culture had different types of music, different sound, different dance.

During the Light of Saba recordings, you recorded with the great poet Oku Onuora when he was in prison in Kingston. Later on, dub poetry would be credited to him, and so that’s one of the first instances of it happening.

Yes, because we had the dub poetry within our system, and we invited him into our system. We did a project with the Social Development Commission to play in the prisons. One of the prisons that we came to, Oku was there, and we got to talking with him. He came up and introduced himself as really having some poems. So while we had the program going, I invited [him] to come up and do his poem.

You had a big-concept record in 1977’s United Africa, which had much longer songs and broader influences.

Yes, United Africa is really bringing all the various African elements, the different African influences that was present, and the ones that eventually I also absorbed, through Sun Ra, through Fela at the time.

Can you describe your point of view today, given your studies and experience in the music?

My experience now is really one of the greatest. I am having one of the greatest experiences, both as one who had desired to see Africa, to return to Africa. I have returned to Africa, and I am experiencing the midst of where all the African cultures come from, Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia is considered, in the Western sense, the poorest nation—poor in relationship to the value system of America. [The] American value system is money. All the Western systems base their values on money, the acquisition of money. The value system of Ethiopia is the spiritual development.

Your musical development has never been stagnant.

I guess not. I mean, the evolution comes just like when you go to school, you don’t stay twelve years in first grade. You move from first grade to second grade. And each grade, as soon as you learn whatever you need to learn in that grade, then you move to the next level and learn some more. And when your knowledge increases, also your activity increases. That is basically my kind of attitude towards what I do.

The one consistent element is the education, the idea of going further back into the history and genealogy of the music.

Exactly. One of the things I learned also in learning the Western type of music in places like Jamaica and so on, there’s a kind of feeling of being a better musician. So there’s a tendency to really downgrade or downplay the value of the traditional music. But I have found that there is greater value in the traditional music, because the traditional music is us. The Western music is an imposed music. So the musical conditions there, if you consider that a better type of music, it negates your own tradition and your own self. .

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