Musical Ensemble Imani Winds Make Carnegie Hall Presents Debut


( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) Imani Winds Debuts at Zenkle Hall for Carnegie Hall Presents

ENSPIRE Contributor: Daniel Garritson

Imani Winds is an American wind quintet based in New York City. Since being founded by flutist Valerie Coleman in 1997, the musical ensemble has had a vision of representing African Americans and other communities underrepresented in the classical music industry. This mission was best represented by the group’s Legacy Commissioning Project, begun in 2008. The LCP commissioned multiple composers of color and diverse backgrounds over a five-year period. 

Imani Winds’ Carnegie Hall Presents debut at Zankel Hall on April 25. The wind quintet will be joined by soprano Janinah Burnett and pianist Cory Smythe for a program that includes music from their Grammy-nominated album Bruits, with works by Vijay Iyer, Reena Esmail, Frederic Rzewski, and more. The program will also include Andy Akiho’s “BeLoud, BeLoved, BeLonging”, which was inspired by detainees at a Brooklyn immigration detention center who were protesting the center’s poor living conditions.

Imani Winds commissioned the work as part of their mission to support composers in writing meaningful and socially relevant works. They were further workshopped and performed over the pandemic with a group of incarcerated young men at Rikers Island. You can learn more about the piece and listen here.

ENSPIRE Magazine interviewed the ensemble as a whole.

The name of your group comes from the Swahili word meaning “faith”. Do any of the ensemble’s members have ancestry in the areas of Africa where Swahili is spoken? Or is the name simply an appreciation of a beautiful word?

While none of the members have a direct ancestry in Africa, of course, as African Americans, we know our lineage and connection to the continent because of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We believe firmly that the strength and power of our African ancestors are what we as African Americans have utilized to be all that we are in history and to this day. And also, yes – we have a deep appreciation for the beautiful word, “IMANI”. It took faith to start Imani Winds 26 years ago and a huge amount of faith to continue it and know that we are doing important work in the classical music world.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences, as far as other ensembles and individual musicians go?

Some of our biggest influencers start with our families and music teachers. Every member of the group wonderfully has had the support of parents, siblings, extended family, and friends from day one, as well as amazing, encouraging teachers. The latter have been from elementary all the way to graduate school and even beyond. It’s those people that instilled in us the belief to DREAM BIG and not let adversities stop us from realizing those dreams.

Influences from other ensembles and musicians are too many to mention! We all love not only classical music but jazz, hip hop, old and new-school R&B, rock, and really everything in between. We are greatly influenced by the sounds of New York City, which we call home, which also, of course, is the biggest, most beautiful melting pot in the world, and the music reflects that!

Have there been any especially memorable experiences in touring the great concert halls of the United States?

The memorable experiences lie in simply being in the halls themselves. Truly the physical edifices – Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Los Angeles’ Disney Hall, etc. When you walk into these hallowed spaces, you know you are amongst greatness. You can feel the history, the stories, and the struggles to get there. It’s a humbling feeling but also very empowering because we continue that legacy of greatness and we feel amazing that all the work we’ve put in has allowed us to get to these spaces and call them our own.

If you could describe the musical styling of the ensemble in a single sentence, how would that sound?

Imani Winds represents black excellence through the lens of contemporary classical chamber music and jazz, gospel, and world music, bringing together an amalgam of sights and sounds unlike anything else on a concert stage.

Is there anything that you all believe up-and-coming musicians looking to enter the world of classical music should know?

Work as hard as you can to be the best you can be at your craft. Stay true to your beliefs, mission, and vision. Meet as many like-minded people as possible that will help you realize your goals. Stay in the grind and it will pay off!

For 25+ years, Imani Winds has been innovating in the classical music space, incorporating jazz and Latin influences in their more classical compositions. The twice-Grammy-nominated ensemble has regularly performed in prominent international concert venues, including the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Walt Disney Hall, and the Kimmel Center. They have toured nationwide, and even across the globe. Their debut at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall took place on April 25th.

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