New York, NY: In February 2006, Sankofa Strings, a progressive collective comprised of percussionist Sule Greg Wilson along with multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons and singer Rhiannon Giddens, from the Grammy-Award Winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, were taped in concert for inclusion in the award-winning jug band documentary Chasin' Gus' Ghost, a film which chronicles a worldwide quest to assemble a comprehensive lineage to Gus Cannon, a seminal figure in the history of American music.
In the 1920s, Gus helmed Cannon's Jug Stompers, one of America's premiere jug bands, whom regularly delighted rambunctious sold-out crowds from Alabama to New York with a showstopper called "Minglewood Blues". Four decades later, the era-defining tune was re-christened as "New, New Minglewood Blues," appearing on the 1967 debut album by a Bay-area jug band called the Grateful Dead.
Duly impressed by Sankofa Strings and their refreshing melting pot of century-old traditional string band music, jazz, folk and blues coated in the context of modern arrangement, Chasin' Gus' Ghost Producer/director Todd Kwait offered the band an opportunity to record an album at Nevessa Production in Woodstock, NY, a studio that specializes in recording acoustic orchestras. Three years later, the group took Kwait up on his offer.
Along with original Sankofa Strings members Flemons and Wilson (Giddens had just given birth to her first child and could not make the sessions), The Uptown Strut took shape in the summer of 2009 with the esteemed vocal ambiance of Canadian singers, Ndidi Onukwulu and Allison Russell, whom gracefully take turns up front while also augmenting one another. Dom and Sule Greg are also interspersed throughout as lead vocal captivators.
Joining the groundbreaking ensemble for their historical exploration was John Sebastian, founder of the Lovin' Spoonful, a Rock 'N Roll Hall Fame Inductee immensely popular in the late '60s that drew inspiration from and paid tribute to jug band music, and pianist Professor Louie, a recent Blues Hall of Fame Inductee, whom fondly remembers the spirited sessions, "While working together in the studio, I realized that all the members of Sankofa have a very deep understanding of music and heritage. As the sessions went on, I felt we all had the same love and understanding of this music."
From Pandeiro and Bodhran drums to accordion and maracas to kazoo and tambourine to jugs, bones and washboard, The Uptown Strut deftly glides the gamut of instrumentation with Sebastian adding banjo to the Jimmy Cliff classic "Sitting In Limbo" and Baritone guitar and harmonica on the exquisite "If Wishes Were Gold" with a sultry lead vocal by Allison Russell.
Mining further precious metals, The Strut saddles up at a sonic hookah as Sebastian and Professor Louie hydroponically blend with Wilson and Flemons on "Weed Smoker's Dream," a sophisticated traipse of the Harlem Hamfats tune from 1936 that clocks out at exactly four minutes and 20 seconds after an extended exhale of Cab Calloway's "Minnie The Moocher".
Further 420-friendly cuts include a Gospel-infused re-working of Ray Charles' number one hit "Let's Go Get Stoned," with a soul-baring lead vocal by Ndidi Onukwulu, "What's The Use of Getting Sober," Louie Jordan's first number one hit in 1942, and the 1930s-era Dixieland roll of "Don't You Make Me High" set to sail by a sublime melody on clarinet.
Other storied sign posts in downtown Uptown are "The Old Folks Started It," a take on the 1929 Minnie Wallace tune which also references Shelton Brooks' 1917 hit "Darktown Strutter's Ball," "Sing Sing Prison Blues," a nod to Bessie Smith's 1924 recording and a, literally, bare-boned rendition of "Jump Jim Crow," an early American treasure originally "collected" by blackface minstrel Thomas "Daddy" Rice in 1828.
Gearing up for a March 27th release on Kwait's Kingswood Records, the group dropped "Strings" from its moniker to put focus on the aesthetic beauty and prescient meaning of "Sankofa," a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to "go back and get it" (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to look, to seek and take). It is often associated with the proverb, "Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten".
Visually represented by an Adinkra symbol of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, Sankofa symbolizes one taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge.
Emboldened by a confident uptown strut, the majestic bird of Sankofa faces forward toward the enlightened to boldly fly high into the musical future.
The Uptown Strut
1. The Old Folks Started It (ft. Dom Flemons & John Sebastian)
2. Ha-Ha Blues (ft. Ndidi Onukwulu)
3. Weed Smoker's Dream (ft. Sule Greg Wilson & John Sebastian)
4. If Wishes Were Gold (ft. Allison Russell & John Sebastian)
5. It's A Good Thing (ft. Dom Flemons & John Sebastian)
6. Can't Stain My Brain (ft. Ndidi Onukwulu)
7. I Can Tell The World About This (ft. Allison Russell)
8. Brown Skin Girl (ft. Sule Greg Wilson)
9. What's The Use of Getting Sober? (ft. Sule Greg Wilson)
10. Jump Jim Crow (ft. Sule Greg Wilson)
11. Sing Sing Prison Blues (ft. Allison Russell)
12. Sitting In Limbo (ft. Sule Greg Wilson, Ndidi Onukwulu & John Sebastian)
13. Don't You Make Me High (ft. Allison Russell)
14. You Got Me Rollin' (ft. Dom Flemons & John Sebastian)
15. Let's Go Get Stoned (ft. Ndidi Onukwulu)