Cornel West and Arturo O’Farrill to Perform Grammy Award-Winning Album to Celebrate Cross-Cultural Connections at UCLA
In 2015, the national mood was gloomy. A multi-layered crisis of poverty and police brutality has gripped the nation. Political polarization separated Americans from Americans. And in New York, holed up in a practice room at the Manhattan School of Music, jazz artist Arturo O’Farrill and Harvard philosopher Cornel West hatched musical ideas to capture the feeling of the moment and hopefully , find a way forward.
“When we came up with the ‘Four Questions,’ I thought to myself, my brother Arturo is on the same vibe as me. Our souls commune on the deepest level,” West said, recalling his collaboration with O’Farrill, who is Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA.
Cornel West and Arturo O’Farrill will perform “Four Questions” with the UCLA Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and UCLA Philharmonia conducted by Neal Stulberg on Friday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. The concert features an extensive line-up, including the legendary Mariachi Los Camperosdirected by Jesús Guzmán, as well as a performance by by Miguel Bernal Jiménez Concertino for Órgano and Orquesta featuring UCLA organist Christoph Bull.
“The concert will be an embarrassment of riches,” said Steven Loza, director of the Center for Latino Arts, chair of Global Jazz Studies and professor of ethnomusicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “The concert was originally conceived to celebrate thirty years of cultural ties between UCLA and Mexico. We have sponsored more than 120 events during this time. These included bringing the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico to the Royce Hall at UCLA, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Mexico at Disney Hall and to connect artists and scholars to collaborate on conferences and book publications.The concert on May 13 will bring together artists from Mexico and UCLA who have collaborated for years, including Jesús Guzman, Arturo O’Farrill and Neal Stulberg.
For Loza, the addition of “Four Questions” with Cornel West did the trick perfectly. “Cornel West is all about cross-cultural connections and compassion. That’s what we’ve been working on here at UCLA for thirty years.
“Four Questions” is both a celebration and a call to action. The work references the four questions black intellectual WEB DuBois formulated about maintaining humanity and joy in the face of oppression. For West, as for DuBois, much of the struggle has been cultural, expressed through the love and power of black music. West made it an important theme in his 2015 book black prophetic power and trumpeted the theme in speaking engagements across the country. Indeed, O’Farrill came up with the idea for a musical collaboration after hearing West speak to Seattle City Hall in 2014.
“Brother Arturo’s artistic genius lifts me,” West said, describing the collaboration. “My own gifts are trying to come up with him.” West’s spoken word embodies the mutual embrace of music and letters, invoking in turn WEB DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, Jane Austen and Aretha Franklin, among others.
O’Farrill recalls meticulously planning the play, including making a practice tape for West that included excerpts from his taped speech at Seattle town hall. Then he realized that too much planning could ruin what they were creating.
“It would be like telling John Coltrane what notes to play,” O’Farrill said. In the end, they scrapped the plan and worked on music and lyrics together. “The energy of the moment came together and what we did in this room was better than I expected.”
The experience and the result touch on the sublime. “Dr. West’s oratory has the weight of a John Coltrane solo,” O’Farrill said. “His rhythmic delivery has the tumbao of Mongo Santamaría. Charlie Parker in flight and, most sacred of all, when it becomes deliberate, every word has the authenticity and Afrocentricity of Thelonious Monk’s right hand.
“Four Questions” was originally commissioned by the Apollo Theater and premiered there in 2016. It became the title track of O’Farrill’s album. four questionswhich won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album of 2021. Although the album was released in 2020, it will be the first live performance of the full album.
Tickets for the show are free but must be reserved in advance. Donations received with event RSVPs will support the UCLA Center for Latino Arts.
Cornel West, Arturo O’Farrill and Mariachi Los Camperos
Friday, May 13, 8 p.m. PT
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels + Livestream