‘We will bring two worlds together, and create one world”, vows Kinobe, multi-instrumentalist from Uganda, as he foresees his March 10th first-time collaboration with Howard Levy, Chicago-based master harmonica and piano player. I am speaking to him as he awaits a flight at the airport, on his way to Uganda before returning to the U.S. to tour.
Kinobe, (pronounced chi-NO-bee) is a master of several traditional African instruments: the kalengo, or “talking” drum; the kora, the 21-stringed harp-lute; the kalimba, or thumb piano; the adungu or bow-harp; and the endongo, or African lyre, among others. His musical world began decades ago, when as a boy in Uganda he lived near the courts of the Kingdom of Buganda, so the music of the courts was always a part of the soundtrack of his life. A talented child musician, he traveled since the age of 10 with his school band all over Europe, and speaks of the joy of bringing another world into his own.
As a child in New York City, Levy also grew up surrounded by music. His father sang Broadway and opera, and his mother a was cello-player and graduate of the city’s renowned High School for the Performing Arts (the one of “Fame” fame). He loved music from as long as he can remember – and already as a five year old was “begging” his parents to let him take piano lessons. This led to a life of musical studies from then on, and a particularly important epiphany when as a student at Northwestern he discovered both jazz and the harmonica. Grammy-winner Levy is known world-round for his masterful harmonica-playing as well as adventuresome musical forays into a multitude of genres, as well as theater and film. Speaking on the phone from his home in Chicago, Levy comments that he has also listened to African music for decades, and collaborated with many African artists in Chicago, such as Foday Muso Soso and his Mandigo Griot Society.
Kinobe first heard about Howard Levy when he was at a jazz club in Vienna, Austria and a European friend played Levy’s music for him. He speaks with great admiration of Levy’s harmonica playing, and recalls thinking that first time he heard it, “…this impossible, this is so crazy amazing! I felt like my whole body was inside that harmonica, and it made me forget everything!”
A few years later, chance or perhaps destiny brought them to Salina, Kansas, where each musician and his group (Levy with Trio Globo, and Kinobe with Soul Beat Africa) were scheduled at adjacent times to play at the Smoky Hills River Festival. Hearing each other perform, a friendship between the musicians ensued, and encouraged by their mutual agent, they decided to perform together. Here in Chicago we will get the opportunity to witness the fruits of their creative forces united for the first time.
It’s hard to say what will happen, respond both musicians, when I ask for a sneak preview – they will rehearse prior to the performance, but do have not specific expectations as to the results. Levy does mention that he hopes they will play “Camel Parade”, a piece of his that was inspired in older African Saharan Desert rhythms, and he is looking forward to seeing what Kinobe might do with it. No matter what, if their solo performances are any indication (see videos) the results are sure to be magical.
It will certainly be a moment where the music reminds us we are global citizens, using the power Levy describes as an “invisible way of bypassing all our usual filters, and communicating directly from ears to mind, heart and soul.” Kinobe speaks passionately of harnessing this power to create sounds that speak to all of us: “When I fly, and see the earth from the skies – where are the borders? It’s only our politics that have created them…really, we do live a global village.”
Soundculture Chicago presents An Intimate Evening with Howard Levy and Kinobe on March 10 at the Mayne Stage.