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Kahil El'Zabar

Musician Kahil El'Zabar was born in Chicago, on November 11, 1953. One of three children growing up in a South Side neighborhood, El'Zabar fell in love with the myriad sounds of the city, from doo-wop to jazz. After attending Catholic schools in Chicago, El'Zabar went to Kennedy-King College and later to Malcolm X and Lake Forest colleges. In 1973, he traveled to Africa to attend the University of Ghana and study African music firsthand.

El'Zabar began studying African music at an early age, taking a special interest in drumming. At the age of eighteen, he joined Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and by 1975 he was chairman of the organization. During the early 1970s, El'Zabar also formed his own musical group, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and later another group, Ritual Trio, with which he still performs. His musical abilities have allowed him to play with such greats at Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Nina Simone, and he has toured the world with both his own groups and others. El'Zabar is active in more than just music, however. He has appeared in several films, including Mo' Money, How U Like Me Now and The Last Set. From 1996 to 1999, El'Zabar organized Traffic at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, an inter-arts program featuring music and poetry.

El'Zabar has also served as an associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has published a book, Mis'taken Brilliance, and tailors clothing both for his band and for others. He is active on the boards of several organizations, including serving as the chairman of The Sun Drummer, an African American drum society, and on the board of directors of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression. El'Zabar lives in Chicago. He has six children.

Selected Discography

Kahil El'Zabar & Ritual Trio Renaissance of the Resistance. Delmark Records: 1994.
---. Big Cliff. Delmark Records: 1994.
---. Another Kind of Groove. Sound Aspects: 1987.

Accession Number

A2003.072

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/5/2003

Last Name

El'Zabar

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Kahil

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

ELZ01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

None

Speaker Bureau Notes

He has been arts activist for 30+ years as well as having excelled in his profession as a percussionist. One of the original sun drummers.; Marla Sylvain's sister Dorian Sylvain is married to him.; Susanna (assistant) 312-850-4906; AACM musician and recording artist - progressive jazz percussionist and band leader of international stature.

Honorarium Specifics:

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France, Accra, Ghana

Favorite Quote

You dig?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

11/11/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Brown Rice

Short Description

Jazz percussionist Kahil El'Zabar (1953 - ) has been chair of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago.

Employment

University of Nebraska, Lincoln

University of Illinois, Chicago

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kahil El'Zabar's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kahil El'Zabar talks briefly about his immediate family members

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kahil El'Zabar lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kahil El'Zabar remembers his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his childhood home

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kahil El'Zabar describes the frustrations of being labeled learning disabled at Copernicus Elementary School

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kahil El'Zabar describes moving from the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois to the Chatham neighborhood in Chicago

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kahil El'Zabar comments on some of his elementary and middle school teachers

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his experience at Cathedral High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his introduction to jazz music

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kahil El'Zabar describes touring with tenor saxophonist Von Freeman

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his first marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his children and being a father, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his children and being a father, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his mentors and developing an exchange program between the University of Ghana and Lake Forest College

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kahil El'Zabar lists musicians he played with in Paris and his involvement in the Chicago Afro-arts community

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kahil El'Zabar describes what has influenced his music

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kahil El'Zabar describes a time in Paris, France when he felt he transcended his music

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kahil El'Zabar describes jazz musicians that have influenced his style

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kahil El'Zabar explains his philosophy as a musician

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the formation of his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about African influence in contemporary hip hop music

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kahil El'Zabar critiques the state of arts-in-education, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kahil El'Zabar critiques the state of arts-in-education, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the artist's contribution to society

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his teaching appointments

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his involvement in programming at the Steppenwolf Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about designing clothing for entertainers

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about maintaining a youthful perspective

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about African Americans' cultural heritage

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the African American contribution to American art and pop culture, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the African American contribution to American art and pop culture, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the African American influence in American film culture and talks about the African American business community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about the beatnik and bebop generations

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kahil El'Zabar critiques contemporary African American culture

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his work on the Broadway production of 'The Lion King'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kahil El'Zabar explains how he developed an arts administration curriculum

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his role as a multi-percussionist and list the percussion instruments he plays, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kahil El'Zabar describes his role as a multi-percussionist and list the percussion instruments he plays, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kahil El'Zabar lists record labels he's recorded for and the books he has published

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about Dizzy Gillespie's contribution to American music

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Kahil El'Zabar critiques traditional American values and the difficulty African American musicians experience transcending popular culture, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Kahil El'Zabar critiques traditional American values and the difficulty African American musicians experience transcending popular culture, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Kahil El'Zabar explains why he wears his glasses at all times

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Kahil El'Zabar talks about his contribution to the Underground Fest jazz festival in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Kahil El'Zabar narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

8$3

DATitle
Kahil El'Zabar describes a time in Paris, France when he felt he transcended his music
Kahil El'Zabar describes his role as a multi-percussionist and list the percussion instruments he plays, pt. 2
Transcript
The highest moment I ever remember in my music was "Light" Henry Huff, who's deceased now, and Edward Wilkerson were original members of my band The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and we had played for five weeks straight at a call--club called Chapelle des Lombards in Paris [France]. And usually we only have one-nighters. I mean most of my life has only been one-nighters because I'm not old enough to have been around as a player before '65 [1965] when somebody could come to a club and work there two, three weeks. And so when we were at this place in Paris for five weeks, and there was a moment I'll never forget where I was looking at myself. I was playing and I was over here and I said damn you know. And then when I wanted to tell Ed and Light where I was is when I lost it. I don't know if it was for one second or if it was for an hour but whatever that vibration was, I've lived to have that vibration again for the rest of my life, which I've not. And I've had some high levels of, you know, of experiences but that kind of existence is really what I live for. And this is what I feel in Charlie Parker. This is what I feel when I listen to the pygmy music of the Ituri forest of southern Cameroon. This is what I feel when I listen to classic Muddy Waters and he say, "I'm a man." And you feel the energy that's, you know, behind that. That passion. And many times it really hurts me when I see that kind of rhythmic confluence in people throughout the world and it's degradaded rather than celebrated. Even though we all know that's a very special energy. But it's not a part of the aesthetic of the controlling society. And you know what I've learned how to do is to use the articulation of mainstream society in order to invent opportunities for myself. And then protect the rhythmical confluence in a way that it's not degradized [sic]. And that's how I amplify my reality.$I play, you know, many small percussion instruments. The shekere which is a gourd with beads. I play Agogo bells which are metal bells. I play the traditional marimba and I studied at the whatever, it's a Chicago music institute in downtown Chicago [sic, Music Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois] for traditional marimba. I play C flute, low B, and also alto flute, which is the curved round flute. I don't really play piano, but I use piano to compose. And so I can pick around with my fingers and I know the note value for what I'm trying to approach when I'm writing music. I've scored for symphonies, Berlin symphony. Written for University of Nebraska Symphony. I have scored film scores like 'Mo' Money' for Columbia picture. 'Love Jones' New Line Cinema. 'How U Like Me Now' filmmaker from Darryl Roberts from Universal Film.$$Kimbah [ph.]--or timbah [ph.] finger piano.$$The Kalimba.$$Or the African thumb piano in English. I play Sansa which come from West Africa. Which is usually a twelve key notated kalimba. I play the kalimba which comes from South Africa. It's usually twelve to sixteen notes. I play likembe from East Africa which is usually the five pentatonic, five note system. And what I've tried to do with, you know, kalimbas, thumb pianos, the berimbau. I played the bow from Brazil which comes also from East Africa originally played by the maroons in Bahia [Brazil], Slaves who said that no European will ever own them. Which those kinds of people are never celebrated, the ones who fought against being acculturated. But anyway I took and learned that instrument from them because I wanna learn all the instruments that are instruments of rebellion from people of African descent and place them in contemporary music, which I've done. I've put more African instruments on recordings in contemporary music in--in pop, rhythm and blues [R&B], jazz, than any other musician.