Charleston’s poet laureate Marcus Amaker recently released the album TELEMAQUE., an experimental, instrumental piece about slavery and the life of Denmark Vesey. On his website, Amaker calls it his “most difficult album” to date.

For those who aren’t familiar, Vesey was a former slave who was able to purchase his freedom in 1799 after winning the lottery. He planned a Charleston slavery revolt in June of 1822, which never went down thanks to a slave who confessed the plan to his master. Vesey also worshipped at Mother Emanuel AME, and in 1822 the church was burned down due to its association with him. He was eventually hung. Vesey was revered as a symbol of the abolitionist movement back then as well as today. In the eyes of those fighting to end oppression that continues to linger in Charleston, the South, and beyond, Vesey is seen as a hero, and a monument of him stands now in Hampton Park.

Taking its title from Vesey’s born name, TELEMAQUE documents, through song, everything from his birth and enslavement to planning the revolt and his capture.

TELEMAQUE. is a musical meditation on slavery,” Amaker says. “The music is deliberately uncomfortable, though you’ll find some head-nodding beats scattered throughout.”

The collection has no singles, and no parts that work without the whole. “I’m from the old school, where you sat and listened to a record from beginning to end, without any interruptions,” he says.

For Amaker, creating TELEMAQUE was about giving a musical voice to Vesey’s struggles and to the depression that arises from America’s history. “You see, sometimes poetry is incapable of expressing pain accurately,” Amaker explains on his website. “Words can only go so far. In my opinion, music is endless in it ability to take us anywhere.”

The track list takes you from his birth to death, samples from the Library of Congress’ Voices from the Days of Slavery used throughout — audio recordings of former slaves telling their stories and spirituals. It is jarring, and powerful, and, yes, uncomfortable. The truth often is.

“Usually the process of recording a new album is synonymous with joy,” his site says. “I get no bigger rush to my system than getting in the studio and making music. But this record put me in a mood that was unexpected. Deep sorrow. The subject took me over. I believe it was the spirits of our ancestors, guiding me.”

The meditative and dynamic TELEMAQUE. also exists in video form, which you can absorb above, or visit Amaker’s website here for a free download.

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