Ak & Zuie - Biography

Ak & Zuie means bass and drums. Not literally "bass and drums," at least not in any known language, but music performed by award-winning bassist Stephen Jay and drummer Pete Gallagher, a duo formed in the Sandakan province of northeastern Borneo. At the time, they were the rhythm section for an internationally touring group that occasionally performed for audiences unfamiliar with amplified music. In one remote and tiny village, the show itself left the audience confused, but the bass and drum sound check before hand inspired listeners to fervent dancing. Jay and Gallagher realized that audiences were reacting so strongly to a new groove based on harmo-rhythmic syncopation, something that had been emerging in Jay and Gallagher's ensemble work after years of studying Asian and African folk music. In the days following that catalytic performance in Borneo, interactions with the native people and their indigenous instruments revealed new rhythmic perspectives for Jay and Gallagher, and Ak & Zuie was born.

Ak & Zuie's "polymetric funk" is a unique style that combines West African rhythms with elements of rock, jazz, and even Bach. Jay and Gallagher devote themselves to exploring how harmony and rhythm connect to create overtones and spaces that suggest entire ensembles. Through their use of interwoven time signatures, eight- and twelve- string basses and soaring vocals, they produce an enormous sound. Guitar, keyboard, horns, and percussion seem present, yet all that music actually emanates solely from bass and drums.

Jay and Gallagher are rare gifted musicians whose talents never interfere with their music. They are self-described "conduits" instead of primary sources. They speak of music as a living entity that grows and flows, Ak & Zuie just try to channel and present it, discovering as they play. And audiences are invited to share that discovery.

Stephen Jay is the "Ak" in Ak & Zuie, one of the world's leading practitioners of the bass guitar, and the leader of this polyrhythmic duo. He has been the bassist for "Weird Al" Yankovic since the pop satirist's recording debut 22 years ago, and has appeared on over 20 Gold and Platinum records and toured as a member of what has often been described as the "world's most versatile band." As a composer for television and film, he has scored over fifty episodes of various PBS series, and is a three-time recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award. His connection with world grooves began years ago in West Africa, where years of study with master drummer Isah Hamani culminated in his being accepted into the otherwise hereditary caste of drummers known as "griots." From there he journeyed deeper into the continent, making archival field recordings which have been available worldwide for almost two decades on three highly acclaimed Nonesuch albums: Africa: Drum, Chant and Instrumental Music, Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs, and Dance Music, and Dances of the World. These recordings have recently been re-released as part of the Nonesuch Explorer Series, for which Jay has conducted interviews with such media outlets as Bass Player Magazine NPR's "All Things Considered" with Robert Siegel, and the Associated Press.

Jay has played on two Grammy® winners and recorded and performed with an eclectic range of noted artists including Wayne Shorter, Alex Acuna, Hugh Masekela, Joe Higgs, Rick Derringer, Jimmie Haskell, Betty Buckley and Demola Adepoju (King Sunny Ade, Paul Simon's Graceland).

Jay has released three solo albums featuring his unique blend of funk, jazz and progressive pop with world music influences: Sea Never Dry, Tangled Strings, and Self Avoiding Random Walk on the Ayarou label.

Pete Gallagher is the "Zuie" (drums) in Ak & Zuie, and a long time collaborator of Stephen Jay's. Known throughout southern California for his impeccable groove, Gallagher brings percussion-string interplay to a new level of natural exploration in Ak & Zuie. Gallagher's vocals connect perfectly not only with Jay's, but also with his own drumming style, enabling Ak & Zuie to achieve musical symmetry in songs that seem to have lives all their own.