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Cochemea: The Dap-King Presides

Cochemea Gastelum’s new album “All My Relations” broods and bangs while lifting us up where we belong.

As I walked down the steep steps of Nublu 151, just off Avenue C in the East Village, I was taken by how much was being done with so little. The venue, founded in 2002 by Swedish-Turkish saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin, featured two separate levels split in half by a raised platform. The bar area was strategically decorated with stacks of vintage jazz records, and the stage was set aglow by a soft red hue. The ambiance created a pleasant balance of warm and intimate while fusing the eccentricity of the neighborhood with the undeniable diversity its immersed in.

It was perfect for a Friday evening in NYC, and the best way to catch a live performance by Cochemea.

By 9 PM, the crowd had congregated to witness the album release party for Cochemea’s first solo project in 15 years since touring all over the globe with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (may she RIP). The arresting performance was a tour de force that walked us through moments of unadulterated jazz compositions, as well as meditative sections that felt as though we were being asked to join hands in prayer for our fellow man. The album, All My Relations, evokes a call to our higher selves while reminding us how interconnected we truly are. It keeps its Native American influences front and center while exploring a soundscape that reveals the depth of Cochemea’s talent.

Through a dazzling blend of sounds that included powerful tribal drums, and bombastic funk, we were delighted and even encouraged to sing along to the refrain “don’t need no wall” during the band’s rendition of the title track from the album. Cochemea is undoubtedly a multifaceted performer-composer whose surgical precision with the saxophone is dazzling. Equally exhilarating is how the entire band rises to the occasion when Cochemea raises the stakes by playing the flute.

With every track it was evident that the future is bright, and Cochemea is a legend in the making. In a time in our country when Native voices continue to be silenced, go missing, or are looked upon smugly by the white gaze, 46-year old Cochemea digs deep into his Yaqui and Mescalero Apache Indian roots to remind us that our Indigenous peoples are still here. Still making noise.

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