Davu Seru is a drummer and composer. He has worked with numerous improvising musicians and composers throughout the United States and France. He is composer and bandleader for the ensemble No Territory Band and a member of Trio SDS with French musicians Guilluame Seguron and Catherine Delaunay and Black Praxis Band with Chicago-based musicians David Boykin and Eliel Sherman Storey. For the year 2017-2018 he served as the first-ever composer-in-residence at Studio Z in Saint Paul. Davu has also received awards from the Jerome Foundation (2017-18 Composer/Sound Artist Fellow), American Composers Forum (Minnesota Emerging Composer Award), the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (Next Step Fund) and has received commissions from the Zeitgeist Ensemble and Walker Art Center. In addition to his musical pursuits, Davu is a published author and a professor of English and African American literature and culture at Hamline University.
He lives in Saint Paul, MN, with his partner Emily and son August.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1978 to teenage parents who would separate within a year of his birth; raised by his mother and stepfather, grandmothers, blood and honorary aunties in project and cheap rental housing. The fraternal order of the Elks at Ames hall (to which many of his blood relatives paid dues) did not keep the drugs, gangs, guns, War on Drugs, and/or A.I.D.S from running roughshod over his neighborhood. In 1985, the year that his great-grandmother died from the cancer that is familiar to his family, his stepfather, who was then a small-time dope peddler, purchased a drum set which sat in the family’s apartment living room. Eventually, and out of boredom, he began to teach himself how to play.
But like an old, dusty, antique African mask, or an upright piano covered in mail, he took the drums for granted through much of his school years. Thanks to the local black radio station (and an era that required black radio stations), he would come of age in a household that was full of song and dance.
Following high school flirtations with b-boy culture and modern expressionist and abstract painting, he would return to the drums. With Max Roach and Mitch Mitchell in his ears he would grow embarrassed of drum machines and begin to study music with the earnest passion of those seeking identity and finding a mirror with others’ finger prints all over it. The wax on wax off technique supplying both method and madness while working as a security guard at an art museum.
If freer jazz has an horizon, it was not that far away, and neither was the music of Black Mountain school composers and post-Spontaneous Music Ensemble improvising musicians. But first things first: in 1999, after learning of composer Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, poet Imamu Amiri Baraka and drummer Hamid Drake (among the sorts of Black Art) Davu moved to Chicago in search of a community more kindred in spirit. His stay was brief, but in his year of residence he would perform with and be audience to too many names to relate. The most meaningful of his meaningful experiences there was as mentee under flutist Nicole Mitchell and saxophonist David Boykin. During his time there he served as a sub to Hamid Drake in Nicole’s Black Earth Ensemble and as resident drummer in David Boykin’s Expanse and David Boykin Quartet. And second to this was his role as curator of “Early Friday Out Sets” at Marguerite Horberg’s Hot House: Center for International Performance and Exhibition. Money woes would send him back to the Twin Cities but with a sense of worthiness that his near year in Chicago helped to cultivate.
Two things: upon his return he would curate a series for improvised music that he would call UNUM: for improvised music and performance and he would develop relationships with musicians who, like Nicole Mitchell and David Boykin, would prove a profound help to his personal freedom struggle. With multi-instrumentalist Milo Fine, bassist-composer Andrew Lafkas, guitarist Charles Gillet and reeds player Jaron Childs, Davu would become preoccupied with immediacy, listening…membrane, touch, reverberation & gesture. And, so, the years 2000-2004 were an utter betrayal to memory, but out of need…
A poor student of everything but art most of his days, out of need he would enroll as a scholar of African American literature. Upon finishing college he would travel to Ghana and Benard Woma’s Dagara School of Music. That trip and the middle school trimester of trombone/junior varsity band compose his only formal training in music.
Nearing the end of his 30s, married and in a PhD program, he would-if-he-could just about every playing situation imaginable for a musician. This would provide informal training to match the formal training he was receiving as a man of letters.
Which pretty much brings him to this point: a composer, improviser, band leader, itinerant sideman…writer-hustler of literature and black cultural history…celebrated local black in his 40s who is hell-bent on getting better.
But there is always more.
nb: For those who, in search of credibility, still look for the list of names:
Evan Parker, Jim Baker, Frank Gratkowski, Wayne Horvitz, Bill Horvitz, Rafael Toral, Didier Petit, Francois Corneloup, Tony Hymas, Tomeka Reid, Mankwe Ndosi, Andrew Lafkas, Charles Gillet, Vic Corringham, Carol Genetti, Luke Polipnick, Dean Granros, Anthony Cox, Carei Thomas, Douglas Ewart, Faye Washington, Micheal Lewis, Jamal Moore, Donald Washington, Jeff Bailey, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Phillip Greelief, Chris Bates, Devon Gray, Robbie Hunsinger, Tatsu Aoki, JT Bates, Harrison Bankhead, Dave Rempis, Jack Wright, Stefan Kac and the many lost to memory but who live in experience…