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.*



"...this is a call to action. To become educated about the impact climate change has on indigenous peoples. To listen more carefully to the “renaissance” of street band music and activists of which Afro Yaqui’s members are an integral part. And, to more closely consider a compassionate, cosmopolitan ethic, which exercises hospitality to migrants and displaced peoples." [FULL ARTICLE] - Jacob Kopcienski


"Ever wonder what 25 musicians improvising a funk-jazz opera score with Asian, African, European and South American instruments sounds like? No? The Afro Yaqui Music Collective wants to change that." [FULL ARTICLE


"The death of Fred Ho was a severe blow to the great jazz project of petitioning for social justice. Mirror Butterfly; The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite by the Afro Yaqui Music Collective signals that a new generation of activist jazz artists are continuing the struggle. Composer Benjamin Barson and librettist Ruth Margraff have created a concert-length work that speaks compellingly to these troubled times. They meet the standard Ho set."  – Bill Shoemaker   


The Afro Yaqui Music Collective has been described as “music without borders or boundaries; future music from the well of the past” [FULL ARTICLE]


"With Mirror Butterfly: the Migrant Liberation Movement Suite, the members of Pittsburgh’s Afro Yaqui Music Collective have created something even bigger than themselves. It’s an impressive feat, considering the multilingual jazz band can boast anywhere from a few main members to a 20-plus piece ensemble." [FULL ARTICLE


"Described as a jazz opera, it begins with a free jazz blast from a saxophone quartet before moving through dramatic spoken word interludes, funk beats and classical arias as well as musical influences from around the world. As the work unfolds, the Collective, who describe themselves as a “25-piece postcolonial big band,” straddles all these styles with grace and vitality, retelling a story based on a Mayan folktale that has strong parallels with the plight of people in 2019." [FULL ARTICLE]


"this is boundaries being pushed in a well conceived way." [FULL ARTICLE]


"Overall, the suite is artful, gripping, relevant, highly listenable and surely indicative of a composer and librettist whose work must be widely heard." - John Pietaro [FULL ARTICLE


"Fully orchestrated and magnificently realized, Afro Yaqui Music Collective make funk and jazz music uninhibited by rules or expectations. Firmly committed to social justice, the Pittsburgh-based ensemble takes aim at climate change, immigrant issues and dismantling cultural narratives. Mirror Butterfly, the group’s 2019 live jazz opera, is a sprawling narrative that details a chaotic world caught in a state of flux. Musically, the album similarly rises and falls, pairing rollicking, funky bangers with stark spoken-word pieces." [FULL ARTICLE]