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Watch a multifaceted concert by Nasir Dickerson, to kick off our monthlong series Sankofa Sounds

Nasir Dickerson, on African flute, with Joseph Streater on trumpet during a performance at WRTI in December of 2022.
Joseph V. Labolito/Joseph V. Labolito
Nasir Dickerson, on African flute, with Joseph Streater on trumpet during a performance at WRTI in December of 2022.

Nasir Dickerson keeps a busy profile. A saxophonist, African flutist and kora player, he’s also committed to music education and community service. Perhaps you recognize him from one of his outside associations — with The Roots, or R&B artists like Maysa and Bilal. He came to WRTI for an in-studio performance last December, a few weeks before the release of an epic album on which he appears: A Philly Special Christmas, featuring members of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl-bound offensive line. (It has since raised more than $1.25 million for charitable causes.)

Dickerson was at WRTI to celebrate his own album: Let It Shine, his third release as a leader. The audience was filled with anticipation, embracing an electrically charged atmosphere at our radio station. This was a truly amazing evening at WRTI, and we’re proud to share a concert video — the first in a weekly series we’re featuring during Black History Month, called Sankofa Sounds.

Dickerson’s relationship to the greater Philadelphia area has its genesis in the community service that his parents, Robert and Wanda Dickerson, have provided for decades via their Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble and Unity Community Center in Camden, N.J. With Nasir’s older brother, Jamal, and a close friend, Hassan Sabree, they developed and championed an educational model that has been a tremendous asset to the youth of Camden. WRTI has had the privilege of engaging with young musicians who benefited from the efforts of Nasir and his family over the years, and continues to explore opportunities to strengthen our relationship.

On this night, Nasir Dickerson’s Life Light Empowerment Ensemble landed in our performance studio eager to perform, and they didn’t disappoint. Featuring several instruments from the African diaspora, the band opened with “Djeli Diabate,” featuring Nasir on kora. The tune had been previously recorded for his album Journey to Fatherland, but he was able to expand to his preferred instrumentation here.

Nasir Dickerson on kora (right) with Jojo Streater on trumpet in WRTI's studio on Dec. 8, 2022.
Joseph V. Labolito
/
Temple University
Nasir Dickerson on kora (right) with Jojo Streater on trumpet in WRTI's studio on Dec. 8, 2022.

The set continues with “Mamadi-Osusman,” an homage to two musicians with whom Nasir studied kora and flute during his time in Africa. Perhaps the highest of highlights came with the performance of “Let It Shine,” the title track, which features the beautiful voice of Lauren Lark. A final selection, “Letting Go,” comes with an encouragement to get up and dance.

Nasir’s warm interaction with family and friends during the session, coupled with moments of honoring and acknowledging ancestors,set the tone for a moving and memorable celebration of music. The presence of his mother and father in the front row was touching — and it was priceless to see his wife, Sahreeda, spending a large portion of the event keeping their three children occupied.

Nasir Dickerson’s Life Light Empowerment Ensemble at WRTI.
Joseph Labolito
/
Temple University
Nasir Dickerson’s Life Light Empowerment Ensemble at WRTI.

It has been three years since we’d last invited an audience into our studio for the filming of an NPR Live Session. In February of 2020, we filmed two special conversations featuring bassist Christian McBride, his father Lee Smith, (also a bassist) and the first poet laureate of Philadelphia, Sonia Sanchez. Almost three years later, with conditions related to the pandemic continuing to improve, we were happy and a little anxious about this event. Thanks to Nasir and his wonderful band, it turned out to be a truly beautiful, healthy and heartfelt experience.

We’re honored to begin Sankofa Sounds, this special Black History Month video series, with such a momentous session — and happy to share it now with you.

J. Michael Harrison’s first radio show, WPEB’s “Is That Jazz” launched in June of 1993. In 1994 he began volunteering with WRTI as a production assistant. In 1996, J. Michael debuted his own program, The Bridge, which continues to air Friday evenings on WRTI.