Guitarist/composer Pascal Bokar synthesizes American Jazz and its African musical and spiritual roots through a deep cultural connection. Born in Paris, raised in Segou, Mali and Dakar, Senegal, and longtime resident of San Francisco, Bokar has cultivated an impressive array of disciplines that reflect his unique experience: composer, guitarist, vocalist, bandleader, educator, author, club owner and curator of jazz history. Themeeting of cultures personifies Bokar, from the movement of African culture via the Middle Passage to African-Americans of the slavery era, and continuing with the movement of African-American culture into the mainstream culture of the U.S., ultimately leading him to the embodiment of these deep interconnections.
Photo Credit: Gary Bridges
Pascal Bokar’s Album “Guitar Balafonics” won the Downbeat Magazine “Best CD of 2015” award.
Here is a video of his newest single So Long
Pascal Bokar’s American Shores, in the “AfroBlueGrazz” style coined by the album’s producer Greg Landau, is an ambitious fusion of textures and styles that comes from Bokar’s unique cultural perspective. As an accomplished jazz guitarist and scholar of African music and jazz he consistently heard clear examples of African musical concepts and instruments throughout his musical explorations. In this project he brought together accomplished musicians from Appalachia’s bluegrass style with Senegalese master drummers, African-American Rhythm and Blues singers, funky keyboards, and the stomp/clap percussion of a gospel choir. This eclectic cross cultural mix brings together long lost musical relatives as a platform for Pascal’s rich guitar and vocal improvisation. His four previous releases Guitar Balafonics, Yoni Bi, Savanna Jazz Club and Beyond the Blue Sky, all show a synergy of musical backgrounds. Bokar currently leads two ensembles: Pascal Bokar AfroBlueGrazz Band and the Pascal Bokar AfroJazz ensemble. In support of the new record American Shores, Bokar has assembled a group of West African dancers to enhance the visual realm as they move to the lively mix of guitar, piano, upright bass, fiddle, banjo, drums, gospel harmonies and West African percussion. The AfroJazz Ensemble performs original compositions based on West African rhythms mixed with a funky flair and Pascal Bokar’s jazzy influence. Several of the musicians in the group have been working with Pascal for over a decade, and it shows. Sporting wild colors and traditional costuming, this lively group, along with its high-energy dancers, gets the audience off their feet and dancing at every show. He is also the author of From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta, a book with a foreword by NEA Jazz Master, Composer, Pianist Randy Weston and praises from UCLA scholar Robin D.G. Kelly, Ph.D. and Willard Jenkins Downbeat, JazzTimes. This book explores how West African standards of aesthetics and sociocultural traits have moved into mainstream American culture and become social norms. Pascal began his formal studies at the National Conservatory of Region in Nice, France in 1980, then moved to Boston in 1983 to study at the renowned Berklee College of Music. After performing for many years, he returned to school, earning a Master’s Degree from Cambridge College in 1998. In 2006 he earned his Doctorate Degree in Education from the University of San Francisco and joined the faculty soon after. Bokar also owns and manages Savanna Jazz club in the heart of Silicon Valley in San Carlos, CA. Pascal has been blessed to play with a dazzling array of outstanding musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Haynes, Donald Byrd, and for several years, Donald ‘Duck’ Bailey. His conversations with Diz about re-introducing African rhythms and textures into American jazz and popular music profoundly affected Pascal in his ongoing musical quest. His ensembles have played in concert halls and at World Music and Jazz Festivals all over the U.S. and internationally and are currently seeking engagements for both ensembles for festivals and concerts. In an engaging mixed media presentation, including his own documentary, this West African jazz guitarist and University of San Francisco professor illuminates the African origins of contemporary music and its culture at seminars, master classes and residencies, based upon his vast knowledge and highly regarded book.
**** – Downbeat Magazine
Bokar says that the word balafon means “make wood speak.” On this album, he makes the wood and wires of his guitar sing a new, centuries old song. -J. Poet Downbeat Magazine
Bokar forges a comfortable, swinging, yet thought-provoking fusion of musical traditions from two continents or, to put it more wholesomely, from connected parts of the One World. -Jon Sobel Blogcritics
In his solos and accompaniment, Pascal hints at the ancient instruments of Africa while putting those traditional sounds in a more modern context. Pascal Bokar sums up this project by saying “Guitar Balafonic” is really the story of an African in America, a West African footprint in an American art form.” It is also the latest chapter in the story of a highly original guitarist who has his own way of playing creative jazz, looking at the past for inspiration while moving the music ahead. —Scott Yanow, author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists, Bebop, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76
“(Bokar) incorporates a lot of old-school George Benson, Wes Montgomery, a bit of Jimmy Bruno, and so on, and swings constantly, breaking into fusionesque territories to a highly satisfying degree, never screaming through the speakers but breath-taking nonetheless.”
Mark S. Tucker Acoustic Music
“One of the best albums of the year”
Jim Eigo: Jazz Promo Services