Dr. Leah Bowden is a musician and scholar from the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation, “Max Roach and M’Boom: Diasporic Soundings in American Percussion Music,” explores the musical and political efforts of a New York City based percussion collective working at the intersection of jazz, chamber music and world music in the 1970s and 80s. She frames M’Boom as an embodiment of Max Roach’s visionary career, and explores how collectivist ideals of the loft jazz era informed their African diasporic concept of percussion music.
She is the founder and artistic director of El Otro Lado, an international percussion ensemble (USA-Mexico). In 2017, El Otro Lado recorded a live album of new arrangements of music written by the members of M’Boom. El Otro Lado ensemble reimagined M’Boom’s visions of friendship, solidarity and resistance in a contemporary context. In recognizing the power of music to build community, El Otro Lado was created to celebrate all forms of diversity and to draw attention to issues of social, economic and environmental justice. More specifically, this concert voiced opposition to the criminalization of border crossings and the separation of migrant families by the United States Government.
Dr. Bowden completed a seven-year tenure with UC San Diego’s resident percussion ensemble, red fish blue fish from 2010 through 2017. During this time, she shared the stage with Eighth Blackbird, Bang on a Can All Stars, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Dalai Lama and many others. While at UC San Diego, she also collaborated with composers, improvisers and scholars from around the world to produce and premier an extensive list of chamber works and interdisciplinary projects.
Leah Bowden was a founding organizer of the 501(c)(3) organization The Voices of Our City Choir, a project that brings together professional musicians and people experiencing homelessness. Dr. Bowden served as board chair in 2018 during the project’s transition from an independent entity to an official nonprofit. Voices of Our City Choir serves as a space for mutual aid and community building, as well as giving voice to San Diego’s homeless community, past and present. The choir has appeared on KPBS, NPR, PBS Newshour, and San Diego Union Tribune and more. The story of the choir was filmed for a documentary by Susan Polis Schutz entitled “The Homeless Chorus Speaks” which has aired nationally on PBS.
As a freelance artist Leah Bowden has performed numerous solo concerts, and in a wide variety of bands and projects from popular to experimental music. She has toured and recorded with Man Forever (Kid Millions), Aa (BIG A little a), red fish blue fish, William Winant, Francisco Eme, The Red Notes, Tiger Milk Imports, Secret Drum Band and more. She is currently the drummer for Baby Bushka, a virtuoso eight-woman band that performs new arrangements of the work of Kate Bush. Baby Bushka regularly tours in the United States, the U.K. and Ireland. Leah plays Pork Pie Drums.
Image by Michele Zousmer.