Kahil El’Zabar

Performing and recording at the vanguard of the global jazz/music scene for the past five decades, Sir Kahil El’Zabar’s impact on creative music and culture at large is beyond significant. Known firstly as an accomplished multi-percussionist, El’Zabar is also a bandleader, composer, conductor, vocalist, arts curator, and educator. His pioneering sound and improvisational practice, sometimes described as “spiritual groove”, has been influential and widespread, inspiring musicians as well as artists across disciplines, who have recognized the importance of freedom through artistic expression.

As a youth in the late 60’s El’Zabar attended classes at The AACM (The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) where he was mentored by its founders Phil Cohran, (an alumni of the Sun Ra Arkestra) and  Muhal Richard Abrams (first chairman of the AACM). This is where he honed his chops , alongside legends such as Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Steve McCall. El’Zabar studied West African music and culture  at the University of Ghana as an exchange student before graduating from Lake Forest College in 1973. Shortly after his return he founded The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 74’. In 1975 he was elected as  chairman of AACM and would serve in this post for over a decade.

El’Zabar also founded The Ritual Trio, originally featuring Art Ensemble’s Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors, focused on avant-garde jazz, later recordings included Billy Bang,  Pharoah Sanders, and Archie Shepp. This combination of sonic ritual and jazz swing would inspire the conceptual framework for a pioneering sound.

El’Zabar’s commitment to nurturing young and upcoming musicians has inspired a new generation of Chicago masters, such as Corey Wilkes, Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid, Justin Dillard, and Isaiah Collier who have all been featured on his most recent recordings. Through his JUBA Collective and Deeper Soul project, El’Zabar pioneered the fusion of  avant-garde jazz, house music, and hip-hop into a new sound. His contributions to the EDM scene were recognized  by Iconic DJ’s Osunlade, Henriik Schwarz, and IG Culture remixing his work.

Most recently, Kahil El’Zabar’s essential albums released on Spiritmuse Records have rightfully re-established him worldwide as an authentic and leading artist in spiritual jazz and groove. These albums include ‘Spirit Groove’ featuring legendary saxophonist David Murray, the epic & magnificent ‘America the Beautiful’ and with the Kahil El’Zabar Quartet, 2022’s grammy nominated  ‘A Time For Healing’ which is in its third pressing, and the most recent release ‘Spirit Gatherer, Tribute to Don Cherry’ in 2023, a tribute to the late, great spiritual jazz trumpeter, Don Cherry.

Sir Kahil El’Zabar, was Knighted by the Council General of France for his Global contributions to the Arts. He has performed with luminaries like, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Harris, Donny Hathaway, Paul Simon, Ntozake Shange, Nona Hendryx, Neneh Cherry, Hamiet Bluiett, Gene Ammons, to name a few. Dr.El’Zabar, holds a PHD also from Lake Forest College in Interdisciplinary Arts. He taught music at the U. Nebraska/Lincoln, and U. IL/Chicago. He was Appointed by Pres. Bill Clinton to the National Task Force for Arts Presenting in Education. He was  presented the International Ambassador Award from Pres. Barak Obama’s Administration. El’zabar, has served on the prestigious boards of the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, The National Endowment of the Arts, and the National Campaign for the Freedom of Expression. He currently serves on the board of directors for Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, and the advisory panel for African Exhibits : Art Institute of Chicago. He is the conceptual developer and founder of OOH NOW, an online culture network.​

Kahil El’Zabar has recorded 70 + acclaimed projects and is an artist truly in a league of his own. He is acknowledged throughout the world as one of the last living and undoubted leaders in the vanguard of spiritual jazz and groove.


Kahil El’Zabar

Kahil El’Zabar releases

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Kahil El’Zabar on New York Times

Join us for the Album Release Celebration at the Union Chapel, London 16 MAY 2024