Cornel West and Arturo O’Farrill to Perform Grammy-Winning Album to Celebrate Intercultural Connections at UCLA

3 min read
Arturo O'Farrill and Cornel West

**Venue change: May 13 concert with Cornel West, Arturo O’Farrill and Mariachi Los Camperos moved to Royce Hall**

In 2015, the national mood was dark. A multi-layered crisis of poverty and police brutality gripped the nation. Political polarization divided Americans from Americans. And in New York, hunkered down in a practice room in the Manhattan School of Music, jazz artist Arturo O’Farrill and Harvard philosopher Cornel West worked out musical ideas to capture the feeling of the moment and, hopefully, find a way forward.

“When we came up with the ‘Four Questions,’ I said to myself, my brother Arturo is on the same vibration as myself. Our souls are communing on the deepest level,” said West, recalling his collaboration with O’Farrill, who serves as associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at The Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA.

Cornel West and Arturo O’Farrill will perform “Four Questions” with the UCLA Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the UCLA Philharmonia under the direction of Neal Stulberg on Friday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The concert features an extensive playbill, including the legendary Mariachi Los Camperos, directed by Jesús Guzmán, as well as a performance of Miguel Bernal Jiménez’s Concertino para Órgano y Orquesta featuring UCLA organist Christoph Bull.

“The concert will be an embarrassment of riches,” said Steven Loza, director of the Center for Latino Arts, chair of Global Jazz Studies and professor of ethnomusicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “The concert was originally conceived to celebrate thirty years of cultural connections between UCLA and Mexico. We’ve sponsored over 120 events during that time.” This included bringing the Mexican National Symphony to Royce Hall at UCLA, the Mexico City Philharmonic to Disney Hall, and connecting artists and scholars to collaborate on conferences and book publications. The May 13 concert will reunite artists from Mexico and UCLA who have been in ongoing collaboration for years, including Jesús Guzman, Arturo O’Farrill and Neal Stulberg.

For Loza, the addition of “Four Questions” with Cornel West fit the bill perfectly. “Cornel West is all about intercultural connections and compassion. This is what we have been working on here at UCLA for the past thirty years.”

“Four Questions” is at once a celebration and a call to action. The work references the four questions that Black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois framed about maintaining humanity and joy in the face of oppression. For West, as for DuBois, a large part of the struggle has been cultural, expressed through the love and power of Black music. West made this an important theme in his 2015 book Black Prophetic Power and has trumpeted the theme in speaking engagements around the country. Indeed, O’Farrill hatched the idea for a musical collaboration after he heard West speaking at Seattle Town Hall in 2014.

“Brother Arturo’s artistic genius lifts me up,” said West, describing the collaboration. “My own gifts try to go up with him.” West’s spoken word embodies the mutual embrace of music and letters, invoking by turns W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, Jane Austen, and Aretha Franklin, among others.

O’Farrill recalled meticulously planning the piece, including making a practice tape for West that included samples from his recorded speech at the Seattle Town Hall. Then he realized that too much planning might spoil what they were creating.

“It would be like telling John Coltrane what notes to play,” said O’Farrill. In the end, they ditched the plan and worked through the music and spoken word together. “The energy of the moment came together, and what we did in that room was better than what I had planned.”

The experience and the result touch the sublime. “Dr. West’s oratory has the weight of a John Coltrane solo,” said O’Farrill. “His rhythmic delivery has the tumbao of Mongo Santamaría. The humor with which he injects his very serious messages floats like Charlie Parker in flight and, most sacred of all, when he gets deliberate, each word has the authenticity and Afrocentricity of Thelonious Monk’s right hand.”

“Four Questions” was initially commissioned by the Apollo Theater and premiered there in 2016. It became the title track of O’Farrill’s album Four Questions, which won the Grammy Award for the Best Latin Jazz Album in 2021. Although the album dropped in 2020, this will be the first live performance of the complete album.

Tickets for the performance are free but must be reserved in advance. Donations received with event RSVPs will support the UCLA Center for Latino Arts.

Cornel West, Arturo O’Farrill, & Mariachi Los Camperos
Friday, May 13, 8PM PT
Royce Hall UCLA + Livestream

**Venue change: May 13 concert with Cornel West, Arturo O’Farrill and Mariachi Los Camperos moved to Royce Hall**