Eclectic Act UZIZI Mixes Music and Art for Nighttown Show

UZIZI band leader and multimedia artist Craig Matis will be showing art from his “Crossing the Water” suite at the band’s upcoming Nighttown gig.

Fri 10/4 @ 8PM

Under the radar but heavily cherished by eclectic music lovers who over the decades have discovered its musical prowess, UZIZI is one of Northeast Ohio’s more creative and artistic groups.

Led by songwriter, band leader and multimedia artist Craig Matis, UZIZI comes up for air from its now comfortable house party circuit to play a special show at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights.

“The music is original,” said Matis, who is a retired art and music teacher. “I don’t know if there are any bands in Cleveland that play like we do — that incorporate world music the way we do. I don’t want to brag, but I think that’s been the case the entire time we’ve been around.”

UZIZI was started shortly after Matis’ 1980 arrival in Northeast Ohio. The shapeshifting act explores an alternative world beat musical aesthetic with percussion and melodies — from Ireland to the Middle East — that seamlessly blend in elements of rock, jazz and folk.

Expanding and contracting like a breathing organism, the group over the last decade has varied from 10 to 18 members — each incarnation providing a slightly oblique UZIZI experience.

The current iteration for the upcoming show features Matis (acoustic guitar, banjo, lead singer), Darren Frate (electric bass), Reed Simon (violin), Jim Van Cleef (electric guitar), Mark Nathanson (drums and percussion), Jo Folger (clogger), Kathy Jo Gutgsell (vocals), Terry Gutgsell (vocals), Mattie Rodgers (vocals), Dee Walters (vocals) and Jordan Davis (vocals).

The other important component of UZIZI is its inclusion of multimedia, which caters directly to Matis’ artistry.

“I got tired of exhibiting in galleries, but I wanted my work to be seen, so I thought this is another way of an audience to see what I do,” Matis said. “Currently it also pertains to a nine-song cycle called ‘Crossing the Water,’ which is about my personal journey with raising a child with mental disabilities.

“The visuals start in childhood and go through adulthood. The songs talk about anger, having a little patience and small victories. Overall, I find exhibiting work in a gallery is fine and good, but it’s not the same kind of satisfaction I get when I’m performing music in front of an audience.”

When asked if anything surprises him about UZIZI these days, Matis pointed to the recent run of longevity regarding its current lineup.

“This last formation has lasted 10 years,” Matis said. “Usually every six months the personnel changes — people come and go in this group — but the core has been with me for 10 years. I’m very grateful and surprised that it’s lasted this long.”

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