Mirror Butterfly

Mirror Butterfly

The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite
Benjamin Barson
Ruth Margraff
Nejma Nefertiti
Afro Yaqui Music Collective
Catalog Number: 
#1 029
big band

Pittsburgh, PA

Release Date: 
Aug 2, 2019
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Around the turn of the millenium, the humanitarian crisis through which we are passing tipped a threshold: climate refugees began to outpace war refugees. Some 25 million were displaced in 1999 due to famine, drought, and torrential storms. So enters Afro Yaqui Music Collective’s debut album, Mirror Butterfly: the Migrant Liberation Movement Suite,  which dramatizes and musicalizes years of interviews and movement building with environmental and ecosocialist activists in Mexico, Syria, Kurdistan, and Tanzania. A 25-piece postcolonial big band delivers three portrait arias, woven in what poetic playwright Ruth Margraff calls “vocal art,” all accompanied by martial arts Afro-Asian choreography (Peggy Myo-Young Choy). The result been hailed as a “praise-song to the wretched of the Earth.” (Marcus Rediker, author, The Slave Ship) The staged work has travelled both activist and performing arts spaces: it has been presented at the Kennedy Center in DC, at the Mesopotamian Water Forum in Iraq, at the New Hazlett Theater in Pittsburgh (where it was incubated) and now, is available in this album  form--a global siren call for a new world where many worlds fit.

Dozens of artists contributed to this production whose influences span four continents. Jin Yang (of Silk Road) is featured on pipa in an East-West string quartet; Hugo Cruz (formerly of Síntesis) is featured on congas, bata drums and timbales in a pan-African rhythm section; a saxophone quartet, featuring Ben Opie and Patrick Breiner (Battle Trance) and a six piece choir (led by soprano and co-bandleader Gizelxanath Rodriguez) trade rounds. The music, written by baritone saxophonist Ben Barson, defies expectation, reimagining the past four decades of jazz innovation from Julius Hemphill to Fred Ho. Barson, in fact, is the heir of Fred’s beloved instrument. Barson’s polyphonic, polyrhythmic approach is meant to communicate the vibrant diversity of the migrant experience. Chromatic and seductively jagged choral harmonies, Afro-Asian orchestration, lush voicings by the saxes, all thwart destructive primitivist cliches. Infectious grooves with 4½, 5, and 15 beats per measure formidably defy the oppressive geometry of western modernity. 

“These extraordinary artists have returned this thing called ‘jazz’ back to its real roots—to the earth, to the sky, to the women who produced and protected a people’s culture.” -Robin D.G. Kelley, author, Thelonious Monk: the Life and Times of an American Original

“With wide-eyed zeal, Afro Yaqui Music Collective delivers a dynamic new opera with Mirror Butterfly — a work that merges indigenous musics and movement styles with the more Western traditions of jazz, funk, and hip-hop. The results are thrilling, head-bob-worthy, and deep. The band grooves and plays like a unit. On its own, the music requires some processing and unpacking. It begs for repeat listens, and would be a worthy addition to anyone’s record shelf.” --David Bernado, Recital

“[W]illing to go where no one had before... Barson brings a sense of adventurousness to his own music and to the band he co-leads with his wife, Gizelxanath Rodriguez: the Afro Yaqui Music Collective.” -- Harry Funk, the Mt. Lebanon Almanac.

*100% of the album's sales will go to benefit "NAMAKASIA RADIO," the medium of communication of Yaqui River defense in the town of Vicam, in the territory of the Yaqui Tribe, based in Sonora, Mexico.*