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Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity

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Listening to Melvin Gibbs’ Elevated Entity and their new album Ancients Speak (LiveWired Music; March 17, 2009) is like walking down the street in New York and unexpectedly falling into a manhole, only to discover there is an African-American underground music scene where the African diaspora has knocked down all barriers between genres, placing creativity on equal status with groove. Afrobeat is rubbing against Hendrix-style guitar solos, hip hop has gone to Bahia and come back with the most primal electronic beats. Afro-Cuban spirits intermingle with the Holy Spirit. It’s a riotous gathering of all things African.

For bassist and producer Melvin Gibbs, the “Black Atlantic continuum” is more than a theoretical construct. It’s a reality read on faces across the Western hemisphere, from the Caribbean to Brazil, the sonic story of people brought to the Americas against their will and the vital culture they passed down to their descendants.

The elderly women Gibbs met in Brazil’s candomblé houses, the Costa Ricans Gibbs encountered selling fruit by the roadside, bore an eerie resemblance to Gibbs’ own aunts and grandmother. In one pivotal memory, a woman “looked at me, and I looked at her, and I know we had the same thought,” Gibbs recalls. “That process led to a whole series of records. You think about it: I could have relatives in Cuba, Jamaica… it’s the randomness of the explosive situation, how this original batch of Africans ended up in the Americas. I wanted to connect the different roots, reconnect the family.”

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