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Griots t’ Garage

07 Mar 2007

Uplifting the African spirit

"Jazz fusion at its finest engaged the Harbourfront during KUUMBA this year. Pounding beats, electrifying back drops and a lively audience made for an incredible evening.

Needless to say, in their North American debut the Griots t’ Garage blew us away. To begin there’s a DJ supplying the break-beats, a trombonist and a camera guy on stage; this should have been the first indictor that this evening would not be routine.

Described as part tribute, part documentary and part concert, Griots t’ Garage is a new age multimedia experience certainly a novel approach to jazz. With live-on-the-floor footage and visual projectionists it’s clear that this group thrives on innovation. They’ve also be known to use elements like Jazz dancers and percussionist in their act. However on this night it would be front man, Dennis Rollins’ musical dexterity that captivated us. It was obvious although constantly evolving with the use of hip-hop, garage and funk beat Griots t’ garage stays true to its Jazz roots relying heavily on Rollins’ skilful trombone solos.

Dennis Rollins is not afraid to work, he moves across the stage never losing step with the beat. Transitioning from one song to the next, making the underrated trombone an even more arresting instrument than I thought possible. He blows, he smiles, he jumps all the while teasing us with standards like “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”.

According to the Griots sound engineer Stephen their goal is to wrap the music around the audience to make each performance something new.

“What I enjoy the most is the experience even tonight was completely different, it’s nice to come in, take on a challenge and be successful at it.”

The Griots performance was unlike anything I imagined one could experience listening or watching a jazz performance. Radical images of black activist flash on screen as the beats build to crescendo, virtually without pause melancholy tunes coincide with colorful kaleidoscopes. With each transition it leads one to ponder whether the image tells the story behind the music or is the music the backdrop to the images transmitted on screen.

The jazz impresario, Dennis Rollins explained the meaning behind the music.

“It’s a way of connecting back to my home, connecting right back to Africa taking a journey as many places I can. All musical genres that I’ve been trying to cover all have the same connection- they all have the drum of the heartbeat.”

Dennis was also kind enough to express his thoughts on performing in Toronto for the first time.  “I’m really enjoying the culture here in Toronto, there’s a real community spirit and obviously because it’s black history month I’m seeing a lot of brothers and sisters all celebrating -that’s what life is and it’s beautiful to see that here.”

A melting pot of the blues, modern jazz, ancient African rhythms and funky garage grooves the Griots t’ Garage melodic expedition is worth a listen.

Adele Ambrose is the AfroToronto.com Arts Editor. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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