PRESS: Heroes Are Gang Leaders Live Performance Reviews & Feature Stories


il manifesto 


Heroes Are Gang Leaders nel segno di


– Marcello Lorrai, PARIGI,13.02.2019

Musica. Thomas Sayers Ellis e James Brandon Lewis formano il duo nato nel 2011 per rendere

omaggio al grande artista scomparso

“Sono nato nel 61 a Birmingham, in Alabama”, racconta Randall Horton in un piccolo incontro col

pubblico prima del concerto di Heroes Are Gang Leaders, “e lesempio di Amiri Baraka è stato

formidabile: beat, nazionalista nero, marxista, era impossibile sfuggirgli, Baraka è sempre stato

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“Never defined, HAGL displays a joyful bazaar of heterodox energies, made up entertaining and glitter cabaret decorum but also, and the link of all of this is definitively there, voices. Shouting, free speech, talk over, spoken word and even sprechgesang where the vowel knows how sensual nonchalance have to sound. Add to the 4 voices Jenna Camille’s one, with her magnificent off-centre chant in LeautoRoiography, and you’ll have a collective musical invention celebrating black culture in the Baraka way. Street preachers against boogiemen. Battlefield against love full ascent, tortuous imprecations against furious beauty. Let’s find here the elegiac care of Lewis blowin’ who urges him, when out of the flame, to drill the moment with velvet hymns (in Amira). Let’s know the art of counterpoint of Heru Shabaka-Ra. Let’s smoothly swing on the laidback but precise break beat struck by the rhythmic Crudup / Stewart.  All of this working on sound dyed in the mass. Ready for the riot.”

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Qwest TV By Quincy Jones

“The raw and innovative saxophonist gives a one-of-a-kind interview alongside bandleader Thomas Sayers Ellis. Speaking with Qwest, they reflect on the power and purpose of their celebrated collective, the nature of avant-garde expression and its place within modern American society”.

By Rowan Standish-Hayes / Qwest TV


The New York-based art collective was formed after the death of Amiri Baraka, the radical poet and activist who wrote about jazz, politics and the African-American experience during the Black Civil Rights Movement and after. Heroes Are Gang Leaders (HAGL) use spoken word, performance art and free jazz to reflect and reshape black art and culture as they see it, both past and present, in a way that is multifarious and idiosyncratic. They come alive on stage, delivering shows where tropes feel nameless and blended, where the audience is both beckoned and challenged. Co-founders James Brandon Lewis (saxophonist) and Thomas Sayers Ellis (poet, professor, photographer) provide a window into their project, but as is often the case with Heroes Are Gang Leaders, it is one that requires active, rather than passive, engagement.  Continue Reading 

Pan African Music 

The Parisian festival Sons D’hiver opens with a concert by Heroes Are Gang Leaders. Between jazz and spoken word, twelve musicians led by the poet Thomas Sayer Ellis and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis pay tribute to the late poet engaged in the struggles of black Americans…

“There was a connection between us.  We wanted to change our collaboration. “But it stops in January 2014, with the death of Amiri Baraka: ” His departure was painful.  We thought it could not end like this.  Maybe Baraka was not the end but the beginning?  Since that day we decided to explore and see where it could lead us. ”

Thomas Sayers Ellis, Co-Founder & Bandleader

“We do not wake up by deciding to be political. Just walk on your landing and the world hits you”

James Brandon Lewis  Co-Founder & Composer, Saxophonist

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The Brooklyn Rail

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