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Wadada Leo Smith

Oral Histories: Wadada Leo Smith

April 2014

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith traces the development of his Ankhrasmastion language, from the first time he picked up a trumpet age 12, through to the present day.

Wadada Leo Smith began his music career in the high school band, where he first realised he wanted to be a composer. One of the first post-Fire Music avant garde jazz players, he was associated with the AACM and appeared on early recordings by Anthony Braxton and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre.

In the 1980s he converted to Rastafarianism and took the name Wadada, which means love. Around a decade ago he converted again, to Islam, and took the name Ishmael.

In 2011 he released his seven hour epic on the civil rights movement, Ten Freedom Summers, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has been performed in its entirety in London and New York. he was featured on the cover of The Wire 312 by Phil Freeman.

He spoke to Jennifer Lucy Allan at his London hotel room in November 2013 about the development of his own music language and graphic notation system, Ankhrasmation, the day Ten Freedom Summers was due to be performed for the first time in the capital.

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