Michigan's Seth Bernard and May Erlewine have been living, breathing and playing music together now for over 7 years. Their music has taken them all over the world but never too far from their roots in Michigan. Seth and May are on a lifelong musical expedition and their sound evolves and changes and grows with each new chapter. Their albums are full of beautiful song stories, produced and arranged with the utmost attention to detail and if you take a glance at their discography, you can only guess they love the process of making records. Listening to the tracks you can hear the love and dedication given to each song and each album as a whole work of art, but making records is only a piece of the work that Seth and May have cultivated. Their live performances and perpetual commitment to community empowerment and social-environmental activism is really where these two shine. Using music as a voice and a call to action Seth and May work hand in hand with organizations across the planet to promote positive change and awareness. The duo remains committed to making music not only to serve their creative spirit, but to serve the people.
Last January, Seth and May embarked on an incredible journey to Ethiopia with the organization On the Ground. Working in solidarity with the coffee growing communities in the birthplace of coffee, ten American runners and six Ethiopian runners ran 250 miles through the Yirgacheffe region to raise money to build much needed schools. Together one step at a time the miles were conquered and the support came in. The duo went along to engage in a cultural exchange. They played in schools, learned traditional scales and melodies from incredible Ethio-jazz musicians, sang for the runners, played for the people, and wrote an entire album inspired by the experience.
Seth and May have been working on this album since they returned home to Michigan and they are finally ready to release it! The album "New Flower" drops on October 28th, 2011 and in late October and November the duo will be performing release concerts at venues near you, featuring Michael Shimmin on drums and percussion, Brennan Andes on the bass and Joshua Davis on keyboards and synthesizers. At certain venues they will also be showing the documentary film about the Run Across Ethiopia, "When We Run", by James Weston Schaberg, is an inside look at the entire adventure.
The album was a gift from Ethiopia and Seth and May are honored and excited to share the songs and experiences from this epic pilgrimage to the birthplace of mankind. Half of the proceeds from the album will go back to Ethiopia to continue building schools. Check out onthegroundglobal.org
to learn more about the Run Across Ethiopia and other exciting projects. Go to sethandmay.com
for tour dates and more information.
released October 28, 2011
We are honored and grateful to be writing to you now, as we reflect on the pilgrimage that inspired this transmission, this record. This music belongs to a whole lot of people, to a shared dream made manifest in a shared experience, and now it belongs to you. Thank you for listening.
A year or so ago, we were invited to join the Run Across Ethiopia, a project of the internationally minded non-profit On the Ground, as musical messengers and cultural carriers, with the task of creating this album, inspired by the expedition. We humbly accepted and were able to raise enough money, though the generosity of hundreds of individuals, to spend three weeks in Ethiopia writing this music, to return to Michigan and create this album with our friends, and to be able to share the music and the story with you now, having crossed the finish line. Solidarity!
In January of 2011, as the result of a groundswell of support internationally and an extraordinary organization in Northern Michigan, 10 Americans and 6 Ethiopians ran 250 miles across southern Ethiopia in 12 days to raise money to build schools in the birthplace of coffee, the Yirgacheffe region. Joining this team of runners were journalists, filmmakers, family members, translators, drivers, friends from partner organizations, a nurse, a trainer and us!
We prepared for our trip by studying Ethiopian music and history, practicing writing songs on the spot together, and meeting with trusted elders to seek counsel and focus our intention for our pilgrimage. And then, on a cold early morning, we flew out of snowy Michigan across the Atlantic to mother Africa.
We arrived in Addis Ababa and were immediately immersed and enveloped by the kindness and beauty of the Ethiopian people and culture. On that first night we saw the Addis Acoustic Project, torchbearers of the current renaissance of classic Ethiopian music from the '50s and '60s in Addis. Their bass player, Henock Temesgen, a legendary musician and co-founder of the African Jazz School, was our main music contact for the trip. Over the next couple of days we gathered as a team and organized the trip in meetings and explored the city. On Ethiopia's Christmas we visited Mother Theresa's Mission for the Dying and Destitute and played music with and for orphaned children and sick men and women. They smiled and hugged and danced with us as our hearts opened up. On the night before the run began, we gathered at a fancy hotel for a welcome event hosted and organized by Chris Treter's dear friend and partner Tadesse Maskela, the founder and general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union and the central character in the groundbreaking documentary, "Black Gold". Olympic gold medal winners, government officials, fair trade coffee cooperative organizers and other distinguished guests and national heroes all gathered to honor our team and their unprecedented effort in solidarity. We played music while American and Ethiopian folks gave beautiful speeches.
The next morning, as the runners bravely gathered on the outskirts of Addis to embark upon their grueling marathon-a-day run across Ethiopia, we honored their effort in blessing and prayer and song. So the run began. Ya!
Over the next two weeks, we played and wrote and experienced music as much as possible. We would play roadside for folks in the community and for the runners as they gutted it out. We played for children at the schools in the communities that hosted us. Our friend Stephanie Schlatter and the Tesfa Foundation worked on the visualization of a music/art project that spawned the artwork for this album. As we played music, the children painted what they heard. They also liked to dance and sing and hug and be held. We went back to Addis after a few days to work with an elementary school and with Henock, who had us over for a lesson in Ethiopian music, a tour of the college and a sit-in at a famous Ethio-jazz club. In Addis, we soaked it up and wrote as much as we could and then headed southward to meet up with the team again, more than midway through their run.
Covering the vast landscape, from the thin air evergreen forests at 8,000 feet to the jungles around sea level, we traveled south to Awassa in the lakes region, where we met with the runners and played a concert with a local band for the community. The team kept on running and we stayed back and set aside time to create songs together. Which we did. Song after song came pouring out. We already had an album's worth by now.
And then we traveled further south and met up with our team, now 150+ miles into their run and still going strong. We all were invited to one of the communities where one of the schools we had helped fund was already under construction: Hase Gola. They said that a lot of the families that would be benefiting from this new construction would be there. When we arrived, 2,000 people were gathered together to greet us and thank us and host us. None of us will ever be able to recollect all that we experienced on that day. The pure love and power and energy. The profound shared gratitude and humility. As we got off the bus, the community surrounded us, singing and clapping and showering us with gratitude in song. We all cried and danced and clapped our hands. We were all brothers and sisters. A deep gratitude and life force through the generations. We gathered under a huge tree and communicated. The sun shined bright on the earth on that day. Great Mother.
Onward. Are the runners going to make it? Yes, they are! They keep making it, one step at a time, day after day. Songs keep coming, too. New adventures. New friends, old souls, familiar faces, magical places. The organization of this endeavor was so beautifully done. Such a team effort, such heart, such gentle excellence. Many local people spontaneously joined the run, sometimes for miles at a time, as it passed by their homes. Closer and closer to the end of the line.
On the last day of the run we gathered in circle in song and prayer and blessing again. As we looked around, we felt such admiration for every human being in that circle. What a bond we had forged with one another. What love we shared. What a team! As the runners made it to the last community, finishing the run, another crowd of thousands had gathered at the site of a secondary school constructed with the premiums from fair trade coffee sales. Another beautiful humbling celebration. Speeches, songs, food, dancing. Smiles and hugs. Solidarity. A heroic feat of athleticism was a achieved. The runners were presented with the scarves and robes of Kings and Queens. Nobody lost. Everybody wins. Congratulations.
The birthplace of all mankind and the water tower of East Africa has planted its seed in the heartland of the Great Lakes and our lives, and our music will never be the same. It was so very hard to leave Ethiopia. The culture shock came when we returned to America. As much as we missed some of the comforts and conveniences we take for granted here, it was especially jarring and numbing to return to them. We could feel ourselves falling back into the materialism, entitlement and privilege that can be so hard to see as ourselves here. Are we alive or are we dreaming? What is all this stuff? How can we be present and useful? What makes us alive? Are we awake and dreaming? Do we have something to offer? Our quest gave us more questions and a full scale life affirmation. Yes yes yes yes, until the day you die.
So yes, this music belongs to whole lot of people, to a shared dream made manifest in a shared experience, and now it belongs to you. Thank you for listening. There's a new flower blooming up out of the darkness of the past when our eyes meet in the present.
Seth and May
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