Track Premiere: Nicholas Payton's 'El Guajiro'

Nicholas Payton
Gus Bennett Jr.

Nicholas Payton

Upcoming 'Afro-Caribbean Mixtape' 'speaks to the moment politically' as it embraces the African diaspora.

“I titled this album Afro-Caribbean Mixtape as a way of acknowledging the strong will of African peoples,” the singular trumpeter and musical mixologist Nicholas Payton writes of his peregrinating new release. “To explore how these songs and rhythms came from Africa, got funneled through the Caribbean in places like Haiti, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and traveled to the northernmost part of the Caribbean — New Orleans.”

In an introduction to the album, due Feb. 10 on Paytone/Ropeadope Records, Payton, a celebrated son of New Orleans, makes reference to his Central American side.

“My family has a curious history in how we got to America in that I’m a descendant of the Garifuna tribe — also known as the Black Carib,” Payton writes. “The story, as told to me by my great aunts one day at the kitchen table, is that the Africans had formed a mutiny aboard a ship headed for the New World. It caused them to be shipwrecked on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Their captors were overtaken, and they escaped enslavement. That’s right, they were never 'slaves.' As a result, their African traditions remained intact. In 1792, they went to Honduras, which is where my maternal great-grandfather, Francisco Herrera was from.”

Payton is a great storyteller, and Afro-Caribbean Mixtape contains 22 tracks that are each stories unto themselves. Together, the album is a portrait of, in Payton’s words, “how African culture continues to thrive globally against efforts to undermine it.” He calls it an album that “speaks to the moment politically,” and reflects the magnitude of Black American music.

“It’s literally a mixtape,” he explains. “A pastiche of borrowed ideas from various offshoots of African diaspora. And like an African patchwork or quilt, these seemingly dissimilar things are assembled together to create one ideal.” Afro-Caribbean Mixtape includes "Madmwazel Ayiti," a gorgeous ode to Haiti with pianist Kevin Hays and Payton playing his late father Walter Payton's acoustic bass.

A Cuban component in Payton’s quilt is “El Guajiro,” a tribute to Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, the trumpeter known internationally as a member of the Buena Vista Social Club.

“He is one of the few living true melodic improvisers," writes Payton, who has performed at Havana's International Jazz Plaza Festival. "Almost anybody can learn to blow a bunch of notes and clichés over chord changes, but there have only ever been a few authentic melodic inventors at any one time. Mr. Mirabal is one of them.” Also featured on the 12-minute homage is DJ Lady Fingaz: "I can think of no better example of turntable and triggers as instrument than displayed by her agile scratching and flipping on this track,” Payton writes.

Click here to listen to “El Guajiro” now, exclusively on Billboard.