In 2017, Derrick Spiva, Jr. was planning a trip from Los Angeles to Ghana. A composer who incorporates a global melange of musical traditions into his work, Derrick was making the trip to further explore traditional Ghanaian music and culture. Before going, he needed several vaccinations. While at the clinic, the nurse asked him where he was from. Derrick recounts the conversation in a blog entry for New Music USA:
“I was born in Santa Ana, California,” he told her. “But I grew up in the Central Valley and live in Los Angeles now.”
“Oh, wow!” the nurse responded. “I thought you were from Bali or something.”
This experience of mistaken nationality brings to mind the complex question of what it means to be American, and it is one of many viewpoints on Derrick’s new album, American Mirror.
The release of American Mirror on Orenda Records coincides with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s world premiere of From Here A Path. Drawing inspiration from Ghanaian drumming, Eastern Europe folk traditions and Hindustani classical music, the majestic work aims to joyously expand the notion of what it is to be American.
The eponymous two-part composition American Mirror makes up the remainder of Derrick’s new record. The first part, like From Here A Path, draws on techniques and modal scales from West Africa and Eastern Europe. Droning harmonies reinforce the hymn-like tune.
The second part of American Mirror is more rhythmic in nature and includes periodic bursts of hand claps based on concepts found in Indian classical music. Arguably the best tune on the record, Part II of American Mirror maintains the forlorn angst of Part I, but is fortified by pulsing percussive jolts.
Equally inventive and familiar, Derrick’s new record is marked by an ingenious flexibility that offers new perspective on a range of global sounds while exploring the vivid discord and synergy of modern American life.