Afro-Cuban Jazz Artist Yosvany Terry brings rare Arara drums, African music traditions to Harlem: Terry’s Ye-de-gbe project performed on January 12 at Harlem School of the Arts.
Latin Beat Magazine – April 1, 2008
Gale Reference Team

The Afro-Cuban composer and saxophonist Yosvany Terry brought the music, dance and religious traditions of the West African Arará culture–which traveled with the slaves from the Dahomey (now Benin) region of West Africa to Cuba, Haiti and Brazil hundreds of years ago and was preserved there–to Harlem. Yosvany Terry, with Ye-de-gbe and Afro-Caribbean Legacy, performed The Arará Suite, a new work of world music commissioned by the Stanford Jazz Workshop (SJW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to jazz education and appreciation, at the Harlem School of the Arts as part of its Saturdays at Noon series.

The performance gave a rare opportunity to see and hear Arará drums, and savor the authentic sound of the music, Terry was commissioned to bring to the U.S. what may be the first Arará musical exhibit of its kind to reach North American shores.

Ye-de-gbe means “with the approval of the spirits” in the West African Fon language, and it is the name of Terry’s latest endeavor, a fusion of the Afro-Cuban Arará culture and North American jazz. The music is known for its distinct percussive elements: drumming, hand clapping and body percussion. While the Arará culture continues to thrive in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean, few in the U. S., and particularly in its inner cities, have been exposed to it. Terry is taking measures to keep it alive through The Arará Suite, an exploration of Terry’s West African heritage. The Arará culture and traditions have traveled through the years from West Africa’s Benin (formerly Dahomey) to Cuba, and now to Harlem.

In early September of 2007, Terry traveled from New York City to Matanzas, Cuba, to trace the roots of the Arará musical tradition, originally brought to the island by slaves taken from the Dahomey region in West Africa. There, he studied with Mario Rodríguez Pedroso, a master of and one of the last living drummers initiated in the Arará tradition. He also commissioned a special set of drums needed to perform the music.

Terry (who was born and raised in the Camagüey province of Cuba) realized that he was already familiarized with many of the melodies and rhythms. Growing up, he learned and practiced Vodou rituals with his family. His Haitian grandmother, Basilica León Charles, practices the religion and traces her ancestors to Dahomey. His father, Eladio “Don Pancho” Ferry, a world renowned violinist and Cuba’s leading chekeré player, is also a devout practitioner. It was within this rich cultural and musical family that Yosvany Terry became a bearer of the ancient traditions.

“It is important to preserve the roots and tradition of today’s music and help the new generations understand our cultural heritage,” he said. “We’re finding that while this is new to audiences, they can still recognize the musical traditions that are a part of their history and appreciate how they are expressed in modern music.”

After receiving his first musical training with his father, Yosvany went on to study classical music, graduating from both the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA) and Amadeo Roldan Conservatory. He founded the influential group, Columna B, which represented the new voice of young Cuban jazz players, before immigrating to the U.S. in 1999.

The performance was made possible by a generous grant from the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in the wake of the payola scandals involving major recording and radio broadcasting companies. The fund is designed to benefit and expose New Yorkers to exemplary contemporary music of all genres through music education and appreciation programs.

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