“Positive.” That word keeps recurring in conversations with friends and colleagues of Zimbabwe Nkenya—bassist, mbira player, composer, educator, activist, visual artist and host of KUNM’s “The House That Jazz Built” for 20-some years. Nkenya has touched many with his warmth, conviction and enthusiasm in his decades in Albuquerque, and you could always count on hearing a joyful noise when he performed.
On Nov. 5, 2009, that joyful noise was muted when Nkenya suffered a debilitating stroke in East St. Louis, where, ironically, he had moved to care for a family member. In addition, an aortic aneurysm has been discovered that will necessitate surgery.
Trumpeter Paul Gonzales and drummer Dave Wayne, longtime associates of Nkenya, have united to organize a benefit concert at the Outpost to help defray the overwhelming medical costs for Nkenya and his family. (A companion multimedia benefit, including an art auction, will take place at Santa Fe’s High Mayhem on Feb. 13.)
“I had been talking to him a day or two before he had the stroke, and he was talking about coming back to Albuquerque and visiting his daughter, and we were going to do some playing and recording,” says Gonzales. Instead, he will be playing for Nkenya’s benefit.
“Zimbabwe’s the whole package,” says Wayne. “He’s a tremendously talented, intuitive artist. He gave a lot of players from all levels a lot of opportunities. ... People gravitated toward him. There’s a lot of energy there, a lot of positivism there.”
Nkenya’s commitment to playing the music that inspired him, as opposed to playing music that had a more mainstream appeal, meant he was “always struggling financially,” says Wayne.
To help out, he and Gonzales have recruited an army of Nkenya’s friends and colleagues for the benefit concert, including Peter Breslin (solo piano), the Paul Gonzales Trio (all-acoustic roots jazz), Mike 360 (spoken word), Rumble Trio (Mark Weaver, Mike Balistreri and Ben Wright) + Christian Pincock (improvised music), J.A. Deane (solo lap steel guitar), Dave Wayne and the Things That Are Heard (Zappa-influenced oddball jazz), and Rodney Bowe and Sina Soul (R&B).
Those unable to attend may contribute to Zimbabwe Nkenya—Medical Fund, Account #152311525918, US Bank, 3881 Gravois Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63116.