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Under Greg Tate's direction, musical possibilities were limitless

Greg Tate (right) levitates while conducting Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber.
Laura Williams
/
Courtesy of the artist
Greg Tate (right) levitates while conducting Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber.

Greg Tate's death left an immeasurable hole in the universe of cultural criticism. He has been celebrated as a writer in many different ways, from columns in most major publications to a mural painted on the side of BAM in Brooklyn. He was a revolutionary force in Black thought, American thought, musical thought and universal thought. However, his music — under the Burnt Sugar banner — has been relatively overlooked.

For over two decades, Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber (and its many iterations) has welcomed many of New York's most daring musicians. Tate called Burnt Sugar "a territory band, a neo-tribal thang, a community hang, a society music guild aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, racial, spacial, oceanic, mythic, antiphonal and telepathic."

Tate's music and his writing are inextricably linked; the community he built through Burnt Sugar and beyond presaged the current renaissance of boundary-eradicating music that reflects the whole of the African diaspora. So to close out the 20th annual Pop Conference, a gathering of music writers, we featured music from Burnt Sugar's extensive discography interspersed with memories of Tate's work and life. Burnt Sugar's Jared Michael Nickerson, Living Colour's Vernon Reid, saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts, and electronic musician and composer Christina Wheeler join NPR Music's Ann Powers in a musical memoriam on NPR Music's YouTube channel.

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Featured Music:

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber (feat. GT): "The Charmer" from All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity

Burnt Sugar Arkestra's Avant Funk & Roll Splinter Cell (feat. Lisala & Vernon Reid): "Young Frankenstank" from THE DARKNUSS

The Bakol, In Praise of Sirius Shadowboxers (excerpt)

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber (feat. Matana Roberts): "Naomi's Lullaby" from More Than Posthuman – Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber: "Lisala-Over-inna-Oakanda" from Angels Over Oakanda

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, "Coo Dank West Coast 'Off the Top of the Dome' Conduction"

Live recording courtesy of Alex Donovan/PDX Archives.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.