In the early 1970s, bandleader Idris Ackamoor formed the Pyramids, blazing a trail that united psychedelia, soul, and jazz, and began to travel the world. The group started in Ohio, at Antioch College, where Ackamoor studied under the tutelage of Cecil Taylor, before relocating to San Francisco, visiting far off lands in between. As the band ended, he launched a campaign of musical activism, Cultural Odyssey, but more than three decades after disbanding, Ackamoor reactivated the combo, releasing a new album, Otherworldly in 2012 and following it up earlier this year with We Be All Africans, out via Strut Records.
If you’re a listener of Aquarium Drunkard’s Transmissions podcast, you heard our talk with Ackamoor, interspersed with fantastic sounds from his records. Presented here, an edited transcript of that conversation.
Aquarium Drunkard: Idris, it’s a real pleasure to speak with you. I want to start off by discussing the title of your new album with The Pyramids. It’s We Be All Africans. Can you tell me where that title came from?
Idris Ackamoor: We know some of the oldest skeletons or human remains have been found in Africa [and the title] relates to the fact that we are really all one human family. I was [writing] around the time when we, here in America, were going through a lot of situations and violence with the police. Police shootings of young black men. I was just so affected by everything that was happening in Ferguson and other locations [asking], “Why does this continue to happen?” It has something to do, a lot of times, with a racial issue that we have here in America, when, in reality, we are all one family. One part of the human family. So you know, that just was kind of a message of hope, a message of survival. That this is a very small planet we’re living on, and we have to share it.
AD: In the liner notes you write that the album is exactly what you said, “a message of survival,” and also of “renewal.” With the events of Ferguson, [it feels like awareness of longstanding civil injustices] has reached a fever pitch. Did that message feel particularly timely to you?
Idris Ackoamoor: Oh absolutely, and I also think that it really extends really beyond the U.S.A. I was also thinking a lot about the immigration crisis, in Europe. We know now that it’s an ongoing situation where many immigrants from Africa are trying to reach Europe to search for a better life. They’re fleeing war, they’re fleeing extreme poverty, but many times, they’re not welcome. There’s a tendency to look at them as “the other”. It’s the same situation with the Syrian refuge crisis. So yes, I think that it’s really very timely.