Mankwe Ndosi, who has been surprising, beguiling and challenging audiences for years, will release her latest album at the Cedar tonight (Friday, Aug. 13) with a live improvised performance. It won’t be like anything you’ve heard before. Wordless vocals, breaths, high notes and growls will twine together with cello, drums, rattles and baritone saxophone.
Ndosi, a member of Chicago’s hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice spans genres and disciplines, from music to theater, dance and public art. Her unique vocal stylings are mostly self-taught and informed by the musicians she surrounds herself with.
In December 2019 at Icehouse, Ndosi curated an expansive and fascinating series of Great Black Music Mondays that featured recordings by Black women jazz composers, five different ensembles of singers and instrumentalists, spoken word and jam sessions. The final Monday was Dec. 30. Not long after, COVID arrived.
“When the pandemic hit, I was thinking about things I could keep moving forward,” Ndosi told MinnPost on Thursday. “I had been meaning to put out some of the music that had been recorded over the years.” In 2015, she had toured and recorded with her quartet Body MemOri, with Silvia Bolognesi on double bass, Tomeka Reid on cello and Davu Seru on drums and percussion. “This rose to the top as being already attended to, as well as being beautiful. I was excited to be able to release it.”
“Felt/not said” will be available on double vinyl and CD. Bolognesi, who lives in Italy, won’t be at tonight’s concert, but esteemed saxophonist Donald Washington will be, along with two dancers, Leah Nelson and Imagine Joy, who will translate the sound into movement.
Though 2015 seems like eons ago, we asked Ndosi to look back to where the album came from and what inspired it.
“It was about continuing the exploration and relationship with the musicians I made the album with,” she said. “And the way I framed the group, and how we started the music, because you can do improvisation a lot of different ways.
“I was studying somatic healing. The name of the group, Body MemOri, is about the ways that stories, trauma, resistance, survival instincts and experiences are stored in the body, and the wisdom and ability of the body to heal itself. The music was made by asking the musicians to find a place in their body of flow, freeze, fight, or flight. We traded off who would initiate the pieces.
“At the release event, the music will be started in a similar way, just with a little bit more direction. We’ll be particularly thinking about making a place that invites the audience to journey with the music. The vocals will all be wordless, so there won’t be a message or context that is dictated to the audience. The music itself will be the stimulus and the environment for people to take their own journeys.
“We’ll bring in some grounding techniques and exercises encouraging people to notice when they’re having feelings, images, messages or irritations. There will be an explicit welcome for feelings, in a culture that often locks feeling down.
“In the last piece we do, I will be inviting the audience to participate as they wish, in terms of percussive sounds they can make with their bodies, without their voices, because we’re in COVID time. All throughout, if people feel an intensity of emotion or sensation, they will be able to hum and rock as they feel the need.”
We asked how the past 17 months had changed Ndosi’s life and her priorities.
“There’s been a desire to concentrate and clarify what I’m here for,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of looking at the variety of kinds of work that I do and asking myself ‘Which are the essential pieces? Where do I want to dive deeply?’ I definitely feel the need and desire to dive more deeply as opposed to work more widely.
“I feel like we’re in the early middle of the climate crisis. Not the peak, but the beginning of what might be a ramp up. That has led me to ask, ‘What do we need to know? What relationships do we need to nurture, what skills do we need to be developing with each other to change our lifestyles, our expectations of our politicians, the amount that we use and consume in the world? How do we need to rely on each other more?’
“We’re in a different place from when the pandemic began, and we’re not going back, and I don’t think we should be thinking about going back.”
Turns out “Felt/not said” isn’t the only music Ndosi is releasing to the world. In July, I Care If You Listen (ICIYL), a multimedia hub for living music creators and part of the St. Paul-based American Composers Forum, asked her to compile one of their popular “ListN Up” playlists. She chose a series of performance videos by artists who are important to her. “Particularly in this time when performances have been so hard to come by, so few and far between, I wanted to highlight evocative live performances,” she said. Watch and listen here.
For tonight’s all-ages album release at the Cedar, Sarah M. Greer will open with a song. Doors are at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($18). Proof of vaccination or a negative test result is required for entry.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Saturday, Aug. 14, 2-6 p.m., Franconia Sculpture Park: Food Truck Rally and Music. The food trucks: The Great Panini, MN Nice Cream, Burro Loco, Trickster Tacos. The music: 2:15 p.m. The River High, 3:45 p.m. Monica LaPlante, 5 p.m. The Stress of Her Regard. Franconia: 50 acres, over 100 public sculptures, open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. 365 days/year, free admission. FMI.
L Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 14 and 15, at the Riverview Theatre: Free tickets to every screening of “Respect” on both days. Courtesy of the streaming service Pluto TV, all screenings of the new Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” starring Jennifer Hudson will be free. Plus, while supplies last, you’ll get Pluto TV swag. Reserve your seat here.
L and V Sunday, Aug. 15, 1-3 p.m., Minneapolis Institute of Art: Book Launch: “Piotr Szyhalski / Labor Camp’s COVID-19: Labor Camp Report.” One of the most riveting arts events – make that series of arts events – to take place during the pandemic’s first year was the daily release on Instagram and Facebook of MCAD professor and artist Piotr Szyhalski’s “Covid-19: Labor Camp Report” drawings. From March 24, 2020, through Nov. 3, Szyhalski spoke his mind, his shock, his frustration, his bitterly ironic humor and despair in black-and-white ink drawings with hand-lettered text reminiscent of propaganda posters. On Sunday in Mia’s Pillsbury Auditorium, he’ll talk about the book with artist and writer Colette Gaiter and Mia curator Gabriel Ritter in a conversation moderated by Courtenay Finn, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Come in person (reserve a ticket) or watch on Zoom (register for the livestream). At Mia, a book signing will follow the conversation at 2 p.m., with books and prints available for purchase.