‘Bronx Jazz’ celebrates music, history, connection

Sep 17, 2019

Live music filled the Wareham Free Library on Thursday night during a performance of “Bronx Jazz: A Conversation Between Father and Son.”

The performers, Mwalim and his 16-year-old son, the ZYG 808, led the audience on a tour through the history of jazz and related genres in the Bronx, interspersed with original songs and conversations about making music, telling stories, and growing up. The pair’s stage manager, Eddie Ray Johnson, is a Wareham resident who occasionally played drums while his young son, Little Bill, sang harmony from the side of the stage.

The performance, which combines theater with live music, felt like a natural next step for the father-son duo.

“We have our conversations about musical history -— that doesn’t happen with a lot of parents,” said the ZYG. “I like it because it’s bonding.”

He said that the performance is based on the conversations he regularly has with his father about music and what is going on in each of their lives.

The ZYG said he hoped audience members would leave the show inspired to bridge the gap between generations.

Mwalim said that the performance felt like a natural fit. In addition to his work as a musician, Da Phunkee Professor, as he is known, is a tenured professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where he teaches English, Black Studies, communication, and folklore, and he is also one of the founders of the Oversoul Theater Collective.

Mwalim raised his son largely as a single parent, and bought the ZYG a drum kit to keep him occupied when he was a young child. The ZYG’s first credit as a studio musician came when he was only seven years old and played percussion for a record Mwalim was working on in his home studio. Mwalim said his son seemed to have the rhythm of the piece down, so he gave him headphones and asked him to play along.

The ZYG 808’s first solo album, Boombap Jazz, will be coming out in the next few months.

Johnson, Mwalim, and the ZYG 808, along with Richard Johnson, are the Groovalottos, a multi-Grammy nominated soul, funk, and blues band. The Groovalottos are also working on a new album.

Mwalim will be publishing a novel, The Land of the Black Squirrels, in February.

To find out more, go to www.thezyg808.com, www.daphunkeeprofessor.com, or www.thegroovalottos.com.