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Jamal Cyrus by Leslie Hewitt

Abstraction—and music—it's the place for me where I can play with [Black aesthetic principles]. And by play, I mean, set up processes in which I'm borrowing from those principles, but I'm also learning from the process.

Jamal Cyrus, in Scalawag Magazine, November 17, 2022
Jamal Cyrus, Conga Bomba, 2007-2008/2021
Jamal Cyrus, Conga Bomba, 2007-2008/2021. Deconstructed trumpet parts, leather, tape, 28 ¼ x 11 x 9 inches (71.8 x 27.9 x 22.9 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. © Jamal Cyrus. Courtesy of Inman Gallery. Photo by Allyson Huntsman.

We are very pleased to announce the acquisition of Conga Bomba, the first work by Houston-born artist Jamal Cyrus to enter our collection.

Jamal Cyrus makes objects that explore the evolution of African American identity within Black political movements and the African diaspora. His multi-disciplinary practice incorporates assemblage, collage and even performance. He transforms mundane materials, sometimes combined with pointed graphic elements into objects rich with meaning and purpose.

With a particular interest in the social power of music, the artist has repurposed or recombined musical instruments such as drums, cymbals, brass and woodwinds to provoke questions about the role of music in support of political movements around the world.

Cyrus takes a broad, trans-historical approach to making art and is attuned to cultural connections and cross-border pollinations that have happened over time. He sees intrinsic connections and a historical continuum between ancient Egypt and the Civil Rights movement, and he explores African diasporic histories and the roots of Western music in Africa as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.

Made from the various parts of a trumpet, Conga Bomba is partially inspired by the often-proposed (and often refuted) notion that “jazz is dead.” Jamal is interested in jazz’s influence in social protest and revolution and the idea of an artistic movement reaching its limit and thus giving birth to a new creative struggle.

This work focuses on the trumpet as it has evolved from a rudimentary sound generated through a conch shell, to its distinctive use as a rallying siren heard in both popular and military contexts. Here, the artist transforms the deconstructed trumpet into an axe and a machete, objects reminiscent of West African ceremonial weapons that indicate social or political status. The third component appears to be an improvised explosive device (Bomba) using the instrument’s valves. The  title also includes a reference to the conga drum, which has roots in Central and West African drums and is a foundational instrument of Cuban music and spiritual practices. Conga Bomba is, on one level, an artistic refutation of the claim that jazz is dead, but also provocatively suggests the immense transformative agency of music.


I think that's one of the reasons why, when you talk about visual artists or writers or whatever, the wellspring has been Black music. And that's kind of what I take up on as well, and it's not necessarily trying to represent what happens in the music. It is trying to create something that leaks into that territory, that uses that sensibility.

Jamal Cyrus, in a 2022 interview with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
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