PREMIERE: We Are The Horsemen’s “Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids Retrospective Mix”
Get acquainted with the jazz greats with this hour mix
Music is often touted as an international language that can cross borders and also magically help heal wounds in the process. The new album from Chicago saxophonist Idris Ackamoor and his group The Pyramids aims to do just that. Released last month, We Be All Africans, is, as Idris puts it, “a message of survival. A message of renewal. A message that we are all brothers and sisters. We are all one family, the human family and we need one another in order to survive on this planet that we all share.” The Pyramids, which started in 1972 in Ohio, studied under Cecil Taylor and would go on to travel the world to share their fusion of jazz that drew influences from several cultures. They disbanded in 1977 but reunited in 2007 for a series of tours as well as a new album, Otherworldly. But to help celebrate their latest project, DJ duo We Are The Horsemen (DJ Harv & Sub-One) created a special one hour mix of some rare songs from the Pyramids’ catalog.
We contacted DJ Harv via email to get a short history of his relationship with The Pyramids’ music as well as information on the process of putting the mix together. You can stream the mix below as read our interview.
Mass Appeal: How did you guys first discover The Pyramids’ music?
DJ Harv: So, I was lucky enough to work in a record shop called Honest Jons on Portobello Road in London many moons ago. I used to go in there so much, Mark the owner got a little sick of me and offered me a part time job and, as they say, the rest is record collecting bankruptcy! I had heard of Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids by word of mouth, but came across their first album, King Of Kings, whilst going through a shipment from stateside.
What made you feel connected to their music in a special way?
The first connection was the record itself: the black and white cover, the African dress, the instruments, the quote on the back of the cover (“They play to make music fire”), the name of one of the tracks (“My Africa”), and the year the record was made (1974) which was the year me and my family emigrated to the UK from Tanzania. It all made sense in some weird musical journey kind of way. And of course when I put the needle on the awesome “Nsorama” track, I was transported back to Africa in quick time!
It seems that your guys’ interests span across many countries and the different genres from those countries. How did you come about becoming exposed to so many different sounds?
We are both of Indian parentage and therefore music was a huge part of our lives. We would go to the cinema twice a week to watch mainly Bollywood films. The music scores in these films were absolutely mind-blowing, even at such a young early age. In the space of three hours (the normal length of a Bollywood film) you would hear African, Latin, Brazilian, disco, jazz, and whatever the great musical directors of their time like Laxmikant Pyarelal could fit in. A no-holds barred musical extravaganza like no other!
And of course going to school in Tanzania, the music lessons were something else too. The instruments ranged from the percussive to African flutes, harps, etc., and were all a normal part of our childhood. You could be walking home from school and you would pass a group of Masai men and women singing, chanting, and dancing right by you.
Did you have any criteria for picking the songs for this mix? If so, what were they?
There was no criteria when we were asked to do this mix. We just went with it. The only thing we really wanted to do was to include a couple of tracks from King Of Kings and we managed to somehow make it work. It wasn’t easy to fit in so much wonderful music in an hour but we wanted to try and showcase as much of the African element as we could, not only with the instrumentation but also from the vocals–a key part of the Pyramids repertoire, having been lucky enough to see them live with the legendary Babatunde in the band!
If you had to explain the significance of the Pyramids to someone who had never heard of them, how would you do it?
The closest you’ll get to the African sound and energy from an African-American band!
How does the new album from the group, We Be All Africans, compare to their previous projects?
We wouldn’t even try to compare. It’s an outstanding piece of work, lovingly put together in 2016 but which captures everything we love about Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids from their very first album nearly 45 years ago. And, of course, big shout to Quinton Scott and Strut Records for keeping the African-American vibe alive.
What is your favorite song by the Pyramids?
“Cubana” because of the beautiful vocals and, of course, “We Be All Africans” from the new album because we are, right?
What do you want people to take away from this hour mix?
We want people to smell, taste, visualise, and pretend that for an hour they are with Idris and The Pyramids in the heart and soul of all things Motherland Africa!