Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by Sun Ship, Jan 24, 2006.

  1. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 31, 2003
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    Juno Lewis (1932-2002)

    A musician, composer and instrument maker best known for "Kulu Se Mama," the composition that became a key element in one of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane's later recordings. Lewis, [was] a fixture in the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles, .

    Born Julian Bertrand Lewis in New Orleans, Lewis showed an affinity for art at an early age, fashioning drums and learning to sculpt using mud from the nearby Mississippi River. By the age of 16, Lewis was working as a professional musician, primarily as a drummer. After moving to Los Angeles in the 1950s, Lewis formed his own Caribbean-style band, which performed in some of Hollywood's top clubs and hotels. He was also one
    of the early black performers to find work in Las Vegas, playing at the Thunderbird Hotel.

    But by the early 1960s, the eclectic Lewis had given up his band work and was focusing on his real passion--making drums and other musical instruments.

    Over the years, he produced an array of odd-looking and odd-sounding instruments: trumpets with double bells, and a horn that looked like a saxophone grafted onto a trumpet. Each would offer a sound much different in pitch from its standard counterpart.

    Lewis said he got the idea for double-belled horns from watching the stances of such musicians as Miles Davis, who seemed to blow their instruments in every direction except straight out in front of them.

    To supplement his income, he opened a studio, Juno's Conga Village, where he taught and made drums.
    "Drum rhythms are the heartbeat of the world," he told friends.

    He viewed drum-making as a sacred calling.


    In the mid-1960s, Coltrane's band was appearing in Los Angeles at the now-defunct It Club. Some mutual friends introduced Lewis to Coltrane. Lewis showed Coltrane his long work, "Kulu Se Mama," a lengthy autobiographical poem that reflected his pride in his ancestors and strong sense of tradition.

    Weeks later, Coltrane invited him into an L.A. studio to join his regular band. They recorded "Kulu Se Mama," which took up a full side of the album and became the name of the record.

    Lewis sang in a Creole dialect and played conch shells as well as his own handmade instruments.

    In the liner notes for the album, noted critic Nat Hentoff called the performance "an absorbing, trance-like fusion of tenderness and strength, memory and pride."

    "For all its length," Hentoff wrote, "the work has an organic tonality; and at the end, there is a fulfilling sense of achievement--of a long-nurtured and developed story finally being told."

    It was one of the last recordings of the legendary Coltrane before his death from liver cancer in 1967 at the age of 41.

    Lewis had hoped that the proceeds from the album would fund a cultural center for youth in Los Angeles where he could teach music. However, that dream never materialized.

    "Kulu Se Mama" was one of the few albums on which Lewis performed. He played one other time with Coltrane, in a concert at Stanford. In the 1970s, he worked with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drummer Billy Higgins.

    He returned to his life as an instrument maker and began a business promoting music for children, which he kept going for 10 years.

    The longtime resident of Los Angeles took a loft in Leimert Park in the early 1990s.

    "[He] was a father figure in the community," poet Kamau Daaood said of Lewis. "He didn't teach in a traditional way, but shared his experience with younger members of the community."
  2. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

    United States
    Sep 29, 2005
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    Temple of Kali, Yubaland
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    Yes sir..."He didn't teach in a traditional way, but shared his experience with younger members of the community."

    I do believe that periodically Elder Juno would conduct drumming workshops at the World Stage....I know for sure he used to come through some of the Vocal Workshops conducted by Barry Harris and Mingus Workshops conducted by pianist Nate Morgan..
  3. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    Brother Sunship, I must admit that I didn't know anything at all about this brother until you brought him to my attention... I am inspired to look for more information on his life and career... In my intial foray, I came upon this article about another legend, Mr. Fela Anikulapo Kuti... It seems Mr. Lewis was instrumental in introducing Fela to the woman Fela says changed his life(smile!)

    FELA: King of the Invisible Art
    by Jay Babcock

    Fela Anikulapo Kuti: 77 albums, 27 wives, over 200 court appearances.
    Harassed, beaten, tortured, jailed. Twice-born father of Afrobeat.
    Spiritualist. Pan-Africanist. Commune King. Composer, saxophonist,
    keyboardist, dancer. Would-be candidate for the Nigerian presidency. There
    will never be another like him. MEAN brings you the sensational story of
    Fela, the greatest pop musician of the 20th century, featuring the words of
    Fela's friends, fans and the Ebami Eda himself.

    "What can I say? I wasn't Hildegart!"
    Fela always knew the power of a name.
    If you are African-and especially if you work with music, which
    shares a link of common invisibility with the spirit world-you must have a
    spiritually meaningful, beneficial name. Without the correct name, Fela
    explained, "a child can't really enter the world of the living."
    He didn't like the name he was given when he was first born, in
    1935: his Nigerian parents had followed a local German missionary's
    suggestion. So Fela died and was born a second time, on October 15, 1938;
    this time his parents called him Fela.
    "Bear the name of conquerors?" he asked Carlos Moore, author of
    Fela, Fela: This ***** of a Life, in 1981. "Or reject this first arrival in
    the world? The orishas [spirits] they heard me. And they spared me. What
    can I say? I wasn't Hildegart! It wasn't for white man to give me name. So
    it's because of a name that I've already known death."
    In 1975, at the height of his popularity and power, Fela changed
    his middle name. "I got rid of 'Ransome.' Why was my name 'Ransome' in the
    first place? Me, do I look like Englishman?" Fela's full name was now Fela
    Anikulapo-Kuti, which meant in whole, 'He who emanates greatness, who has
    control over death and who cannot be killed by man.'
    That same year Fela also started to cheekily call himself Black
    President, eventually releasing an album bearing the same title in the
    midst of a thwarted campaign. And sometime in 1986, following his release
    from Nigerian prison after serving 20 months on trumped-up charges, Fela
    began to call himself the Ebami Eda, which translates roughly as "the weird
    one," or more delicately, as "the one touched by divine hand."
    Fela was touched, alright. But he was not only a visionary musician
    who created a whole new style of music-Afrobeat-and left behind an
    incomparable body of recorded music. No. Fela also simultaneously spoke
    truth to power, and then recorded it as a 12-minute dance-funk song, with a
    title like "Government Chicken Boy" or "Coffin for Head of State." He
    endured brutal physical punishment and constant imprisonment. In the end,
    he died from complications associated with the AIDS virus. His heart was
    broken: he had sung so much, fought so hard, amassed such popularity, and
    still, hardly anything changed for the better in his beloved, heart-shaped
    continent of Africa. So: following is the story of that big generous,
    humorous, creative, divine heart that Fela had: from its early heartbeats,
    to Afrobeat, to the beatings it took, to its final, slow heartbreak.

    "Disobedience was our 'law.'"
    Fela was born into a family of discipline and disobedience-two qualities he
    would absorb and exploit later in his life. His father was the strict Rev.
    Canon Israel Oludoton Ransome-Kuti, an ordained minister, grammar school
    principal and first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. Fela's
    mother Funmilayo, beside being the first known female car driver in
    Nigeria, was a leader in the country's nascent socialist-nationalist and
    suffragette campaigns: she even traveled to Russia and China, where she met
    "My mother was quite heavy politically," remembered Fela. "And
    ohhhhhhh, I liked the way she took on those old politicians, all those
    dishonest rogues."
    As a teen, Fela was already playing the role of witty rebel against
    authority that he would later refine and perfect. "In school I formed a
    club when I was sixteen, the Planless Society," he said. "The rule of the
    club was simple: we had no plans. You could be called upon to disobey
    orders at any time. Disobedience was our 'law.'"
    Like many children of the Nigerian middle class, Fela was sent to
    London to study at university. But Fela, now a trumpet player, wasn't
    interested in the professional careers in medicine and law that such
    students (like Fela's brothers) usually pursue; instead, in 1958, three
    years after his father's death, he enrolled at the London Trinity College
    of Music.
    Fela was joined in London by his childhood friend J.K. Braimah, who
    jokingly told Moore, "Fela was a nice guy, a really beautiful guy. But as
    square as they come! Whenever we would go to parties he would fill up on
    cider first. Then he would start challenging the others to dance. He didn't
    smoke cigarettes, let alone grass. He was afraid to ****! We had to take
    his ***** by hand, hold it and put it in the **** for him. I swear!"
    Fela eventually met (and married, in 1961) his first wife Remi
    there in London. With some West Indian and Nigerian friends, he started a
    jazz band called Koola Lobitos, but had trouble finding gigs. Fela sat in
    at jazz gigs around town; one of the musicians in the scene at the time
    that he hooked up with was Ginger Baker, who would be one of Fela's
    life-long friends. Meanwhile, Fela and Remi had their first two
    children-daughter Yeni in '61 and son Femi in '62-and Fela graduated from
    Trinity with certificates in practice and theory.
    Fela and his family returned to Nigeria in 1963, where Fela took an
    unfulfilling job as a music producer with the Nigerian Broadcasting
    Corporation, which he eventually quit. He had already formed a new Koola
    Lobitos band, but was finding it difficult to gain momentum in Nigeria's
    economically depressed nightclub scene. A 1967 tour of neighboring Ghana,
    where the "highlife" style of music was booming, greatly impressed Fela.
    "The whole country was swinging so much that I said to myself that this is
    the right place to come and play," he told Mabinuori Kayode Idowu in his
    1986 book, Fela: Why Blackman Carry ****.
    But before long, Ghana's Pan-Africanist president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
    was deposed in a military coup. The Nigerian government was engaged in a
    bloody, ridiculous civil war with Biafran secessionists. And mid-'60s James
    Brown-style Soul music, especially the version played by Ghanaian Geraldo
    Pino, was gaining favor in both countries. Fela was getting pushed out.
    "Everybody was playing soul, man, trying to copy Pino," he told Moore.
    "That's why I said to myself, 'I have to be very original and clear myself
    from ****.'"
    So in 1969, when Fela was given an offer to tour America with his
    band, he took it.

    "No gigs! No bread! No visa, no work permit! No ****! Nothing!"
    The band was wowed by New York City.
    "I said to myself: 'Look those motherfucking tall buildings!
    Africans ain't ****! Just savages, man! Oh I was so impressed by America!
    So blind, man!" Fela recalled. "Today I'd say 'Skyscrapers go up that high?
    To scrape what? Jo, make 'em scrape dirty streets of Harlem!"
    In a weird coincidence, Fela had met famous South African singer
    Miriam Makeba on the plane en route to the U.S.; she gave him the name and
    address of her agent in New York. But the agent refused to represent an
    unknown like Fela. Previous logistical arrangements began to fall through.
    Fela: "Nigeria was now three months behind us. And we weren't IN
    the America we'd dreamt of. No, man. We were IN trouble! No gigs! No bread!
    No ****! Nothing! And our visas finish-o! I said, 'Now we're illegal
    immigrant mother******s! No visa, no work permit... Stalemate!' Terrible
    times, man."
    The band ended up driving all the way across the country in search
    of gigs, finally bottoming out in Los Angeles in August, 1969 without a
    permanent residence.
    "It was kind of difficult at first but ended up okay," Fela's
    drummer Tony Allen told Mean about life in L.A. "We got some friends that
    offered us places. There was one guy, he gave us a whole house, without
    heater! No hot water! One day the Gas Company man, just passing by, saw us.
    We say, 'Our problem is we don't have hot water or heater.' He came in, and
    he saw that in the chamber outside, the control was broken. Dead long time
    ago! So he just went into his car and took a brand new one, bring it up,
    took off the old one there, fixed it up and opened the gas for us."
    Some band members took factory jobs while Fela tried to hustle up
    live gigs and a recording contract. A local musician and drum maker named
    Juno Lewis saw Fela's group perform and heard that they were to play at an
    NAACP function at the Ambassador Hotel.
    It was at this gig that Fela's life changed.

    "She blew my mind, really."
    Sandra Smith was a young Los Angeles anthropology student radical who had
    recently joined the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and was interested
    in all things African: history, contemporary politics, dance and music. On
    her friend (and troupemate) Juno's tip, she went to see Fela's band play at
    the Ambassador in August, 1969.
    "I walked into the Hotel's Ballroom, wearing this blue bellbottomed
    jumpsuit and I just happened to look up onstage," Sandra told Mean. "And
    Fela was looking down. It was like a simultaneous connection, a BEAM that
    connected just the two of us. And I felt some energy like I had never felt
    before. At the intermission, Juno said somebody wanted to see me at the
    bar. And there was Fela."
    The two quickly became lovers, with Fela moving in with Sandra at
    her parents' house. Sandra: "As we spent time together, I got to know the
    musicians, I got all involved in their business. They needed help, and I
    just got involved.
    The band got a regular gig playing at Citadel de Haiti, a
    struggling nightclub run by Bernie Hamilton (who would later feature in the
    Starsky & Hutch TV series) in a red brick building at 6666 Sunset Blvd.
    "We played there for about five months, six nights in a week,"
    remembers Tony Allen. "Bernie gave us a house and we played in his club. It
    was grooving, you know."
    "Anyone that was anybody-John Brown, Melvin Van Peebles, H.B.
    Barnham, Esther Phillips-came to see Fela," says Sandra. "It was all word
    of mouth."
    Sandra was singing onstage with the band, who were playing a
    mixture of Fela's jazz compositions and his unique arrangements of
    contemporary soul favorites like "By the Time I get to Phoenix." On his
    nights off from the Citadel, Fela would sit in around town at jazz gigs, or
    play private parties-including one where a drunk Frank Sinatra got in a
    heated exchange with Fela.
    Meanwhile,. Fela was busy writing and arranging music on a piano in
    the living room at Sandra's house. The band would rehearse using acoustic
    equipment in Sandra's backyard. Despite hardships-like Sandra having to
    take an extra job to buy a new trumpet for Fela when his was stolen-the
    arrangement was a good one, and allowed Fela to begin developing a new kind
    of music.
    "He'd play at the club, we'd party, and then he'd come home.,"
    remembers Sandra. "Until 3 o'clock in the morning, we were up, we're
    talking. I remember him telling me how Africans are so stupid. Huh! I had
    never gone to Africa, but then I was coming into the knowledge of Self, and
    I believed that Africa had queens and kings and everything. I was intense.
    Then I started introducing him to things. I guess he was quiet and
    listening to me, but I thought I was learning from him."
    Fela started reading the books that Sandra was enthused about:
    history books, Eldridge Cleaver, and what would become his favorite, The
    Autobiography of Malcolm X.
    "Sandra gave me the education I wanted to know," Fela told Moore.
    "She talked to me about politics, history, about Africa. She taught me what
    she knew and what she knew was enough for me to start on. She's beautiful.
    Nothing about my life is complete without her."
    Sandra: "At that time, James Brown had 'Say It Loud, I'm Black and
    I'm Proud.' Fela was singing in Yoruba, you couldn't understand anything he
    was saying, but the music was getting better and better. He was getting
    deeper into his African roots. African music is about the chanting. Fela
    had all these rhythms and all these arrangements, and it was getting so
    dynamic! But when I asked him what he was saying, he said he was talking
    about what he likes in his soup! And I was saying, 'No. You need to sing
    some conscious lyrics. You can pass a message in the music.'"
    Fela took Sandra's words to heart and began composing his first
    conscious music: songs like "My Lady's Frustration" and "Black Man's Pride."
    Afrobeat had been born-in America.

    "We Got Real Funky Then"
    Fela and his band were ratted out by somebody in L.A. Their visas had
    expired, and they headed back to Nigeria.
    "We got real funky then," remembers Tony Allen.
    Fela changed the band's name to the Nigeria 70. He wrote his first
    hit record, the humorous "J'eun Koku" ["glutton"]. He bookended his
    performances and public appearances with the Black Power clenched fist
    salute he had learned in America. He started holding "Sunday Afternoon
    Jump" dance concerts at a venue modeled after similar shows he had seen
    years ago in Ghana. The club itself-two stories, no roof, packed with
    dancers, trays of very cheap "Nigerian Natural Grass" (marijuana)
    everywhere-was now called the Afro-Spot. It quickly became the place to see
    the happening band. In 1970, even James Brown's band came to the Afro-Spot,
    visiting each night after they finished one of their series of gigs
    downtown [see Bootsy Collins sidebar]. Singer Vickie Anderson wanted to
    know who had written the brilliant arrangement of "Phoenix" that she heard
    at the club (it was Fela); Tony Allen claimed that Brown's people sat by
    his kit each night, attempting to chart his drum patterns.
    With Remi and the children now settled in their own house, Fela
    went about creating what was essentially a hippie commune-with an African



  4. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 31, 2003
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    Peace Brother Isaiah!

    Yes Brother, this is what I was talking about in the other post, how this music and story is, and has been, sewn and held together by so many unknown and unrewarded heroes. These are the stories and the continuity our people ignore and will loose if they don’t wake up.

    Hopefully some others will read this thread and read about the historical Fela-Juno connection. I have this book titled Fela Fela, which is Fela’s autobiography, written with the help of Carlos Moore. There is also a very nice DVD documentary titled Fela Kuti: Music Is The Weapon.

    But if you ever listen to John Coltrane’s composition Kulu Se Mama which was composed around a poem by Juno Lewis, it is one the most beautiful, spiritual and deepest pieces you will ever hear. Juno Lewis is singing in an old Louisiana African-Creole language. I read somewhere that it was dedicated to and about his love for his mother (who I believe spoke this langauge). I have a friend who sings it phonetically, but I would really like to contact some of his people to get a copy of the poem and the translation.

  5. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    Yeah, Brother, that scenario plays out all over the place as regards our people and their contributions... I think I read in THE MYTH OF THE NEGRO PAST that our history is just really beginning to be written, and as we know, history is always a work in progress... In time, Mr. Lewis' works and deeds will see the light of all of our appreciation - if it takes many generations to piece that great story of his together... It will just take catz like yourself, and others, to tell it...

    BTW, purchasing one of his "unknown" drums would probably fetch a crazy price these days... I don't know if I got that kinda money, but I'd love to place one on my mantle, or donate one to the Studio Museum of Harlem...


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