Skip navigation Syracuse University Humanities Center

The Black Composer as Jali: Composition, Improvisation, and the Afrikan Epic

Time: Feb. 20, 2020, noon - 2 p.m.

Location: CFAC Gallery, 805 E. Genesee Street

Part of the Syracuse Symposium

Part of the Syracuse Symposium series.

Mark Lomax (Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH)

In the West Afrikan storytelling tradition, the Jali serve as the professional musicians tasked with preserving the history, rituals, and experiences of the culture in which they were born. These keepers of the culture tell the stories of their people through songs that seamlessly incorporate pre-composed material with improvised sections to create epic narratives that remind the listener who they are, where they have been, and point to the future. This tradition survived the Middle Passage, evolved through the savagery of slavery, and now manifests itself in the work of many contemporary Black American composers.

Using examples from his work, 400: An Afrikan Epic, Lomax discusses the process by which he worked with composition and improvisation to create aspects of his epic which honors the West Afrikan tradition and is inspired by the work of Duke Ellington, Renee Baker, Anthony Davis, and Wadada Leo Smith.

Bio: Dr. Mark Lomax, II, critically acclaimed composer, recording artist, drummer, activist, and educator is a Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University Artist Residency 2018 Award recipient. A highly sought-after lecturer, Lomax specializes in the socio-political, and spiritual aspects of African-American art, music, race, and the usage of the arts to build community. Besides performing with gospel choirs around the country, Lomax also boasts impressive jazz credentials. He has toured with the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet and worked with notable artists such as Clark Terry, Marlon Jordan, Azar Lawrence, Bennie Maupin, Billy Harper, Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, and Wessel Anderson, among others.


Lomax holds a Doctor of Music Arts degree in composition from The Ohio State University. In January 2019, Lomax released 400: An Afrikan Epic, a composition that ambitiously tells the story of the Afrikan diaspora over the course of a 12 album cycle.  

Tanisha Jackson, Community Folk Art Center