Gail Lyons and Emile Latimer met in the studios of Buffalo’s Black Dance Workshop in 1977. That summer the company took African music and dance to the streets of Buffalo’s east side neighborhoods with Dance Mobile: a stage on the back of a flatbed truck. Later that year Gail and Emile started Sounds And Echoes of Yemenja, a group dedicated to teaching West African dance and musical traditions in Buffalo, NY, through classes and performances at festivals, theaters, schools, community centers, and the nearby Attica prison.
Over thirty years later, in 2008, when we first came to Buffalo on assignment for StoryCorps, we met Gail when she recorded an interview in memory of her sister,Gwen. Shortly thereafter we met Emile. It was evident that, to Gail and Emile music was more than just entertainment or a soundtrack to their lives. For Gail, music was a vital family tradition, it was in her genes, passed down from her father, Jimmy Lyons, the first black radio DJ in Buffalo. Her love of music lead her to dance and she traveled the east coast with dance company Boka n’daye and then to Senegal with her teacher Ibrahima Camara. For Emile, who taught himself to drum as a kid, music was his ticket into a world of greatness, the world of legends like Letta Mbulu, Richie Havens and Nina Simone, each of whom would recognize his talents and vision and invite him to help realize their own. In his late seventies, Emile still teaches and plays daily. For both Gail and Emile, music has been a catalyst for love.
It was the name of this collaboration, Sounds And Echoes, that resonated with us when we decided to share the stories of peoples’ lives—and how they lived their lives with music. So we asked these two people who have so inspired us, to share their story—and the name they’d given to their collaboration those many years ago. We asked for their blessing to carry on the name and the spirit of their work. Thus, in gratitude, we named The Recollective’s first official collaboration: Sounds & Echoes: A Musical Portrait of Buffalo, NY.