Versatile percussionist, a leading figure in the Chicago avant-garde, and a master of the African sounds of the conga drums and the kalimba (little hand pianos), was recently chosen the Chicago Tribune's "Artist of the Year." Increasingly well known outside Chicago, he performs here less frequently. He does, however, currently book the music at DeJoie's, a restaurant/club in the trendy Randolph St. corridor... He's also in the process of recording an album with sax great Pharoah Sanders and the rest of his Ritual Trio.
He fronts the Ritual Trio -- named after the behavior of African folk musicians -- (which includes saxophonist Ari Brown and bassist Malachi Favors, and previously violinist Billy Bang and trumpeter Lester Bowie), the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (with saxophonists Joe Bowie and Ernest Dawkins), and Afrocentrix, which he describes as a "21st century dance band."
He's also performed with Cannonball Adderly, Dizzie Gillespie, Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Henry Threadgill, Joespeh Bowie, and the World Saxophone Quartet. Up until 1999, he organized Traffic, the ground-breaking inter-arts series at the Steppenwolf Theatre, which was begun with a Nov. 18, 1996 performance by Bowie, poet Ntozake Shange, and the Ritual Trio.
Records of the Ritual Trio include Renaissance of the Resistance and Big Cliff, both on Delmark Records, and Another Kind of Groove (1987, Sound Aspects).
Raised on Chicago's South Side, El'Zabar joined the AACM at the age of 18. He has studied in Ghana, at Chicago Conservatory of Music, and Lake Forest College.
He's appeared in several feature films: Damon Wayan's Mo' Money (Columbia Pictures), Darrell Roberts' How U Like Me Now (Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment), as co-star of the 1988 Savannah, an award-winning 1989 independent short film So Low but Not Alone, DeWayne Johnson Cochrane's 1994 The Last Set and the recent Love Jones (New Line Cinema).
He has taught at the University of Illinois & the University of Nebraska, and is the author of Mis'taken Brilliance, a book of prose and poetry. He serves on several boards including the National Task Force for Arts Presenting in Education, Campaign for Freedom of Expression, Forum for the Evolution of Progressive Arts, Chicago Blues Museum, and as a panelist for the NEA.
Got a correction? Click
Pages linking to this one include: