When the prominent American choral group VocalEssence offered to arrange an interview with Hannibal Lokumbe, we immediately accepted. In a press release of Jan. 27, 2012, VocalEssence says:
“VocalEssence has commissioned Joyce Award winner Hannibal Lokumbe, to premiere his new piece, In the Spirit of Being, at the annual VocalEssence WITNESS Concert on February 19, 2012 (4 pm), at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul. It is one of the largest commissions VocalEssence has ever endeavored and a great part of that investment is taking part in juvenile centers, service organizations, churches and schools all over the Twin Cities. It has been said that Lokumbe will not visit a city unless he has he opportunity to walk with the least among us. While working diligently on his new piece with the VocalEssence chorus, he is also shaping lives with his community program, The Music Liberation Project (MLP). MLP uses music as a front to teach life skills students haven't had the opportunity to learn. Lokumbe's goal is to help his MLP students to reclaim their lives through heritage and discipline.”
AfriClassical interviewed Hannibal Lokumbe by phone on Feb. 13, 2012:
Thank you very much for calling, Hannibal! It's a pleasure to be in touch with you. I've been writing about you almost the whole time I've had the blog, since 2007.
Thank you very much!
Oh, you're welcome! I think African Portraits, the opera, was the first item that I remember writing about; there was a CD of that. Of course the one that made the biggest impression in my area, Southeast Michigan, was Dear Mrs. Parks.
Yes, that's quite an amazing piece!
It's really a large scale, and now I see that you have something of very large scale coming up again?
Yes, it just keeps coming that way, I'm glad to say! I'm grateful!
The title is In the Spirit of Being?
Yes! In the Spirit of Being is a work about my life, just the way Dear Mrs. Parks was a work about Mrs. Parks' life. So this piece is autobiographical.
I think I read that it was your life in four different stages?
Yes sir! There are four Veils.
What would those four Veils be?
The first Veil is called The Gift of Life, and the second Veil has two parts. One is called The Struggle, and the second part is called The Wall of Pain. The third Veil is entitled Metamorphosis, and the fourth Veil is entitled Ever Unending Circles of Peace.
I also read that this work is about an hour?
Yes sir! It's about right at an hour.
The four Veils are the movements, right?
Yes sir! The Veils are a bit deeper. Once one is removed from our consciousness, it's something more lasting than a movement. We can move in one direction, and we can move backwards from that direction in two minutes, but a Veil, once something is removed from you that keeps you from seeing, once you see it, you will always see it. It always leads to more sight, a deeper insight.
So that is the concept behind the structure of the piece?
What would you like to basically tell our readers as to the purpose you had in mind with this work of music?
Basically I want to share with them things in my life that might be helpful to them in their lives. The fact that we have The Gift of Life; the fact that we exist; that is the most important of all things to my mind.
Because all human beings, regardless of our economic and social station in life, we all need the same thing, to exist and to have come here. No one came here any differently from anyone else. We all came here the same way, having the same force of power and spiritual essence and biological essence to exist. And so I begin there with The Gift of Life, something we all have in common. None greater, none less. We exist, we breathe, we need air and food to live. The Struggle comes when people disregard the lives of others, and they attempt by so many methods to degrade and devalue the life of others. That's when The Struggle comes in.
You portray this in both vocal and instrumental music, right?
Yes sir! There is the VocalEssence Chorus, along with the Ramsey School Children's Choir, and there is the great vocalist Sister Tonia Hughes who is going to be singing the part of Lela, or “peace” in the Pele language, the language of my Great Grandfather.
Lela – how is that spelled?
Lela, but it's pronounced “lay-la” as opposed to “lee-la.”
So she has that role as the soloist, and you have the whole choir from the Ramsey School, and the VocalEssence Chorus, and you also have a Jazz Quartet in which you are playing the trumpet?
Right. The pianist for that is Sanford Moore, and there is a bass and a drummer.
Is this work associated in some way wih your Music Liberation Project?
Yes sir, because the Music Liberation Orchestra is actually the name of the Quintet that I will be leading at the Ordway Center. I never use “Quintet” anymore. Any time I play from here on out, the name of my group will be the Music Liberation Orchestra. I am glad you reminded me of that. I will never have “Quintet”; I will move past that.
As a matter of fact, I am here now at the Boys Totem Town, where I have been working with our young brothers. It's all part of the Music Liberation Orchestra work.
Are these young people who have run into disadvantaged circumstances of one kind or another?
So they have to overcome some challenge?
Yes sir! It's so remarkable that on Sunday, at the pre-concert interview, I've invited one to come and read some poetry for the entire world to hear! And one is going to perform on the second Veil, Struggle.
What else would you like people to know about this performance or the work?
I would like them to go that extra mile to be present, to witness, because I feel deeply in my soul that it will be of help to them. It would remind them of their divine selves. That's the purpose for which I wrote it, to remind people of their divine selves. And to inspire them to continue to dream, and to start the dream again. You can't stop.
You've been associated with VocalEssence on various projects, haven't you?
Yes sir! The last one was the Dear Mrs. Parks project.
And in 2007 weren't you involved with them in the series of four Witness recordings?
That's right, absolutely, because that's why we did Dear Mrs. Parks. Have you seen the Teacher's Guide they have compiled, based on In the Spirit of Being?
No, I haven't.
You should really see that! It's remarkable, it's the answer to my prayer! I prayed 30 years ago, in Greenwich Village after I walked off the stage of a jazz club. It is the manifestation of that prayer of my desire to work as I am now working, on a much deeper level in the community.
So this is a project that you have wanted to do for a long time?
Yes sir! And I have been working on it for a long time. This guide that VocalEssence has compiled is really extraordinary. It's in the schools and the teachers have been teaching it. On Feb. 21 and 22, a Monday and a Tuesday, we're going to perform it for over 8,000 students that have been studying it!
That's quite an undertaking!
It certainly sounds like it!
Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22 we are going to have eight concerts.
That's quite a followup to the Sunday concert!
I am compelled by the multicolored art work you stand in front of in the various press releases; is that an African piece?
Oh that's a wall! I love working in the arena of imagery, sound and text! I believe strongly in that! There are so many destructive images that are put upon our children, that I take every opportunity I can to show them images of beauty and of power. Not destruction!
I agree with you that you stand in contrast to a great deal of the influences which are not necessarily positive!
Can you think of anything else that you would like our readers to know, before we finish our discussion?
I would like very much for them to do all that they must to come to peace with themselves. Whatever it takes, to find inner peace with themselves! I thank you as well!
Oh, you're most welcome! It's an honor to be in touch with someone who has had such creative influence, and who has such a positive direction in mind for our youth in particular. Thank you very much!