Monday, January 08, 2007

The return of Zimbabwe Nkenya

Although it sounds like it could be the title for some sort of art-house suspense film, the headline above actually refers to the recent repatriation to the St. Louis area of bassist, composer and mbira player Zimbabwe Nkenya (pictured). StLJN got acquainted with Nkenya just recently, when he emailed with news of his return and some upcoming performances, and based on what we've learned so far, he seems like someone to keep both an eye and an ear on.

Although he grew up in the St. Louis area - specifically, Alton, Illinois - Nkenya has spent most of the last 30 years in the Southwest, where he became known as one of New Mexico's foremost creative musicians. His ensembles including Black Jazz Culture, ZIYA, Contrabass Quartet and African Space Project were regularly featured in venues throughout the state including the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe and the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque.

Nkenya hasn't recorded all that often, but the sides he has cut seem to have made an impact. In 2005, he released a CD entitled Zimbabwe Nkenya and The New Jazz on the regional High Mayhem label to positive reviews from local and national press, and a copy of Time and Condition, his 1982 East St. Louis recording with Maurice Malik King's Emerging Force Art Trio, reportedly recently sold on Ebay for $300.

A bit more from Nkenya's bio:
"In addition to his active playing career for the past thirty years, he has also been a clinician and educator, playing concerts for school children throughout the state. For some 20 years, he hosted one of New Mexico’s most respected radio shows, KUNM’s Sunday night special, "The House that Jazz Built." In addition to his work in-state, Zimbabwe has performed with some of the finest internationally known musicians on the creative music scene, including Warren Smith, William Parker, Charles Gayle, Douglas Ewart, Julius Hemphill, Abdul Wadud, Frank Lacy, Rob Brown, Chris Jonas and more. He has performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, Hunter College, the Painted Bride, the Knitting Factory, Detroit’s One World Festival and more.

He toured with the off-Broadway production of HALALA following a year at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre. He has been commissioned to write music for “For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide” as well as for the St Louis Children’s Theater. He has been a recipient of a Western States Arts Federation grant and has worked extensively with Very Special Arts New Mexico. In St. Louis, where Zimbabwe was active with the Black Artists’ Group (BAG), he served, along with Shirley Bradley LeFlore, as co-director of the music program at the Creative Arts and Expression Lab. Zimbabwe’s interest in African music runs deep and he has collaborated with many African performers including Chipo Wakatama, Thuli Dumakude, Mohamed Camara, Welcome Msomi, Abraham Adzenyah and more."
Having just resettled in Alton for family reasons in late 2006, Nkenya is already involved with the new Black Arts Group aka BAG II (see the previous post), and if his track record in New Mexico is any indication, could become a very active participant in the local music scene. StLJN looks forward to hearing what he has to offer.


Andrew Schrock said...
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Andrew Schrock said...

Much respect to Zimbabwe, one of the most authentic voices in recent memory - one to keep an eye on for sure. My friend Dave played with him for some time before his recent move. I have a CD called "live at the outpost" which is fantastic. It's good to hear he's settled back in St. Louis and playing with the latest BAG incarnation.