Master Drummer, Freedom Singer
Seku Neblett purposefully articulates the connections between African creative work and political struggle. Music has always been part of Neblett’s life and work, and his art has always been intended to inspire political unity. He and older brother Charles Neblett, along with Bernice Johnson Reagon and others, were original members of the Freedom Singers, created in 1961 in Albany, Georgia.
In the 1960s, the Freedom Singers toured the United States to raise money and organize support for themStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a key organization in the Civil Rights/Black Freedom Movement.
In 1964, Neblett and other movement leaders were invited by President Sekou Touré to visit Guinea in order to learn about liberation politics in Africa: “In 1964, President Sekou Touré of Guinea, West Africa, sent us a cable saying, ‘Your movement has captured our attention,’ and he invited some of us to come to Guinea. That experience was overwhelming. We came through immigration, someone gave us a copy of the constitution, a portion of it, that said any person of African descent, no matter where they’re born, as soon as they set foot in Guinea, is an automatic citizen with all the privileges and responsibilities of a citizen. I was overwhelmed, and I just fell down and kissed the earth. I had never had that kind of feeling before, a feeling that I actually belonged somewhere. I was actually comfortable and could feel safe. I had never had that feeling before, and that’s a feeling that I never want to let go of. Never.”
In the late 1960s, he returned to Conakry, Guinea, to study history, culture, and organizing under Nkrumah and Touré for 18 months. The 1970s and ‘80s found him traveling the world, speaking and organizing.
In 1991, a chance encounter while performing with the Freedom Singers led Seku to play the Bougarabou, the signature drum of the Jola people in the southwest of Senegal and the Gambia. He plays both the Bougarabou and the Djembe extensively. However, each is used for different purposes by Brother Seku.
“We already have unity of action, but what is lacking is unity of thought, and respect, which is paramount in African culture. We have to listen to one another. I can teach those principles with Djembe. With the Djembe, you do the polyrhythms with a number of people. For community organizational reasons, it’s better to use the Djembe [than the Bougarabou] because you have more participation.”
Seku Neblett is a part of the Cultural Workers Bureau and is available to perform at colleges, universities, cultural festivals and community events.