Monday, July 11, 2016

Randy Weston at 90

Randy Weston at 90
Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali

Randy Weston has reached the age of ninety.  Weston has been on the small planet called earth for nearly a century. He turned 90 on April 5th.

My father Norman Lee Richmond aka Bud joined the ancestors in the early 1970s. I met Weston shorty after Bud left us.  Weston has been the closest to a father to me since Bud. He has supported Diasporic Music and Saturday Morning Live on CKLN -FM 88.1 and Regent Radio.  He did fund raisers for Saturday Morning Live and Diasporic Music on CKLN-FM.

The Brooklyn, New York born Weston also has been a firm supporter of Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio.  He offered the station copies of his classic album “Uhuru Afrika” aka Freedom Africa during several of our fund raising affairs. The pianist who calls his music “African Rhythms) not “jazz” was recorded in 1960 and was originally released on the Roulette label. Roulette Records was founded in late 1956 by Morris Levy and others. The label had known ties to New York mobsters and Levy ran the label with an iron fist.

If you have seen the 1998 film, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” starring Halle Berry, Vivica Fox, Lela Rochon and Larenz Tate who portrayed Frankie Lymon you get an idea of what type of character Levy was. The record industry just like the United States Empire was created by gangsters.

Weston was signed by United Artists Records

Weston was signed by United Artists Records with a three year contact in 1958. He recorded a classic piece about his son “Little Niles”. Said Weston, “The reviews for that record were very favorable and I obviously wanted to record “Uhuru Afrika” for United Artists, due to the success of “Little Niles”.
The company felt he wasn’t that well-known at the time and perhaps he should do something more popular.  Said Weston, “...I thought, was that after making this more “popular” record, then I could record Uhuru.” United Artists suggested that he do a recording based on a popular100 Broadway show, which he did to no avail.

C. B. Atkins, who was Sarah Vaughan’s husband and manager at the time had links with Levy. He at one point in history was one of Muhammad Ali’s mangers.  “Atkins went to Roulette Records and talked Morris Levy into it, which was no small feat.”

Weston’s autobiography “African Rhythms” which was composed by the giant himself (he stands at 6 feet 7 inches).  It was composed by Willard Jerkins. It is a must own and read for Africa, Africans and their allies. Robin Kelley has wrote, “African Rhythms is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Randy Weston’s pianist, composer, bandleader, activist, ambassador, visionary, griot– takes the reader on a most spectacular spiritual journey from Brooklyn to Africa, around the world and back again.”

Weston traces his roots and acknowledges his ancestors                  

“He tells the story of this great music that has never been told in print tracing its African roots and branches acknowledging the ancestors who helped bring him to the music from his soul, singing praises songs for these artistic and intellectual giants whose paths he crossed, from Langston Hughes, to Melba Liston, Dizzy to Monk, Marshall Stearns to Cheikh Anta Diop.”

Meeting Fatoumata Mbengue of Senegal

Today Weston is married to Fatoumata Mbengue-Weston of Senegal. Says Weston: “In 1994 I met my African queen. I was in Paris to play a concert with the Gnawa and I was staying at a hotel near an interesting –looking African shop called Saga, which I had always meant to check out , but each time I passed by I seemed to be in a hurry or on some deadline. Even though I passed by every day, it took me a while to finally go in this shop, but somehow the Creator finally directed me there.”

Weston said he found out that Saga meant family in the Wolof language. He even went on to record an album Saga later for the France based label. The 6 foot 7 inch Weston goes on to describe Fatoumata’s shop. “She had everything you could imagine in her shop: statues, beautiful cloth, cards, jewelry, a window full of beautiful African things --- giraffes, seven-foot-tall statues … all kinds of beautiful things. She also had clothing there but nothing that would fit a big man like me. After I started going by the shop fairly frequently she arranged for her tailor to start making clothes for me because I was already wearing African clothes, but Fatou just took it to another level.”

There is an African Internationalist ending to this story. Fatoumata and Randy were married in Eqypt in a Nubian wedding. A sister from Senegal marries a brother from Brooklyn on the Nile. It would make a perfect Nollywood film.

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