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article imageDr. Mark Lomax II opens up about '400: An Afrikan Epic' Special

By Markos Papadatos     Feb 19, 2021 in Music
Critically-acclaimed Ohio composer, Dr. Mark Lomax II recently released a life-long journey of music and stories titled "400: An Afrikan Epic."
It is a 12-album cycle with over 8.5 hours of music, composed of soul-moving sounds of drums, strings, woodwinds, and piano that celebrates the strength, beauty, and resilience of Afrikans in America and the Diaspora 400 years after the first enslaved Afrikans were brought to North America in 1619.
As Music Industry Weekly’s Andrew Rossow described it, it’s the “Baraka” of Afrikan history and a must-listen. Throughout Dr. Lomax’s career, he has released a total of 40 albums, harmonizing jazz, classical, and gospel music.
Now, Dr. Lomax creates a special project from the sixth album in the cycle, entitled Four Women, a collection of musical portraits honoring the contributions of four women whose lives reflect the complexity of being both Black and Woman in the context of Western imperialism.
The multidimensional new work features a score composed by Lomax and performances by members of UCelli: four female virtuoso cellists. Four Women is presented as an hour-long documentary, commissioned by the Johnstone Fund for New Music representing a greater story of the contributions Black women have made to societies across the world throughout history.
I spoke with Dr. Lomax about how “Four Women” came together and what today’s Gen-Z and Millennials should be taking away from this once they stream it.
How would you describe the music landscape in 2021 as it pertains to African culture and other artists? Do you feel their story is being told properly?
I think 2020 was interesting because musicians couldn’t perform, but a lot of really good records were released and produced. My sense is the same will be true for 2021 as we’re still not able to tour and play gigs, but we’ve had a year to generate more content. I hope that the forced isolation means that more musicians have found their own sound and embraced the path to becoming artists. We need more artists now than we need music for the sake of music.
I don’t feel that Black musicians beyond the mainstream genres are being elevated properly. There is a lot of great music with powerful messages being produced but, because those stories run counter to the prevailing narrative of toxic masculinity, hyper-sexualized femininity, and everything around and in between, most of the record companies and media outlets aren’t seeing our work.
Spill the beans on how Four Women came together and the background as to how each of these women/their stories were chosen.
Four Women was composed as part of my 400: An Afrikan Epic (2019) cycle and originally released as a digital recording in 2019.
While I had the desire to compose a traditional string quartet for the cycle, Mary Davis of UCelli: The Columbus Cello Quartet commissioned me to compose a piece for their group and agreed that it could be part of the 400. The commission was supported by Jack & Zoe Johnstone of the Johnstone Fund for New Music. Zoe had the fantastic idea to shoot an educational concert video in honor of the Urban Strings youth ensemble and their founder, Catherine Willis, who is a powerful force in the Columbus community.
We also knew the video would be a great way to educate young people about these women in particular, and the power of knowing and understanding world history. We had a few planning meetings via zoom in the midst of the pandemic and began shooting in the fall of 2020.
What would you say is the biggest takeaway from this new album, as it pertains to the 12-album cycle as a whole?
The biggest takeaway from the 400: An Afrikan Epic cycle is that understanding our past gives context to the present and helps us create a better future. This particular album, “Four Women”, is a love song to the strength, resilience, and power of Black women. They have been the backbone of American society since 1619 and continue to lead this country to a more perfect union.
How can our education system, as it begins to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, integrate this and benefit from this as part of their curriculum?
In a perfect world, the American education system would not rebuild, post-COVID, to pre-COVID educational methodologies. This is the perfect time to not just re-imagine education but to build a 21st century educational infrastructure and curricula that reflect the truth of the nation’s history and that of the world. This means helping children in America understand that this country was founded on three original sins, the genocide of First Nation Peoples, the enslavement of Afrikan peoples, and the disenfranchisement of poor white men and white women.
Developing a broad cultural understanding of how those issues laid the foundation for everything America is now, is the key to a better future.
How can listeners acquire your work?
My work can be found on all the major outlets (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube) and on my website.
More about Dr Mark Lomax II, 400 An Afrikan Epic, Ohio, Composer
 
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