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From Dahomey to Da Bronx 

click to enlarge Yosvany Terry and the Ye-dé-gbé Project perform two area shows this month.
  • Yosvany Terry and the Ye-dé-gbé Project perform two area shows this month.
In the West African Fon language, Ye-dé-gbé means with the approval of all the major forces. Cuban-born composer and saxophonist Yosvany Terry chose Ye-dé-gbé as the name of his latest jazz ensemble project which tangles the influences of the Afro-Caribbean Arará culture with the American jazz form. The Arará traditions, originating in Dahomey (now Benin), have been carried down and disseminated by the West African diaspora in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Terry’s personal journey traversing his cultural and musical mosaic began in Camaguey, Cuba. His father, Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry, a violinist and leading chekeré player, was his first music instructor. Terry received his classical training at National School of Art and Amadeo Roldan Conservatory. Terry’s grandmother, Basilia Leon Charles, a Haitian who can trace her roots back to Dahomey, provided him his link to the Arará culture, including the rituals of the Vodou religion. Terry and his family are devout practitioners.

Terry is eager to share his music and heritage with communities that don’t commonly experience work like it. “It would be customary to see something like this in New York City, and even so downtown. That’s why I was interested in bringing it to the Bronx and Upstate to Ulster County. They are not so often exposed to projects that involve the legacies of a culture that came to the Caribbean more than 600 years ago,” said Terry.

The composition debuted on September 15 in Manhattan’s Central Park, and the Ye-dé-gbé Project followed up with performances at two Bronx high schools. Following the Ulster County presentations the ensemble will record the work and it will be available for download on the project web site.

Terry’s New York performances are a project of the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and the ensemble is supported by New York State Music Fund, established with the payola settlement money collected from Eliot Spitzer’s investigations into pay-to-play radio while attorney general. The fund was created specifically to expose New York State residents to diverse artists and non “radio-friendly” musical styles like Terry’s Ye-dé-gbé Project. The Center for Creative Education and Ulster County BOCES arranged the local performances and the two-hour
masters jazz classes open to middle and high school students, instructed by the visiting musicians.

Terry will be accompanied by Cuban and West African artists living in New York, including Abou Disarrassouba (percussion), Mawuena Kodjovi (guitar), Pedro Martinez (percussion), Osmany Paredes (piano), Ernesto Simpson (drums), and Yunior Terry (bass).

“My inspiration for music comes from everywhere,” says Terry. “I could be inspired from going to an art exhibition, by going to a movie, reading a book, doing research on a specific culture, which is the case with the commission, by traveling, by going out in nature. The inspiration is just endless.”

Yosvany Terry and the Ye-dé-gbé Project will perform at Bailey Middle School in Kingston on November 9 at 8pm and the Center for Creative Education in Stone Ridge on November 10 at 8pm. (845) 687-8890; www.cce-kingston.org.

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