october 28—The Delbert Anderson Trio punched a hole in jazz music almost 10 years ago, and they’re about to rear back for another blow.
If you aren’t into modern jazz stylings, then you’re certainly unaware that the group, at times performing as “DDAT,” has been nationally praised as jazz innovators throughout the past year or so.
In 2014, they released their sophomore album, “Manitou,” which was critically well-received due to a sonic combination of modern funk and jazz instrumentation, infused with traditional indigenous spinning songs of the Navajo people, of which Anderson himself is a descendant.
The work brought “Indigenous jazz” into prevalent conversation, pushing Anderson, the trumpeter and band leader, into the spotlight as a sort of “songbird” to the niche genre. The group received feature coverage in JazzTimes magazine, Chamber Music America Magazine and an article published by the Grammy Awards exploring the presence of Indigenous musicians in America.
Due, in part, to his group’s increased exposure, DDAT was able to receive numerous grants that allowed for them to pursue more touring possibilities, educational opportunities and increased community outreach. Among these new ventures was a recent tour into South Africa, where the Farmington, New Mexico-based jazz trio made multiple stops in Johannesburg and Soweto for the World of Music, Arts, and Dance (WOMAD) festival.
Out of this trip spawned inspiration for the new direction the trio is headed in — a collaboration with traditional musicians of the Zulu people.
Residents of Cheyenne can experience this new direction during DDAT’s visit to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum on Nov. 6, where they will primarily perform nearly an album’s worth new material.
“We performed it over at the WOMAD festival when we were there this past year, and it was crazy,” Anderson said in a phone call with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “A lot of the South African women were in tears. South Africa is still coming out of what (America) went through 100 years ago (the end of apartheid). They’re still kind of dealing with that right now.”
This is a completely different direction for Anderson to pursue, after the group gained popularity for his well-executed “Indigenous jazz.” But, so far, he isn’t worried about any negative repercussions brought on by exploring a new sound.
Right now, the project is taking form as an unprecedented fusion between the music of the Navajo and Zulu people.
In the newest cut, scheduled for release sometime in December, DDAT serves as the backing band, joined by other traditional Zulu musicians, for two singers — one of the Navajo, the other of the Zulu. By sheer chance, the two female singers both composed lyrics in their native languages honoring the memory of their respective grandmothers.
While Anderson won’t be honoring Indigenous music directly, as with “Manitou,” he will still be honoring the culture of a people through modern jazz instrumentation and implementation. The significance of the collaboration with this song, in particular, is the propping up of two cultures that traditionally functioned as matriarchies, Anderson said.
“I think we’re at the point of time where (diversity is) important, and a lot of people are really listening right now,” Anderson said. “From what I understand, in a lot of the Indigenous tribes, women had a lot of power within the tribe.
“In a colonized world, it’s (men) that are the head honcho, the one who has all the power and the wealth. It’s going to be a learning curve. They’re trying to show off how the tribes operated back then.”
There will be no half-stepping on Anderson’s part when it comes to doing the cultural music of a people’s justice. This is one of the reasons that his previous efforts have gone over so well.
When it was time to work with the musical spinning song styles of the Navajo, he preemptively approached the elders of the tribe before pursuing the idea.
After their enthusiastic approval, Anderson studied the traditional stylings and, rather than duplicating them, mimicked the structure to fashion a new collection of music.
The same rigorous process will be followed in the upcoming work.
Ironically, his original intention when transitioning into the trio’s niche was to create a new, accessible sound that appealed to listeners outside the body of traditional jazz. At times they serve as a backing band for rappers, exploring more modern interpretations of jazz.
Their core motivation, aside from an understandable need to sustain themselves financially — Anderson is providing for his wife and five kids — is to provide representation to those who are often marginalized. They did this, to some slight controversy, by conducting a tour throughout the reservations of the West in partnership with Bureau of Land Management.
However, it produced impactful results, in some regards increasing positive interaction between long-feuding Indigenous tribes and the BLM. The hope is that their newest work with Zulu styling has an equally productive impact.
“A lot of women are afraid to share their ideas, tell their stories or experiences,” Anderson said. “To have (these singers) on stage at the WOMAD festival, both talking about the matriarch of their tribes, was super powerful.
“A lot of the women were saying it felt like true freedom for a while.”
For the song, Anderson is hoping to release either a music or lyric video, translating the singer’s words as the song goes. Though they’re yet to come to an agreement, the group is in discussions with two major streaming services about adapting their music into a limited series, though the complete concept is not yet clear.
The full album will arrive some time next year.
In the past year, they’ve also produced projects through dance, theater, visually artistic and orchestral mediums. It doesn’t look like the upcoming year is shaping up to be any less busy, or the music less innovative.
“This year is definitely a really busy year. All of these projects are set to just grow. We’re going up on all different types of levels in different markets and industries,” he said. “Not only with the arts, but we’re trying to tap into the medical field, we’re looking into starting to create artists in residency programs using our landscapes here and in our area.
“A lot of things are going very well. They’re all going in the right direction, and it’s just been an amazing ride.”
Will Carpenter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Arts and Entertainment/Features reporter. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.