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The story of legendary drummer Kahil ElZabar, whose percussive genius has changed the landscape, and the heartbeat, of American jazz.

The story of legendary drummer Kahil ElZabar, whose percussive genius has changed the landscape, and the heartbeat, of American jazz. Read more
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Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on January 20, 2012.

About this project

History provides many stories of people who challenged conformity and inspired change.  History also reveals that far too often, those very same people went largely unrecognized during their time.

With your help, the "living history" of Kahil El' Zabar will "Be Known".  Film maker Dwayne Johnson-Cochran shares insights about Kahil El'Zabar and why you should get involved in the video below... 

"Be Known" is a film about Kahil EL' Zabar, one of music’s most enigmatic musical geniuses. He is a multi-award winning percussionist who performs all over the world but lives in the United States where most people have never heard of him.  

Don't take our word for it - take a listen right now to music of Kahil El'Zabar .

The film has been shot; we now seek the funds needed to finish this important story so we can share it with the world. Whether you're among his passionate fans in Paris, Warsaw, Bordeaux, Milan, Tel Aviv, Montreal or right here in America, we ask that you make your pledge now. 

Why is this story important?

Truly a 20th century "renaissance" man, Kahil's life & music has touched people the world over and refuses to be categorized.  Any list of accomplishments and notable items is necessarily incomplete for a man like Kahil, but a partial list includes being given the opportunity to study mime with Marcel Marceau in Paris, learning percussion in Ghana at 19, releasing over forty albums, scoring (and appearing) in three feature films, arranging music for stage performances of The Lion King and publishing an acclaimed book of poetry.  Born and raised in Chicago, Kahil El' Zabar’s unique gift and charisma stem from his immeasurable ability to play the Earth drum - no one in the world plays the instrument the way he does.  He has repeatedly won Downbeat Magazine’s Percussionist of the Year award. 

Kahil's musical influences extend well beyond jazz to include a significant influence on the contemporary music scene, with Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco being just a few of the artists whose lives he's touched. His live performances are legendary, his influence on world culture is significant and as a native son of Chicago, his music has also found its way into the "House" and dance music scene - listen here and see for yourself.  

The man behind the camera

"Be Known" is a film by Dwayne Johnson-Cochran, an award-winning filmmaker, writer, educator and journalist living in Los Angeles.  

The "filmmaker" and "subject" have a twenty-five year friendship and it is this relationship that lends a certain gritty, in-your-face authenticity that can only happen when real trust exists. We hear Dwayne's darkly comedic voice-over as he tells Kahil’s story - equal parts judgmental and supportive.  With a story line that feels as much like a present-day drama as a documentary, "Be Known" tells a compelling story filled with triumph and tragedy.

As with any great story, there are both trials (and triumphs) to test the spirit along the way.  "Be Known" dramatically follows an intensely personal federal court battle between Kahil and a woman who claims that he is the father of her child. The unresolved case takes a turn that could send Kahil to prison, ultimately ending his career. When he is arrested immediately after one of his performances, the ongoing drama of his life and his quest grows strained and seemingly unattainable. The film shifts to a more upbeat occurrence when George Lucas of Star Wars fame, contacts Kahil out of the blue with an offer that he cannot refuse. 

Johnson-Cocharan's projects have been featured on stage, television and the big screen world-wide. Writing credits include work on HBO, NBC, PBS, UPN and  Warner Bros./CBS for John Wells Productions.  His film Love and Action in Chicago aires regularly on HBO and the tele-play on Frederick Douglass aired on Turner Network Television. He was also invited to The People's Republic of China to produce "Stories from America," a 20-part television series, focused on the lives of Chinese American students, scholars and professionals living and working in the United States returning home for the first time. Long interested in stories that highlight the human spirit, Johnson-Cochran also wrote, directed and co-produced 'Side by Side' a documentary about the emergence of women in politics in the West African country of Sierra Leone. Narrated by Secretary of State Madeline Albright, 'Side by Side' premiered at the National Democratic Institute's annual event and has played in numerous film festivals. He is partners with writer/director Sergei Bodrov (Mongol) on numerous writing/directing projects and is writing and producing Angela Bassett's directorial debut.  Besides his passion for writing and film, Johnson-Cochran is a lover of music, enjoys tennis, baseball, cycling,and is active in many community and civic based organizations.

The documentary "Be Known" on the life of Kahil El' Zabar, explores the mysterious confluence of creativity and individuality in a world where branding and sameness have become the norm, and reminds us all of the opportunity we all have to dream big and live life to the fullest.  

This is more than a film - it's a quest to ensure that the story of a man and the rich history of jazz lives on.  If you share our passion for this uniquely American art form and the importance of recognizing the unsung heroes who so often are celebrated long after their lives end, we hope you will support this important work.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10 USD

    Signed poster from Kahil El Zabar and director Dwayne Johnson-Cochran from the film Be Known.

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30 USD

    Kahil's newest CD, "It's Time"
    Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnics featuring Nona Hendryx signed by Kahil

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    DVD of the film after theatrical/broadcast run.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    "Special Thanks" Film Credit

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300 USD

    "Strong Contributor" Film Credit

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500 USD

    "Friend of the Production" Film Credit

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000 USD

    "Assistant Producer" Film Credit

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000 USD

    "Associate Producer" Film Credit

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    Pledge $3,000 or more About $3,000 USD

    "Co-Producer" Credit

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    Pledge $4,000 or more About $4,000 USD

    "Executive Producer" Film Credit

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    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000 USD

    A free private screening and concert at your high school, university, community center, workshop, concert hall or home with Kahil and Dwayne Johnson-Cochran; Producer Film Credit; including all the items listed above.

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Funding period

- (30 days)