Yusef Lateef's Music in Film

'SELMA' Marches to the Music of Yusef Lateef
Spirit Music Group - January 9, 2015

Yusef Lateef's "Bamboo Flute Blues" is featured in a key scene in SELMA, the buzzing drama chronicling the historic voting rights march of 1965. The track, from Lateef's groundbreaking mid-'60s jazz album 'Psychicemotus,' plays as David Oyelowo's Martin Luther King and Colman Domingo's Ralph Abernathy strategize logistics for the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Yusef Lateef Composed the Score for the Documentary 'CLAIMING OPEN SPACES'
Yusef Lateef composed music for the acclaimed documentary 'CLAIMING OPEN SPACES', released in 1995 and broadcast on PBS in 1996.

"Of all the different elements and sides there are to Yusef Lateef, one of the most complex, profound, and diverse musicians of the 20th century, few of his recordings showcase his depth like the soundtrack for this documentary film."

The city parks of Columbus, New Orleans, Detroit, Oakland, and Montgomery, and the African-Americans who frequent them, are the subjects of this urban documentary. Public spaces, and the ways in which we use them, sometimes conflict with official city planning.

CLAIMING OPEN SPACES explores African-American culture as it clashes with the design of the modern American city. The film includes a comprehensive section on New Orleans - the vital place of historical significance that this city holds, and its role in continuing African American tradition and culture. The film is both a critical examination of the design and histories of American urban open space, as well as a celebration of leisure, recreation and resistance.

Music Review:

"Of all the different elements and sides there are to Yusef Lateef, one of the most complex, profound, and diverse musicians of the 20th century, few of his recordings showcase his depth like the soundtrack for this documentary film. With the aid of electric bassist Gene Torres and drummer/percussionist Kamal Sabir (of Ornette Coleman & Prime Time), Lateef creates a series of 32 soundscapes, ranging in length from 12 seconds to seven and a half minutes. Musically, the range is so wide that it's almost impossible to breach the chasm it creates in our over-inflated notions of both popular and high culture. With the exception of the opener, "Instrumental Gospel," which is a recurrent theme, with its blues and funk turnarounds and accents, there is no classifying the rest of the music found here, except to say that it is ultimately very accessible yet sophisticated and deeply moving. Even without the images to accompany it, Lateef's score stands on its own as a tapestry of aural silhouettes and colors, shades, and textures from just beyond the shade of everyday reality, coming from a deeper spiritual base and being given utterance through the band's sense of aesthetic and poetic impulse. This sings, sways, shimmer, shakes, grooves, and weeps; it laughs in places, and is meditative in others, and always comes out the same: a music to take you deeper. This is certainly Lateef's intent with all his music, but here it works particularly well."

AllMusic.com review by Thom Jurek

Film Reviews:

"...a celebration of black culture, the sort of positive portrait that blacks deserve and seldom receive...a compelling, thoroughly researched production."

Columbus Dispatch

"Austin Allen's documentary takes a controversial stance: that African Americans' conception of open space is different from that of the mostly white civic authorities who have closed public parks in recent years, denying blacks a vital gathering place... In building his case, Allen ...creates a fascinating history of black America."

The East Bay Express

"In making CLAIMING OPEN SPACES, Allen isn't looking for popularity. He's looking for answers."

Columbus Guardian

more info on the film: itvs.org
film distribution: Third World Newsreel

Yusef Lateef Provided Music for Animated Short Films

Yusef Lateef collaborated with renowned Danish animator Jannik Hastrup and provided music for 3 short films. Drengen og månen (The Boy and the Moon) - 1968, I daggryet trodses alle farer (At Dawn Overcoming all Difficulties) - 1972, and Blodige forberedelser (Bloody Schemes) - 1972. The latter two were animated shorts for children concerning the brutality of colonization and slavery. They are parts 2 and 4 of a series entitled Historiebogen (History Book). Please view and enjoy these two wonderful short films:

I daggryet trodses alle farer

I daggryet trodses alle farer
At Dawn Overcoming all Difficulties)

Blodige forberedelser

Blodige forberedelser
Bloody Schemes)

Other Film Credits

Yusef Lateef's film credits include:

  • Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? - 2013
  • Solipsism - 2013
  • Sing Your Song - 2011
  • Comedian - 2002
  • Merton - 1984
  • The Cool World - 1963
  • Tracks in the Sand - 1962