Musician, composer Mark Lomax, II debuts epic new work
Composer, musician, educator and activist Dr. Mark Lomax, II is in the midst of a major year.
Lomax, a three-time graduate of Ohio State — he received his BA, MA and DMA from the School of Music — has been logging some impressive milestones in the last year:
- He released his epic 12-album cycle "400: An Afrikan Epic," which was completed with the assistance of a Wexner Center for the Arts Residency Artist award
- Received recognition by the Columbus City Council with a resolution praising his accomplishments as a musician and community activist
- Was selected by the Columbus Foundation as one of their inaugural Columbus’ “True Originals” for “giving innovative shape to the city”; and
- Was chosen by the Ohio Arts Council as an Individual Artist award-winner at their upcoming Governor’s Awards for the Arts.
Lomax is receiving due recognition as a major artist, pushing boundaries and creating ambitious and powerful work, culminating in a sold-out performance of selected pieces from "400: An Afrikan Epic" in Columbus’ historic Lincoln Theatre.
Arved Ashby, professor and area head of musicology in the School of Music, says of Lomax, “I call Mark our own Columbus ‘auteur,’ meaning he is a visionary artist with high ambitions, a sure sense of purpose and a lot of energy. A Mark Lomax evening is an event, in ways that I sometimes still find myself trying to assimilate several days later. And the great thing is that so much of his work doesn't seem (at least to me) to fit in with accepted musical genres.”
Lomax recently shared his thoughts on a life-changing Ohio State class, his current class on African American Musical Traditions, being recognized with the Wexner Center residency and "400: An Afrikan Epic" with us.
A life-changing class
A class with Linda James Meyers (professor, Department of African American and African Studies) changed my life! Her book, Understanding an Afrocentric Worldview: An Introduction to Optimal Psychology, gave me the framework and language that undergirds my work to this day.
On the Wexner Center residency
As a student, I found refuge and inspiration at the Wex. Academically, school was easy, but it was much more difficult socially. The Wex offered a space where I could reflect on contemporary masterpieces, center myself and envision myself among the great artists of the world. The inspiration drawn from my experiences with the art at the Wex helped me find the strength to push through and finish each degree, so being recognized as a resident artist is extremely special. The support the Wex gave allowed me to experiment and theorize.
On his African American Musical Traditions class, contexts and active listening
It’s an overview of the history of music in America.
For example, you take a song like "Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud" and you tell the story of how it brought communities together. It gives the piece more meaning. Anybody can hear the drums and may not be able to describe it technically, but we can ask why is the drummer doing that? Or why is the vocalist doing that? Anybody from Sam Cooke to Whitney to Marvin to Aretha to Louis to Coltrane, you ask why did they play the way they play and give it more context.
The students are absorbing things, and I’m asking them to do active listening: What do you hear? What do you think? Why are you listening? Actively engaging with art, regardless of its form, is a skill that is being lost because of ease of use and access.
On "400: An Afrikan Epic"
2019 marks the 400th commemoration of the Ma’afa (great tragedy), which is a Kiswahili word used to represent the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in North America. Upon realizing the importance of this upcoming year and subsequent investigation, I found that no one I knew was thinking about ways to tell this important story, so I decided to compose, record and release 12 albums that give artistic snapshots of the past, present and future of Africa and the diaspora with respect to accept and heal from the impact of slavery and colonization. The key being that we all need to heal.
Ohio State alum @marklomaxii is pushing boundaries with his powerful music and art.
The institution of slavery negatively impacted all who participated directly and indirectly. Descendants of enslaved peoples continue to suffer from epigenetic changes as a result of ongoing trauma. Those who descend from people who financed, captured, owned, oversaw, lynched, raped, beat and otherwise oppressed and benefited from profits gained from 246 years of forced labor and an additional hundred years of the Jim Crow-style American culture, have also been negatively impacted, though in ways that aren’t always obvious.
"400: An Afrikan Epic" seeks to celebrate the beauty, strength and resilience of a people who, against all odds, continue to create culture where there is none and thrive in parts of the country and world where others couldn’t survive. The work also seeks to establish productive dialogue between those who have lived with the trauma of slavery and colonization and those who have been socialized to believe in, and benefit from the institutions and systems built to perpetuate the inhumane values that birthed the practices.
Ashby notes of the work, “As we'll all see with '400: An Afrikan Epic,' he takes atrocities very seriously and very deeply, and thank god for that — we need oversized and fearless consciences all around us these days, maybe in this country in particular.”
On the collaborative aspects and impacts of "400: An Afrikan Epic"
I’ll be working with seven ensembles across the 12 recordings. I’m excited to be working with Olev Viero and the Greater Columbus Community Orchestra (Uhuru); the Columbus-based cello quartet UCelli (4 Women); an Atlanta-based Afrikan drum ensemble Ngoma Lungundu (First Ankcestor); my Urban Art Ensemble (Ma’afa); trio with saxophonist Edwin Bayard and bassist Dean Hulett (Ankh & the Tree of Life, Up South); my quartet, which adds pianist Dr. William Menefield to the trio (Song of the Dogon, The Coming, Songs of the Orisha, Tales of the Black Experience); The Ogún Meji Duo (Spirits of the Egungun); and some solo work (Afrika United).
We are also curating a website that will launch in 2019 featuring the work of 400 artists from Africa and the diaspora. This is an effort to elevate black artistic excellence beyond popular culture. I hope this site will become a starting point for anyone interested in learning about art and culture — how we are telling our stories through our work.
How "400: An Afrikan Epic" impacted him
It was an experience on the whole that changes you, and you literally manifest something out of nothing. It changed me. I’m not sure what that means yet, but I appreciate it and I’m looking forward to process what that means and what will come of it.