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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Hillel to bring the Afro-Semitic Experience to URI, Jan. 28-29, 2009

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, RI -- January 9, 2009 -- In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. week at the University of Rhode Island, Hillel - The Jewish Student Center will present The Afro-Semitic Experience, a jazz ensemble of Jewish and African-American musicians, in a two-day residency, January 28-29, 2009. This presentation is in association with the URI Multicultural Center and the Jazz Music Program.

The Afro-Semitic Experience will perform on Thursday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the URI Fine Arts Concert Hall, 105 Upper College Rd., Kingston, RI. Tickets are $3 for students and $10 for the general public and may be reserved by calling 401-874-2740 or emailing hillel@urihillel.org. Tickets may also be purchased at the door by cash or check.

In addition, members of The Afro-Semitic Experience will conduct a participatory workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the URI Multicultural Center Hardge Forum, 74 Lower College Rd., Kingston, RI. The workshop is free and open to the public.

Ensemble members also will be guest artists at the Music Department Convocation on Thursday, Jan. 29 from 12:30 - 2 p.m. in the Fine Arts Concert Hall. The Convocation is free and open to the public.

The Afro-Semitic Experience is dedicated to preserving, promoting and expanding the rich cultural and musical heritage of the Jewish and African diaspora. The band presents interpretations of music from the rich traditions of Gospel, Klezmer, Yoruban drumming, Nigunim (wordless Jewish chants), Spirituals, Funk and Swing. They transform the concert hall into a "whoopin', hollerin', testifyin' celebration of multicultural soul music." In concert, the band frames its music by telling stories about what the pieces mean, how they relate to individual members of a community, and how they reflect upon the relations between Blacks and Jews both as ethnic and religious communities.

The Thursday night concert will feature all six members of the band. At the Wednesday night workshop, David Chevan and Warren Byrd lead a discussion about race and interfaith dialogue and how music can serve as a bridge builder. Baba David Coleman will distribute a variety of African percussion instruments and engage the audience in a massive jam session while teaching them traditional rhythmic patterns and techniques. At the Convocation on Thursday afternoon, Chevan, Byrd and Coleman will teach the process of creating inter-cultural music as well as infusing spirituality into performance.

"I think it is wonderful that through this concert URI will play host to the sweet aspects of Black and Jewish cultures," said Robert Weisbord, URI professor of history and author of Bittersweet Encounter: The Afro-American and the American Jew.

Members of The Afro-Semitic Experience

Will Bartlett has thirty years of experience as a professional woodwind performer and educator. He has led saxophone master classes and workshops on jazz improvisation, jazz theory, arranging and composing for the small ensemble, and klezmer clarinet interpretation.

Warren Byrd is a pianist, composer, and vocalist with an extensive and eclectic background. He has led workshops in Jazz Composition and Theory, Jazz Piano, as well as Gospel Arranging and Composition, and Vocal Training.

Dr. David Chevan holds a Ph.D. in Musicology and specializes in the history and performance of jazz and Jewish music. He has experience teaching workshops on world and jazz improvisation, Jewish music, klezmer ensemble performance, music and spirituality.

Baba David Coleman is a Yoruban priest, African drummer, and African drum builder. He has studied with Baba Femi and continues to be a disciple of the legendary Chief Bey, the oldest African-American hand drummer.

Babafemi Alvin Carter, Jr. plays drum set, Afro-Caribbean percussion, and the drums of the West Afrikan djembe drum ensemble. He has developed an innovative and exciting workshop for merging Afro-Caribbean, West Afrikan and Klezmer drum styles with contemporary percussion patterns.

Stacy Phillips is a Grammy winning multi-stylistic steel guitarist and violinist. His Klezmer Collection was the first book of accurate transcriptions of early klezmer music.

The residency of the Afro-Semitic Experience is funded in part by the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island and the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies, URI College of Arts and Sciences and the URI Student Senate. The events are co-sponsored by the URI Student Affairs Diversity Committee, the URI Chaplains Association, the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Rhode Island Chapter of Hadassah.

For more information, please contact Amy Olson, Executive Director of URI Hillel at 401-874-2740 or amyolson@mail.uri.edu.

Hillel at the University of Rhode Island seeks to create artistic opportunities that illuminate the Jewish experience as well as build cultural bridges among campus groups of varying backgrounds.