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Famoudou Don Moye

Drummer extraordinaire Famoudou Don Moye was born on May 23, 1946 in Rochester, New York. In high school, he began playing drums, congas and bongos and went on to formally study percussion at Wayne State University in Detroit.

In 1968, Moye toured Europe with the Detroit Free Jazz Band and worked briefly in Italy for RAI (Italian Radio and Television). While abroad, Moye had the opportunity to work with Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Sharrock, Randy Weston and Art Taylor and to collaborate extensively with Moroccan musicians.

Moye joined the innovative, avant-garde quintet, the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC), in 1969 and he has been a permanent member ever since. Moye and the other members of AEC draw their influence from both Africa and the Caribbean, rural as well as urban spaces, from the whole spectrum of black music. Their radically experimental performances include painted faces, costumes and exotic instruments, which all contribute to their energetic improvisations. In addition to his work with AEC, Moye has been a member of The Leaders since 1984 and has recorded with the Black Artists Group, Joseph Jarman, Don Pullen, Cecil McBee, Hamiet Bluiet, Julius Hemphill, Chico Freeman and Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. He also leads the Sun Percussion Summit, a group dedicated to exploring the traditions of African American percussion music.

Moye’s recordings have won him the praise of critics at such esteemed publications as Rolling Stone, Down Beat, Melody Maker, The New York Times, Audio Magazineand Stereo Review. He was the winner of the Downbeat International Critics Poll in 1977, 1978 and 1982; and the New York Jazz Poll in 1979 and 1980. He received performance grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in both 1974 and 1981. He lives in Chicago, with his wife Gloria and their son, Bongo.

Moye was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 4, 2002.

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Holy Redeemer Catholic School

Central State University

Wayne State University

McQuaid Jesuit High School

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New York

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Favorite Quote

Damned if you do and damned if you do.

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Favorite Food

Martinique, Guadalupe

Short Description

Percussionist Famoudou Don Moye (1946 - ) performs with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and is considered one of world's best drummers. In addition to his work with AEC, Moye has been a member of The Leaders since 1984 and has recorded with the Black Artists Group, Joseph Jarman, Don Pullen, Cecil McBee, Hamiet Bluiet, Julius Hemphill, Chico Freeman and Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy.


Detroit Artists' Workshop

Art Ensemble of Chicago

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACRM)

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Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Famoudou Don Moye interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye's favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses his parents' meeting</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye remembers his parents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Famoudou Don Moye recalls the sounds of his childhood community, Rochester, New York</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Famoudou Don Moye shares memories from his school life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Famoudou Don Moye describes his early artistic pursuits</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Famoudou Don Moye remembers his high school years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Famoudou Don Moye recounts his experience at Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Famoudou Don Moye describes his musical pursuits in Detroit, Michigan, late 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Famoudou Don Moye recalls his developing interest in percussion instruments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses the Detroit Free Jazz's European travels</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye remembers his mentor musician Randy Weston</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye recalls his solo travels in Europe and North Africa, late 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Famoudou Don Moye describes his mother's response to his early career in music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses his early involvement with the Art Ensemble of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye evaluates cities from his international travels</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye reflects on being a black American artist in Europe, late 1960s, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye compares European cultures</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Famoudou Don Moye reflects on being a black American artist in Europe, late 1960s, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Famoudou Don Moye reflects on Europe's influence on his music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Famoudou Don Moye recalls an artist network from his international travels, late 1960s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses his introduction to Chicago musicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses his role in the Art Ensemble of Chicago</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye shares thoughts on artistic exchange between cultures</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye details the Art Ensemble of Chicago's style of performance</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye describes an Art Ensemble collaboration with South African musicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses the origins of his name</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye describes the Art Ensemble's creative choices</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye shares thoughts on the dynamics of musical groups</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye recalls Chicago's musical scene, early 1970s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses the politics of the musical community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses the delineation of musical genres</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Famoudou Don Moye describes the efforts of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses the future of black music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Famoudou Don Moye considers his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Famoudou Don Moye discusses his mother's response to his musical success</a>







Famoudou Don Moye discusses the Detroit Free Jazz's European travels
Famoudou Don Moye shares thoughts on artistic exchange between cultures
Tell us about the Detroit Free Jazz Ensemble.$$That situation evolved out of the--that [Detroit] Artists' Workshop collective I was telling you about. I met a guy there that came there--the person that actually formed that group, his name was Art Fletcher, he was a saxophone player, flutist and he played percussion. Our connection was more percussion, and he was like one of the cats just kind of working around gigs around the campus. He had come from California and he had been out there at Berkeley--the Free Speech Movement and they played all out there and everything and we got into it cause he was like a rhumba specialist. This cat would--played the shit out of rhumba, man. So we had our rhumba sessions all the time and that sort--then they formulated a group that was--that was just like--they were doing gigs around the college campuses--they already had a drummer and I think that band was called the Seventh Seal or something like that--that was more pop-band oriented and then the drummer cut out and they asked me to do something with them, but then my focus was more jazz oriented so that kind of--you change the drummer, you change the band, you know that's an old saying. So that--that whole--the Detroit Free Jazz situation evolved out of that because they--they said--gave you the ticket said, you wanna go to Europe? I said, (laughter), yeah, you know, okay. So that--and then when we were leaving to go to Europe we just came up with Detroit Free Jazz, cause the Seventh Seal was actually the drummer. It was has his band, but he cut out so the other band members, some of them continued on and we added a couple of more people and we formed that group.$$How did you--how you get an invitation to go to Europe? I mean how does the band--$$I mean they--they had--they were going. They was just--we just packed our bags and went on over there. I wasn't like going to tour or anything. It was just like going--let's go to Europe and see what's going on, cause by that time I had already pretty much--I was beyond the thing of the school situation, cause I was--I was at Wayne State [University] in the--I can't--Monteith College. That was like a special college they had like--it was an open program thing so I didn't really--I wasn't going to classes--I--that much. I was just hanging on to get that scholarship money, you know, and so when that chance came up--I was working a lot anyway, moving on into that, cause I played with a couple of little blues bands and was doing stuff at the Artists' Workshop and different around--playing congas whenever I could. So, they needed a drummer and they was--they was ready to go to Europe. I said, well I'm ready to roll. So I sold all my stuff and we went out jumped--stepped--jumped on over the pond and went--went to Europe.$$Now what year is this?$$'68 [1968].$$Okay.$$I remember it specifically because we left the week after [Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.] got assassinated, and we were--at that time I was living in Ann Arbor. There was a lot of work going on in Ann Arbor--around the University of Michigan. You know, it was like a whole little circuit around Michigan, Michigan State [University], Wayne State, it was like, you know, then we go down to Ohio or so far as Cleveland and everything, and I do remember now we were--we were out playing one week after King got assassinated and I was gone. I--I was in Europe.$$Yeah, yeah, how did you feel the King assassination?$$I said, I'm outta here (laughter), cause I think the States was getting ready to go into some anarchy--if they--if they assassinated King, this is really getting ready to get heavy, you know, so I mean had I not been given a choice to go to Europe, I'd probably wouldn't have gone on my own by myself. That was just good--once again good timing, cause they--they said, I mean--and the way I was thinking then cause the riots had been going on and I was there for those riots the year before that, cause they were rioting all over. I saw the riots in Rochester, New York, New York, and Detroit, and--.$$There was a big riot in Detroit right?$$Oh yeah, I was there with the curfews and everything so, you know, just the whole political climate at that time. They were--they were cracking heads left and right. I said, man, I'm outta here. So that was an opportunity to leave--connected with the music. Had that not come up, I'm--I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have went out and bought a ticket to Europe, I--you know, just to go to Europe (laughter). I would have got, you know, well, it's no telling what I--I'm sure I wouldn't have done that. So that was good timing. They needed a fellow. I was ready to roll. The political climate was incendiary (laughter), you know, so we cut on out and ended up in Paris, in the middle of the student riots in '68 anyway (laughter). That was--(simultaneously) like going from the frying pan to the fire or something (laughter). As soon as we got to Europe, they was--oh, they was tearing up the whole Latin Quarter. I said, (laughter), oh, man. (Laughter), you know (laughter).$$So there were like riots in Paris?$$Oh yeah, the students and the workers consolidated against anybody that you know represented any--I mean they had issues, but it was really like tear gas in the street. It was basically the same situation that I had just experienced in (laughter) Detroit. That was like, well--so we left. We went on, we--I jumped a head of myself a little bit, but I mean I went on to Europe and we bought a truck and just started going around getting gigs you know, it was the summertime so we had a piano, we had everything in there--in the house. We had--we had a whole acoustic piano. We bought an old Mercedes delivery truck--had the piano in there--had the a bass, a couple of mattresses, you know (laughter) and all the saxophones and my drums and congas and so we just went around Europe playing at all the--like flea markets, outdoor fairs, you know festivals and everything. That was the summer of '68.$$Now, had anybody in your band ever been to Europe before? Or were you just going there kind of cold?$$I think a couple--the piano--either the piano player or the bass player had been over there--like student exchange type thing or something, but that never--it never occurred to me. I don't know. I know I was ready to roll. I said, Europe, yeah, cause somehow several years before that I said, I probably want--I want to go to Europe. I had that idea in my mind, that I was looking for a means to get to do that and be playing too. I wasn't going to be going to Europe as a--you know a vacation (laughter) or as a student, but I--I've always--when I was in high school I was kind of toying with that idea seriously, and it came up you know. I don't know where I got that--where that came from. I think about that sometimes, but I was all--I was committed to go there--to go to Europe. I probably picked up some information at one of those sessions over at the university or something--they was talking about the European scene and all of that stuff.$$Now, you were about twenty-one--I guess--years old?$$Let's see. Yeah, twenty-one, twenty, twenty-one, right around in that yeah.$$So--so what did you think of Paris beyond the riots? I mean what--what did you think?$$I had to get--I had reserved my opinion about Paris til later, because that was--that was a lasting impression--but I mean they was blowing up--if you come outside the whole--I mean it was--it was to the point that we--we got out--we went on to Switzerland to Lucerne, Switzerland. It was time to get--Paris, it was too volatile, you know. I mean it was like the area that we wanted--that where all the clubs and everything they was beating up, you know, knocking heads and it was a--I said I don't need this, man (laughter). I just left that, you know. So we went to Lucerne, Switzerland, and I remember that was the summer when they had--[John] Carlos and those cats they were at the summer Olympics. I saw the summer Olympics sitting up in Lucerne, and you know we were getting some jobs around there--some gigs. See, the advantage I had--two things. Going to Europe with a band that was already--an established--an existing entity, so you are not just--you land there and then you got to find work with the musicians there, and secondly, the drummer--the drummers and all were good drummers and good bass players could always find work. So a lot of times I would--if the band wasn't working, I would be getting--you know make money and buying food and do different things and make contacts, cause I would always--would always people would be looking for a drummer. That was the situation in Europe. They always needed drummers and bass players. So that was a good thing for me. So we did that--we did that off Switzerland for a while, then we went to Morocco. That's where I met Randy Weston. He was like the mentor--major influence.$The Art Ensemble [of Chicago] studied, you know different forms of--of music, not with the intent necessarily of putting it on stage, but to understand more about music.$$Yeah, I mean--okay, we wanted to play--we--I studied reggae--I mean because we--yeah, we did reggae songs and everything when we did original music, but I mean we didn't try to make a jazz version of reggae. I studied reggae from the perspective of trying--I went to Jamaica and hung out with the cats and everything--I mean I'll never be--I'm not committed to being a reggae drummer, but I--I took the time to understand the form and then I wanted to see it as it was performed in the original--where it came from. So I went--that's part of my research for African music too. You want to learn about a musical form, you go where it came from and you--and you, hopefully you--you have something to offer that will put you on a level to where you can actually make an exchange with musicians of the same caliber, cause the worst you wanna do--you don't wanna go somewhere and be a student with somebody, cause you'll never get to see the masters (laughter). You have to go there bringing something to where--that the masters might come and check you out on the same level--not--that's not to say that I'm a master, but when I went to Africa, I--I had everything. I was teaching and hiring people. So I just hired all--all the music that I wanted to deal with--I hired the people that do that, and then by hiring them I had access--direct access to what they do and they by us performing together, that--that was the true exchange. I wasn't--I didn't go to Africa to study djembe in Africa, cause at the--if--I mean at the time when I--when 1970 I--you know Mor Thiam? He from--he's master drummer from Senegal. The reason--we collaborated at--in St. Louis at the Black Artists Group in 1971. He was--he was the artist-in-residence for Katherine Dunham at Southern Illinois University. So he would come to the Black Artists Group which was the equivalent--the St. Louis equivalent of the AACM--Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians. He would come down there because the scene was happening, you know and all, but he wanted to study trap drums. So, here's a Senegalese master wanting to study trap drums. That means I got direct access, so I've--if--I mean, he would kick my ass on djembe, I could kick his ass on trap drums, so it's an equal--you know what I mean. That's--that's the difference. If you don't have anything that--of an equal thing to give to provide them or that they need, how do you become in a position to even be studying with somebody at that level? You would be down there with the little kids (laughter). I mean they are really strict in the old--in the traditional forms they are very strict about access to--to top levelers. You just don't come like, you know, Western tradition is a quick fix. You can buy it--you can just get a program (laughter), buy the thing. I mean it's so--in traditional forms you have to--you have to--you have to have an apprenticeship--you might not play an instrument for--for some years before you know, before you actually play a note, you know, you might have to be listening or something. That's a generalization or over-simplification, but my thing on that is--is the best way to go to anywhere to study is to have a program that you're going--that you're taking over there and then the idea is to have an equal exchange with hopefully a chance--if it's not both people on the same program, even more better would be both people on the same program and then a collaboration at the end of the day or something where you all get together and the two forms merge. That's how you get to collaborate with the top people for--for advanced level of the music. I--I got kind of off today (laughter).$$No, that's important. You are talking about reciprocity and stuff like that--balance.$$Yeah, cause when I went to Africa I was ready to go. I went to see Famoudou [Konate] I had a tape recorder for him, a fifth of cognac, some Marlboro cigarettes, some cash and you know, plus I was--I was performing on the same stage. So this is like the cat--I'm named after Famoudou. When I got there, that's the whole African--you had the masters like--they have--they have to have their props. So when I--besides playing to the best of my ability of what I was doing, so I mean I was able to carry--he said, who is this guy Famoudou, you know (laughter)? Well, I said, well while you're figuring that out, then why don't you try this--why don't you have a sip of this cognac (laughter), you know I was like--that's just the way it goes. With the big boys you have to kind of like make them feel good, you know, the masters, you know.$$Now who is Famoudou (simultaneously)--?$$Famoudou Konate, the master drummer from Guinea. He's from--lives--I--I can't remember that town in Guinea. Anyway, I went to Africa. I went to Guinea specifically to--to meet him and to see him and everything,$$Guinea is the home of a particular style of drumming and--?$$Well, there's djembe drumming, it's Mandingo culture--tradition. The Malinke-Mandingo tradition. Another half hour?$$No, no. Can you spell his name for us please?$$Oh, F-A-M-O-U, well, actually, it's Konate family name. K-O-N-A-T-E, F-A-M-O-U-D-O-U, and he's like the one--one of the most renowned practitioners or masters of the craft of Mandingo djembe drumming. So I went there to see him since I had the audacity to (laughter)--to like think of how I was going to name myself that (laughter). So I got my name. I was sanctioned to have the name but I--I went there--you know we were touring in Africa. I played in Conakry and Sierra Leone and Liberia and different places, you know, but I have--like I said I was hired--I hired musicians. My clause was an exchange clause. I wanted to have, you know we each--we would both be involved in the same program. It was an international musical exchange. Like one guy was a--well it was an international music exchange, but then there'd be a valley of this thing or some kind of local renowned master or some instrument--then we would--we would be a double bill then at the end we would try to--you know we probably might have a rehearsal or something just to make something happen. With musicians of a certain caliber--the music's good, something can happen. So, that was--that was my way of having access to a lot--to Famoudou--to the Guinea Ballet. He was playing there the same day we were playing in the same place and he was right there so.$$The Guinea Ballet is a traditional--?$$The Ballet Nationale of Guinea--of the Republic de la Guinea.$$The traditional dance of the country?$$Right. I got some--you asked me about photographs. I got the photographs for you for that, but that's the traditional dance and traditional drumming various--all the various tribal ethnic groupings inside of Guinea and then like there's a lot of--there's a lot of--but it's--it's a whole show. You ever see the Guinea Ballet or the Sene--well, you know what I'm talking about (laughter)?$$People who don't--who--who (simultaneously)--?$$Oh, so we have to--I have to expand on that, okay? Well, if you don't know (laughter)--you have to get a video or go out or go out and see it, but it know they just deal with the whole Mandingo culture or tradition. I don't--don't get me too far into it because it's more to it than that, but I mean it's--it's the traditional music and dance and drumming and acrobats and all, etc. of the Guinea--that whole tradition in Guinea--then they got a ballet for Mali--they got one for Senegal too. Guinea is like always--well, I--that's debatable too because the Ballet Nationale de Senegal--they are all world class performing ensembles though.