Panjea brings high-energy world music to Vail Wednesday |

Panjea brings high-energy world music to Vail Wednesday

Caramie Schnell
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado ” Chris Berry’s life story could make for a good movie some day. After falling in love with African music as a young teenager, Berry, a white kid from California, traveled to Africa at age 19. He spent nearly a decade there studying under mbira (thumb piano) masters, eventually mastering the instrument himself, and putting together his band Panjea, which blends indigenous music, dance hall and hip hop sounds. Now a Brooklyn resident, Berry, 39, spends months at a time touring the U.S. with his band ” Danny Sears on trumpet, American rhythms laid down by drummer Abou Diarrassouba, Patrice Blanchard on bass, Michael Kang on mandolin and Zivanai Masango from Zimbabwe on guitars ” bringing his markedly uplifting, transcontinental message around the country.

Fresh from playing a music festival in Maui, Panjea will perform a free Street Beat show at Checkpoint Charlie in Vail Wednesday. Attendees can expect to hear a few tunes from “Find a Way,” an album set to be released this spring that includes the song “Long Time Coming,” which is all about hope ” a timely message indeed.

Vail Daily: Tell me what’s been inspiring your lyrics lately?

Chris Berry: The Age of Aquarius. We just came into the Age of Aquarius and I just feel like it’s a new time, a new beginning. I feel like something’s ending and there’s a new event on the horizon or a new time. I’ve been writing its a ‘Long Time Coming.’ We still have a long time to go. But I feel like there’s hope, I feel like there’s really a chance for humanity.

VD: What’s prompted this other than the Age of Aquarius?

CB: A lot of things around the election. I feel Obama’s heralded a new feeling in the world. And even though we’re faced with the economic crisis, I feel like there’s a lot of hope and a lot of positivity. It’s just feelings I get from people, that maybe we’re getting past this whole age where killing and wars were the answer to problems and maybe we’re able to find some new solutions now.

VD: When were you first exposed to African music and why?

CB: When I was 13 or 14, my friend stole a cassette from a music store but he got the wrong cassette. He didn’t know what he was getting. It happened to be Fela Kuti. I heard the music and I was like ‘Oh my God.’ It changed my world.

VD: When were you first in Zimbabwe and why?

CB: I was 19 years old, the reason I was there is I was following my heart, which had fallen in love with the music, so my heart took me to Zimbabwe.

Ever since that trip, I’ve been in Africa almost every single year since then. I stayed there for a long period after I first got there, for nine years. I learned the language and the culture and the deep knowledge they have there about certain things.

VD: Have you been back recently?

CB: I haven’t because there’s a lot of political turmoil and I’m on the opposing side of that political power. They’ve threatened me several times and it’s not a good time for me to go back just yet.

VD: You play the Mbira, also called the thumb piano. Tell me about it.

CB: They say the sound of it has the power to call a spirit and to also open up realms between here and the non physical. It’s kind of the focal point of my band.

The music is just who I am. My musical background is African. There is a western sensibility to the music too. It is a fusion of African and American music.

VD: What is it about African rythyms and music that appealed to you?

CB: They say that 90 percent of the world’s popular music has African inspiration ” jazz, hip hop, house, rap, blues, Cuban. The main influence Africa has on the music of the world is rhythm. They’ve found rhythmical patterns that relate to the human body that you don’t have to understand but that you feel. In dance music, you can go to Peru, you can go to Japan, you can go to Bolivia, they are all dancing to rhythmical music because it feels good. They don’t know that it comes from Africa or why, but Africa has basically found some rhythmical magic that makes people dance. So I’ve gone right to the source, defining those rhythms, the power of those rhythms, and bringing them out in my music.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

What: Panjea plays Bud Light Street Beat

When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Where: Checkpoint Charlie in Vail Village

Cost: Free

More information: 970-949-1999 or

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