“Afro-Semitic” band worships unity

The crowd members formed a circle, held hands, closed their eyes and bowed their heads while Baba David Coleman, the bongo player for Afro-Semitic Experience and a practicing minister, led the sparse crowd in prayer. He prayed for peace and for the building of community. He urged all in the circle to “share themselves from the inside out.” The Afro-Semitic Experience was brought to UVM Nov. 9 by UVM Hillel , Student Life, the Dean of Students Office and SGA. The goal of the band is to foster a community between groups of different backgrounds. The diverse music group, coming from different religious and racial backgrounds, plays together to fuse klezmer, gospel and jazz, creating a sound intended to unite. The group is made up of six men playing bass, piano, keyboard, percussion, violin, dobra, bongos, saxophone and clarinet. The experience was set up as a religious style service, begining with a calling to worship with the song “Let us Break Bread Together.” The Experience’s music is entirely instrumental, and Warren Byrd, the pianist for the band, calls each song a “free palette” because the songs are up for complete interpretation by the listener. Though the band’s leader and bassist David Chevan spoke between songs, injecting some meaning into the upcoming piece, the experience was purely up to the listener’s imagination and thought. At one point he spoke of the destruction Jewish temples and later another member offered a poem. These side notes nuanced the service in an informative manner. To the members of the band, this is not a show, but a time to worship and praise God. “To me, the offering up of what I have is feeling his grace and experiencing the joy of giving,” Byrd said. The audience joined as a community and was called to worship, as the band picked up their beat. In the middle of the third song, the violin (an instrument typically associated with klezmer music) fused with the tenor saxophone – a staple in jazz. The result was true music, beautiful and diverse in sound. Midway through the night the community passed the “peace of God” while Byrd shook every hand in the audience. It was in this idea of an interactive service where the group got their name. The “experience” was not only watching and listening, but consciously thinking, worshiping and forming community.