The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, as the name suggests, is dedicated to exploring the full range of Afro-American musical traditions, and the music incorporates just about every sort of style one could imagine, from village chants to modern urban sounds. El'Zabar is a master drummer who has studied not only with American experts but also with African percussionists in Ghana; his drumkit incorporates various hand drums as well as instruments such as the African thumb piano called a kalimba (based on the mbira) and the berimbau, a Brazilian one-string instrument that is thought to have originated in Africa as well.
Although El'Zabar is the leader and directs the music from the drums, the group is not simply a showcase for lengthy percussion solos; the ensemble combines the individual voices of all four musicians, exploiting their eclectic individualities. El'Zabar is above all a composer, and he is interested in the full range of musical textures, and in group interaction. His works have been performed by many musicians and have also been heard in several films.
The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble performs at Kerrytown Concert House on Friday, February 9.
[Review published February 2007]