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Daniel Foose Returns From Family's Former Slave Plantation With New Album Material


Last year, jazz bass player and composer Daniel Foose spent a month living in a dilapidated house on a former plantation in the Mississippi Delta. He wrote music for his new album there, "Of Water And Ghosts." He returned to his home in New York with a meditation on his family's history in the Delta and the legacy of slavery. Rick Karr reports.

RICK KARR, BYLINE: Daniel Foose's album has its roots on a class trip to Ghana in 2003 when he was in music school. His instructor arranged for the students on the trip to the West African nation to meet with a soothsayer or diviner - a bokor in the local Ewe language.

DANIEL FOOSE: And when he had a session with me, he looked at me and said, you need to go back and play drums and pour out whiskey at your maternal grandfather's grave to atone for his role in the slave trade.


FOOSE: And it wasn't like just because I was, you know, a white person there that that was what he told everybody.


KARR: The bokor had no idea who Foose was, and he was off by a few generations. Foose's mother's great-great-grandfather, Charles DuBuisson, was a slave owner and founder of Sonora Plantation in the Mississippi Delta.

CAROLINE FOOSE: We call that a woo-woo (ph) moment. That was really, really strange.

KARR: Caroline Foose says family history wasn't the only reason the bokor's words resonated with her son.

FOOSE: There was a place where they kept slaves right before they were sent to America. And Daniel was there, and he visited it, and it really struck him hard. He was really upset by it.


KARR: His son Daniel followed the diviner's instructions a few years later on his day off during the concert tour through the Deep South. He tells the story of what happened DuBuisson's burial site on the album's fourth track, "Rites At The Grave."


FOOSE: I poured out some whiskey, and I played a drum in some kind of honorific way that I could. And it was very emotional. It was very cathartic.


KARR: But that wasn't the end of the story. He and his mother researched the family's history. And last winter, the bassist and composer spent a month writing the four-part "Sonora Suite" on his mother's family's former plantation.

FOOSE: There's a line of hills that overlook it. And you can go up on the hill and look down, and you can see the whole of Sonora laid out before you.

KARR: That time in the Mississippi Delta gave her son an opportunity to dig into the region's musical legacy, too. He'd started learning about that as a toddler in New Orleans, thanks to his father, record producer, music documentarian and author Jon Foose.

JON FOOSE: So we had players that came around the house. James Booker would come by sometimes and play the piano. And even at age one and two, you do absorb something, I'm almost certain.


KARR: Jon Foose grew up on a catfish farm deep in the Delta countryside. That's where his son Daniel found inspiration for the character sketches that make up the rest of his album "Of Water And Ghosts."

FOOSE: I wanted the second half of the record to feel kind of like how I experienced that place and how I think a lot of people do - kind of like you're driving on a dirt road. And there's this great storyteller either driving you or in the passenger seat.


KARR: Daniel Foose did a lot of composing outdoors during his month in the Mississippi Delta, lugging his base from plantation to farm and around the back country.

FOOSE: The sound of your bass in the forest around a bunch of trees is a amazing sound. It's like a family reunion because it's good to be around all this wood, and the wood is resonating back.


KARR: Daniel Foose says he's not sure it's possible to atone for his family's role in slavery, but the Guinean soothsayer who told him to try 13 years ago did bring his family closer together. For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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