Press Release: Modern String Band Sankofa Debut “If Wishes Were Gold” Music Video Featuring Vocalist Allison Russell
“If Wishes Were Gold” Features Singer/Instrumentalist Allison Russell of Po’ Girl/Birds of Chicago
Digital Single Available July 10 Via Kingswood Records
‘Wishes’ Appears On THE UPTOWN STRUT, A 15-Track Album That Showcases Reinterpretations of
Songs by Sly Stone, Ray Charles, Jimmy Cliff, Minnie Wallace, Charlie McCoy, Bessie Smith and Louis Jordan
STRUT Features Contributions From Blues Hall of Fame Inductee Professor Louie and John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful
New York, NY: On Wednesday June 27th, UTNE Reader will world premiere the music video for “If Wishes Were Gold” by modern string band SANKOFA at http://www.utne.com with a corresponding digital single to be released July 10th via Cleveland-based Kingswood Records.
Sankofa’s Allison Russell, whom penned Wishes, provides a sultry lead vocal on the track while adding acoustic guitar to compliment an understated harmonica by John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and the resplendent brushes of percussionist Sule Greg Wilson. The result is a warm glow engulfing a cool summer eve in the city.
Allison recalls the genesis of the song, “If Wishes Were Gold’ is about as straight forward a song as I’ve ever written. There’s no ambiguity to the particular kind of blues I am feeling there…I was ready to give myself to someone I loved and that person just wasn’t ready the way I was READY. To some extent, it also stems from the vagabond existence I was living at that time. There’s kind of a double yearning going on, not just for someone to love, but for a place that felt like home, ever elusive. The song was written during a sojourn in Chicago and came to life under the deft musical guidance of John Sebastian. We arranged and recorded it together at Nevessa Studio in Woodstock, NY.”
Sankofa member Dom Flemons, from Grammy Award winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, sums up the mood beautifully, “This original by Allison is wonderful, honest and bittersweet. The understated harmonica by John Sebastian, and Paul Rishell’s exquisite slide, float atop Alli’s guitar and Sule’s cool brushes.”
Since the release of The Uptown Strut earlier this year, the album continues to generate acclaimed reviews with SSG Music remarking, “Sankofa offers a spontaneous, raunchy barnyard romp that bridges the gap between hillbilly country, gospel, and soul” while Press Plus 1 noted, “…the instrumentation complements the songs perfectly. The result is an album that is every bit as fun and mirthful as immersed in heritage and history”.
The raunchy romp has been strutting its stuff for the better part of six years. In February 2006, Sankofa Strings, a progressive collective comprised of percussionist Sule Greg Wilson along with multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons and singer Rhiannon Giddens, from the Grammy-Award Winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, were taped in concert for inclusion in the award-winning jug band documentary Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost, a film which chronicles a worldwide quest to assemble a comprehensive lineage to Gus Cannon, a seminal figure in the history of American music.
In the 1920s, Gus helmed Cannon’s Jug Stompers, one of America’s premiere jug bands, whom regularly delighted rambunctious sold-out crowds from Alabama to New York with a showstopper called “Minglewood Blues”. Four decades later, the era-defining tune was re-christened as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” appearing on the 1967 debut album by a Bay-area jug band called the Grateful Dead.
Duly impressed by Sankofa Strings and their refreshing melting pot of century-old traditional string band music, jazz, folk and blues coated in the context of modern arrangement, Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost Producer/director Todd Kwait offered the band an opportunity to record an album at Nevessa Production in Woodstock, NY, a studio that specializes in recording acoustic orchestras. Three years later, the group took Kwait up on his offer.
Along with original Sankofa Strings members Flemons and Wilson (Giddens had just given birth to her first child and could not make the sessions), The Uptown Strut took shape in the summer of 2009 with the esteemed vocal ambiance of Canadian singers, Ndidi Onukwulu and Allison Russell (of Po’ Girl and Birds of Chicago fame), whom gracefully take turns up front while also augmenting one another. Dom and Sule Greg are also interspersed throughout as lead vocal captivators.
Joining the groundbreaking ensemble for their historical exploration was John Sebastian, founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful, a Rock ‘N Roll Hall Fame Inductee immensely popular in the late ‘60s that drew inspiration from and paid tribute to jug band music, and pianist Professor Louie, a recent Blues Hall of Fame Inductee, whom fondly remembers the spirited sessions, “While working together in the studio, I realized that all the members of Sankofa have a very deep understanding of music and heritage. As the sessions went on, I felt we all had the same love and understanding of this music.”
From Pandeiro and Bodhran drums to accordion and maracas to kazoo and tambourine to jugs, bones and washboard, The Uptown Strut deftly glides the gamut of instrumentation with banjos augmenting a couple of classics from the early seventies, on “Can’t Strain My Brain” by Sly Stone and Jimmy Cliff’s seminal “Sitting In Limbo” (from The Harder They Come), with flat-picking syncopation by Sebastian, whom also covered Limbo on his 1974 album Tarzana Kid.
Mining further precious metals, The Strut saddles up at a sonic hookah as Sebastian and Professor Louie hydroponically blend with Wilson and Flemons on “Weed Smoker’s Dream,” a sophisticated traipse of the Harlem Hamfats tune from 1936 that clocks out at exactly four minutes and 20 seconds after an extended exhale of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher”.
Further 420-friendly cuts include a Gospel-infused re-working of Ray Charles’ number one hit “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” with a soul-baring lead vocal by Ndidi Onukwulu, “What’s The Use of Getting Sober,” Louis Jordan’s first number one hit in 1942, and the 1930s-era Dixieland roll of “Don’t You Make Me High” set to sail by a sublime melody on clarinet.
Other storied sign posts in downtown Uptown are “The Old Folks Started It,” a take on the 1929 Minnie Wallace tune which also references Shelton Brooks’ 1917 hit “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” “Sing Sing Prison Blues,” a nod to Bessie Smith’s 1924 recording and a, literally, bare-boned rendition of “Jump Jim Crow,” an early American treasure originally “collected” by blackface minstrel Thomas “Daddy” Rice in 1828.
Dropping the word “Strings” from its original moniker to put focus on the aesthetic beauty and prescient meaning of “Sankofa,” a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to “go back and get it” (san – to return; ko – to go; fa – to look, to seek and take). It is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten”.
Visually represented by an Adinkra symbol of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, Sankofa symbolizes one taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge.
Emboldened by a confident uptown strut, the majestic bird of Sankofa faces forward toward the enlightened to boldly fly high into the musical future.
“Sankofa breathes new life into old Americana.” UTNE
“Sankofa offers a spontaneous, raunchy barnyard romp that bridges the gap between hillbilly country, gospel, and soul.” SSG Music
“A common theme of The Uptown Strut is that the instrumentation complements the songs perfectly. The result is an album that is every bit as fun and mirthful as immersed in heritage and history.” Press Plus 1
LISTEN TO SANKOFA