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Global: Godwin Louis Explores the Impact of Afro-Caribbean Sounds and Concepts on Music

Saxophonist Godwin Louis, born in Harlem, New York comes from Haitian heritage. When he first visited New Orleans and explored the city’s music, he had an epiphany. He felt the continuity between two cultures of Afro-French origin. As a seasoned sideman with stints with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Madonna, and many others, Godwin has released his ambitious 17 tracks long double-album, of original compositions, Global, that plumbs the past while remaining steadily grounded in contemporary and exploratory musical practices. With Global becoming the first major release of his compositions, he puts his own spin as a composer, musician, and a bandleader. The music on his album is based on the music transported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade. He has placed the vibrant melodies and African-derived rhythms of the region in a context drawing from 1960s jazz. Louis’ playing is sharp-edged yet melodious, joyful in its hard drive.

Image: Godwin Louis
Louis discovered the impact of Haitians on the music of New Orleans, arguably the musical heart of the US. Yet as Louis dug into the past, his understanding and musical vision expanded geographically and sonically, while exploring West and Central Africa, Brazil, tiny Pacific islands–the entire global filigree of Afro-diasporic peoples and their art. He felt it was time to bring his discoveries, in breathtakingly intricate and skillfully rendered form, to the world, so as the resulting double-album of original compositions, that includes one anthemic concluding piece by composer Hermeto Pascoal.

As Godwin quotes, “My travels and studies let me fully explore and find this musical sound dedicated to the diaspora that you hear on Global. The world is way more connected than we think. We’ve all heard of the Transatlantic trade slave and its tragedies and horrors, but so much came out of it and formed global culture, so much that’s rarely highlighted. You can feel it intensely in places like Santiago de Cuba, Bahia in Brazil, New Orleans, The musical sound that came from those places has gone global, and it’s all filtered into pop culture. That’s where I started.”

Louis developed his own style, where gospel and traditional Haitian and West and Central African songs, avant arrangements and grounded grooves collide. He discovered new concepts in African-heritage musical thought that enriched his jazz foundations. “Because it’s all based on the words, there’s no common tempo,” explains Louis Godwin. “When the phrase is done, it’s done and then you move on. I decided to experiment with approaching notes in the same way. An idea can keep on going. In general, Global questions tradition. If the idea isn’t done yet, it goes on, even when another idea comes. The melody is king in that approach.” The resulting feel is polyphonous, many different voices and perspectives chiming in and overlapping.

The overlap fascinates Louis and inspired many of Global’s tracks. He reveals into how European sacred music seeped into an Afro-diasporic melody found around the Atlantic, rich with triple meter. (“Four Essential Prayers of Guinea”) And how African instruments can inform Protestant hymns, despite centuries of church animosity toward West African sounds and forms. (“Bondye Ede-n”) He looks at narrative threads that unite the lyrical forms of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-South American romance (“Present” featuring Cuban singer Xiomara Laugart), and the playing techniques and moods that unite the Francophone cultures of the Caribbean (“Siwèl”). Yet the wide-ranging journeys remain rooted in Louis’ personal experience as a person with a multilayered heritage and full awareness of past and present struggles. Overall, Global is the history of music and culture in the Americas. Cultures that came from Africa, met with indigenous aestheticism and were refined or rarefied via colonialism, as a result changing the course of music history and culture worldwide.

Though relatively young, Louis has already toured, performed, and recorded with Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath, Billy Preston, Patti Labelle, Toni Braxton, Babyface, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Barry Harris, and many other glorified names which reflects a great swath of Africa, Asia, and Europe in the bargain. In addition, Godwin has performed as a sideman and guest soloist. As a composer, Godwin has received the Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Grant, and the Jazz Gallery’s “New Works Commission”. As an educator, humanitarian and ambassador, Godwin has traveled across the world to help in promoting cross-cultural understanding and introduce thousands to America’s indigenous art form via public concerts, master classes, and jam sessions.

Know more about Godwin Louis on his website and connect to him here on his Facebook and Instagram