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The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was formed shortly after percussionist Kahil El'Zabar graduated from the school of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1976. He teamed up with tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson, Jr., to play music that combined contemporary African-American musical styles, like jazz, with more traditional African instrumentation and rhythms. The duo would frequently grow to a trio in these first years, adding musicians like saxophonist Light Henry Huff and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre; through extensive touring in Europe and the United States, they began to build an international reputation. In 1988, they added trombonist and conga player Joseph Bowie, who was the leader of the jazz-funk group Defunkt. This trio configuration proved to be both long-living and successful, recording on a number of European record labels. 1993 brought their first recording on an American label, Dance with the Ancestors, which was recorded for Chameleon Records. In 1997, Wilkerson was replaced by Ernest "Khabeer" Dawkins, who was first featured on a recording made by the Ensemble in 1999, Freedom Jazz Dance. That album, which also featured Chicago jazz legend Fareed Haque, was released by the Delmark label and continued the Ensemble's tradition of music with a modern sensibility and an ancestral spirit. February 2002 found the group on a North American tour celebrating their 25th anniversary. By 2006, Bowie's spot had been filled by young trumpeter Corey Wilkes when they recorded Live at the Ascension Loft, released in early 2007.