Yusef Komunyakaa and Billy Bang: A Concert and Conversation

Yusef Komunyakaa and Billy Bang

An emotionally charged evening showcased the intermedia work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa and the cutting-edge sounds of violinist Billy Bang's Aftermath Band.

In Komunyakaa's Nine Bridges Back, twelve collaborating artists created a collage of text, voice and instrumental music that addressed the complex histories and personal experiences in the context of war. Yusef Komunyakaa (poet); Vince di Mura (composer/keyboards); Annie Lee Moffett (vocals); Tony Jackson (narrator); Alan Benditt (actor); Susie Ibarra (composer/percussionist); Jennifer Choi (violin), Carol To Moy (singer); Cathy Linh Che (translator); Tomas Doncker (composer/guitar/vocals); Marvin Sewell (guitar); Noriko Kamo (piano); Dawn Akemi Saito (director).

Billy Bang and his Aftermath Band performed compositions based on Bang's experience as a combat soldier in Vietnam.  Bang's music evoked and confronted memories through a combination of Western and Asian elements, which included the use of Vietnamese traditional instruments.  The ensemble featured musicians who experienced both the Vietnam and Korean Wars.  With Billy Bang, violin; James Spaulding, alto saxophone, flute; Ted Daniel, trumpet; Henry P. Warner, clarinet, alto clarinet; Andrew Bemkey, piano; Ngô Thanh Nhành, dàn tranh; Muziki Roberson, piano; Hilliard Greene, bass; Newman Taylor Baker, drums.

Komunyakaa was raised in Louisiana, Bang in the Bronx — but despite disparate backgrounds, the two artists shared a common experience as Vietnam veterans.  A pre-concert discussion with the artists, moderated by Brent Hayes Edwards, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, explored their histories and motivations.