On Saturday, June 11th, Felipe Salles, Avery Sharpe, Zaccai Curtis, and Jonathan Barber will play Tiyo’s Songs of Life at the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity – a historic gathering place founded by abolitionists who championed anti-slavery, gender equity, and religious tolerance in Florence, Massachusetts.
Tiyo’s Songs of Life is a project seventeen years in the making. It began in 2005 when prison abolitionist Lois Ahrens sent fifty blank sheets of music paper to Tiyo Attallah Salah-El, a musician, composer, published writer, teacher, prison abolitionist, and good friend to people throughout the country and beyond. By then Tiyo, who had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, had been incarcerated in Pennsylvania for close to 50 years. Within months, Tiyo sent the pages back to Lois, filled with his songs.
In the intervening years, Lois made four attempts to hear Tiyo’s songs, but with no success. After Tiyo’s passing in 2018, Lois contacted saxophonist and composer Felipe Salles, who agreed to perform the music. But Felipe’s composing and teaching commitments delayed the project. Finally, in September 2021, Felipe gathered three other outstanding musicians – Avery Sharpe, Zaccai Curtis, and Jonathan Barber – and together they recorded nine of Tiyo’s songs. After sitting in on the recording session, Lois said her determination to see the project through “was inspired by Tiyo and like him, I never gave up”.
Tiyo’s Songs of Life is a musical celebration of Tiyo Attallah Salah-El, and a tribute to friendship and persistence. Tiyo would be proud and very happy knowing his music lives on. To quote Tiyo, “Long live love and good music!”
Thank you Garner-Glaser Foundation for believing in “Tiyo’s Songs of Life.” Thank you Markham Nathan Fund for your on-going support of The Real Cost of Prisons Project.