Amaro Freitas is a young jazz pianist from Recife, Brazil in the north eastern state of Pernambuco. Drawing on multiple influences – from American pianists such as Chick Corea (to whom the album is dedicated), Thelonious Monk or Keith Jarrett to Brazil’s rich musical heritage (Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, Moacis Santos), Amaro Freitas’ music weaves an impressive tapestry of interconnected traditional and contemporary polyrhythms. Following on from his début Sangue Negro (2016) and Rasif (2018), Sankofa is Amaro Freitas’ third album with his regular trio comprised of Hugo Medeiros on drums and percussions and Jean Elton on double bass and was released on 25 June 2021 last on Far Out Recordings.

Amaro Freitas - Sankofa (2021)
Amaro Freitas – Sankofa (2021)

I worked to try to understand my ancestors, my place, my history, as a black man. Brazil didn’t tell us the truth about Brazil. The history of black people before slavery is rich with ancient philosophies. By understanding the history and the strength of our people, one can start to understand where our desires, dreams and wishes come from.

Sankofa is one of many Adrinkra symbols used by the Akan people in West Africa and more precisely Ghana and Ivory Coast. Linked to traditional proverbs or aphorisms, the symbols are used in pottery jewellery, architecture, tatoos and clothing. Author Bernardine Evaristo for instance used Adrinkra symbols to head each of the chapters focusing on the 12 female characters of her 2019 Booker prize winning novel “Girl, Woman, Other”.

The Sankofa symbol is depicted as a backward-facing bird, illustrating the need to understand the past and history in order to move forward. Sankofa is also the title of a landmark 1993 African film – recently re-released on Netflix in September 2021 – directed by Ethiopian producer Haile Gerima which focused on the African Slave Trade. Jumping back and forth between modern-day Ghana and an 18th century sugar cane plantation in the New World, the film not only depicts in graphic terms the horrors of the slave trade, it also points to the importance of reconnecting to one’s roots when finding one’s way through life.

The Sankofa symbol becomes for Amaro Freitas a way to delve into Brazil’s rich musical past. With its multiple time signatures, complex patterned chord progressions and flurry of notes, Amaro Freitas’ music showcases a dazzling technique. The eight new compositions navigate effortlessly between gorgeous ballads (“Sankofa” or “Nascimento”), funk-jazz (“Ayeye”), samba (“Batucada”), a slightly distorted free-jazz romp (“Malakoff”) which at times emulates the sound of a Fender Rhodes keyboard and even an ambient jazz reverie on “Cazumba” featuring field recordings from the rainforest which is itself bookended by a jazz-rock introduction and coda.

With all compositions playing like elaborate narratives, “Baquaqua” follows perhaps the most dramatic story arc.

‘Baquaqua’ highlights the seldom told story of the West African Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, who was brought to Brazil as a slave but escaped to New York in 1847 where he learned to read and write. His autobiography was published by the American abolitionist Samuel Moore and now stands as the only known document about the slave trade written by a former Brazilian slave.

Travelling back in time and across continents, Amaro Freitas’ music articulates an electrifying and forward-looking spiritual quest. “I also want to transmit this message to future generations” the pianist observes. “Let’s slow down, let’s give ourselves more time, let’s do deeper things. Let’s stop swimming in the surface, let’s dive.”