CON BRIO: How Tragedy Fueled the Birth of One of Today’s Most Positive Sounds

Telluride Blues and Brews Festival | September 15 and 16
Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest | Roosevelt Park | September 23

10_Con Brio

By Brian F. Johnson

It’s not unlike thousands of other pages just like it on social media — a memorial page, maintained by family members that seeks to continue, in whatever little way it can, the life of a person whose journey tragically ended too soon.

The page honors Rev. David T. McCarter who was unarmed — with his hands up — when he was gunned down by a Newton County deputy 16 miles out of Jasper, Texas on December 30, 2011.

Like the other memorial pages for similar tragedies, family members almost always inevitably and optimistically say that out of the tragedy, they hope something good can come from it. In that regard the McCarter family is one of the lucky ones. For them that good has not only come, but flooded the hearts of thousands with a resounding, inspiring, energetic and heart-felt sound that pours out of the performances by Rev. McCarter’s surviving son Ezekiel “Ziek” McCarter and his band Con Brio.

“Of course his death comes through in my music, and I want it to come through in a positive way,” said McCarter during a recent interview with The Marquee. “I’m not sure how much he influenced me sonically, but the artists I grew up listening to with him — Marvin, Al, Anthony Hamilton — that’s what shaped the sound. He used to play the guitar and we used to play the blues together — simple bonding with music. It’s the spirit of that music — the spirit I come from and the faith that a lot of my morals and values right now with music and as a human being come from. My ideas and philosophies and things that I believe, he taught me. So he influenced me and I’m the creator of this sound.”

That sound is an infectious, politically-charged, but overwhelmingly optimistic groove that is absolutely flooring critics and audiences. Con Brio, which translates to “with spirit” just released their full-length debut Paradise which they called, “a declaration of independence you can dance to; an assertion of what can happen when the human spirit is truly free.” Consequence of Sound called them the “most exciting act to come out of 2015’s Austin City Limits.” Pop Matters took it a step further with the bold statement that Con Brio is “the best new live band in America.”

The album features the astounding Black Lives Matter movement anthem “Free & Brave,” a flat-out R&B groove that McCarter said is reassuring, despite the song’s real world citations of racism, violence and poverty. “It was created as a reminder that there is light there. We don’t have to get bogged down. We don’t have to feel helpless. We might not see it on a daily basis, but we are still ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’ I still take pride in that, in what pieces of joy and happiness we can create here with our actions.”

“Free & Brave” starts with the line “Trayvon Martin, Luther King shot down in this American Dream,” and it ends with the repeating line “Are you free enough to be brave, or are you brave enough to be free.”

In a time when many are claiming that the American Dream is dead, McCarter thinks quite the opposite. “It’s not dead,” he said. “There’s definitely some ways that it’s been punctured and traumatized and attacked, but there’s a wide spectrum of possibilities out there and we’re seeing it day in and day out and I think that’s important to consider as we’re tackling these things that are jeopardizing our safety as human beings. You have to maintain some sense of faith. When you want to grow and reach new heights or manifest a different positive result, you have to have a sense of faith, and kind of like setting a five-year plan, you don’t get the exact results you’re looking for immediately. You take small steps to get that big result. I think we as people can all take those small steps day to day and that’s what we’re trying to do with our music .”

And, as McCarter will contend, the world works in mysterious ways when it comes to music, and sometimes that faith comes through in the oddest of ways. McCarter explained that the band had already been in the studio working on Paradise, which opens with the blistering, gritty guitar and heavy horn anthem of the same name — a song that they had been using as their live set opener for some time.  The song could and certainly did stand on its own, but one night during the recording process, McCarter learned how to wrap the album up and conclude the original track — and all he had to do was dream about it. The next morning, while walking around Berkeley, McCarter wrote the lyrics of the dream-funk ballad, an almost hymnal that recounts the story with the opening verse, “Last night I had a dream, I was seen by the Supreme, telling me to ‘come with me to paradise.’”

“I was already mentally in that creative space and then the night before we went into the studio it very literally happened. ‘Paradise Outro’ is it. It was this very synergistic thing,” he said.

And so McCarter, through his music, is not only keeping hope alive, but helping to keep his father’s spirit alive as well. If “Paradise” was the band’s opening call to musical worship, “Paradise Outro” is the band’s triumphant bow and mentions his father in spirit with the final verses “saying my child spread the word and do it for the cries unheard, and if you’re waiting for heaven you can shine a little heaven on earth.”


Con Brio

Telluride Blues and Brews Festival

September 15 and 16


Left Hand Brewing’s Oktoberfest

Roosevelt Park

September 23


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