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 filthy mirror. 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, 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: composer, improviser, band leader, itinerant sideman…writer-hustler of literature and black cultural history…celebrated local black.
But there is always more.