Notable Tracks: Makaya McCraven #1

Post by 
Matt David

I decided to make a playlist based off my record shelf at the onset of shelter-in-place. That turned into picking one song off each album on the shelf (that is available on Spotify). It's either the song I most associate with the album, or in the case of some absolute classics that can't be parsed, the first track. The next challenge was to write a bit (~200 words) on each selection. This is an entry in that chronicle. This is a link to the playlist.

“Black Lion” | Makaya McCraven | Universal Beings [2018]

Makaya is an absolutely incredible drummer and “Black Lion” is a great example of that: The patterns and fills, the constant yet unhurried motion/propulsion of his playing gives the song shape and an emotional core. As far as drumming goes, he’s at the top rung of the ladder and went ahead and put another ladder on that to climb to the top of. 

Makaya’s also a great composer and collaborator and guess what—this is also a great example of that. Joel Ross is on the vibraphone, which to my ears, acts as a sort of vocalist. Specifically, his playing comes off as a rapper that’s staying on the beat, adding hooks within the cadence, and has a refrain that drives home the point—that constant chime is saying, “Listen up.”

The other players—Brandee Younger on the harp (yes, a proper fuckin harp), Tomeka Reid on the cello (bowed and plucked on this song), and Dezron Douglas on the double bass—all weave their voices into the mix at different moments in the song. They’re kept under the drums and vibraphone in the mix, their voices a bit buried before fading out entirely and giving way to the beat of time and the chime of the main voice.

At least, that’s the pattern ‘til we hit the song’s climax. Makaya hits the big cymbal a couple times and the sounds hollow out for a beat before everyone comes in and proclaims their piece, crying out to be heard. It’s frenetic and vital. Pretty easy to fill in a story here—in June of 2020, I don’t think you need me filling in those blanks. 

I will refer back to a conversation I had years ago, though, while setting up the bar for service. I used that time to explore records I was still getting to know. I don’t remember what was playing this day, but my coworker commented on how great the lyrics were. “Oh? I love this song, but lyrics are usually the last thing I hear.” This led to one of the most harmlessly absurd statements I’ve ever heard made in person: “Lyrics are the whole point of music! I know: I’m a musician!” 

The reason I love music is that lyrics are a part of it, but great music gets its point across without you needing to hang on every word. In the hands of an artist, music can tell a story that spans time and space without words or in a language you don’t understand. Music communicates soul to soul when the artist and audience are open. Go see Makaya play and tell me he needs a singer out there to tell you a story that will resonate in your soul.





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