“[At Emerson] I ran The Gyroscope, a ‘world music’ program, where I had a huge music library of CDs from all over the world. I became obsessed,” he says. “[I] spent days in the audio suites burning the entire library disc by disc and photo-copying the liner notes. On the other side of town, at Berklee, I was studying every day with Jamey Haddad and other masters of percussion, not just getting techniques on various instruments, but learning about the cultures that created the music. I was enthralled and inspired. After college, I went to Ghana to study Ewe music and dance. Since then, music has taken me to Tahiti, Australia, Tonga, Haiti, Istanbul and Israel. I feel very grateful to have had these roads open.”
Hennessey Bonfire has been his more pop-infused outfit, even though it heartily employs non-American rhythms and influences, but it’s Leana Song that channels more ancestral and tribal-inspired beauty. “In Leana Song, I am a fusionist, sharing ancient song with modern colors,” Hennessey says. “In both projects, I am the engine, composer or arranger and booking agent. In Leana Song, we dress in all white, to respect the ancient music we present.”
Some will accuse white artists who dabble in African and world music—any many have—of something akin to sonic thievery. Hennessey’s aware (“I think at this point, if you can play, you can play,” he declares. “If you’ve given enough time, it shows; it sounds. People recognize it.”) and so is Gibbs.
“I think we have seen throughout history how folks will extract information and culture from Africa, then use it for their own personal gain without any regard or respect for culture, religion or even acknowledge who they got their information from,” Gibbs says. “We call these folks ‘culture vultures!’” He went on to explain the importance of the drum when it comes to preserving a vital connection to his past. “It was through the drum that I learned the truth about my culture. And it is through the drum that I strive to pass that information on to all of our youth, regardless of race.”
Philadelphia Weekly’s three-part Concerts in the Park series kicks off its 23rd annual festivities in Rittenhouse Square on Wed., Aug. 14, with Lil’ Dave at 5pm, followed by Leana Song at 7pm and Doc Gibbs at 8pm. Early arrival is suggested.
PW's Music Issue 2014