Monday, December 8, 2014

Living Legacies of Lorde and Baldwin

The panel discussion moderated by Josef Sorett
An intimate conversation bloomed around the intellectual immortality of the works and lives of Audre Lorde and James Baldwin at Harlem Stage last Thursday, Dec. 4th.  

“Audre Lorde and James Baldwin are alive in our consciousness and we need not confine them into something that we call the past, because that will deny us of the true revolutionary idea of being conscious and of being alive,” said Alexis De Veaux, one of the panelists of the evening. 

The exchange, part of Ancestral Witnesses: Literature and the African American Religious Imagination, focused on the breadth of meanings behind their diverse narratives and shared experiences. 

Both Lorde and Baldwin were known for their extensive discourse on American society, activism in human rights and ability to translate the meanings behind human existence across geographical borders. 

The panelists included De Veaux, author and activist, Rich Blint, of Columbia University, and Imani Perry, of Princeton University. 

“They both register for me as itinerant preachers, they clearly travel the globe putting forward this idea of social justice,” said Perry regarding the impact of their writings. “They both stand in a very long tradition of black internationalism.”

It was the roles of being a person of color, a mother, a feminist that shaped the overpowering spirit that readers have come acquainted with when reading Lorde. In his search for peace, equality and understanding Baldwin found himself writing from all areas of the world. Lorde traveled the world documenting and connecting with communities she's encountered, and in the search for rediscovering his identity, Baldwin relocated to Paris.

Duet between Marti Newland and Brandee Younger
“When he was 14, he was an evangelist, he left the church when he was 16 but he never stopped preaching,” said De Veaux. 

The place of religion and revolutionary ideas during the times of Baldwin and Lorde were examined as well as discussed for their applicability to the political and social climate of today. 

A dialogue originally printed in Essence Magazine’s Dec. 1984 edition, “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde” was reenacted by Sheyenne Javonne Brown, a New York actor and Columbia University MFA Graduate, Jarvis C. McInnis, of the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute, and Marcel Spears, of Columbia University’s School of the Arts Graduate Program. 

“That was not a conversation that happened ever,” said De Veaux, also the author of Warrior Poet: A biography of Audre Lorde, “not black man/black woman, but black gay man and black lesbian woman and that kind of publicizing of the eroticized component of the conversation is pretty powerful.” 

“When we think about revolution today, when we think about people who are out in the street around the country and around the globe, people are understanding that revolution needs to be tied to a sense of conciousness,” said De Veaux. “That’s what they were talking about not a revolutionary conversation, but a revolutionary consciousness.” 

Musical selections included traditional spirituals that served as strength, such as “Here’s One,”  performed by vocalist, Marti Newland, and harpist, Brandee Younger. 

“What this conversation suggests is that we have to also answer to a need to be in deep contemplation,” said Perry, “and for me the texts of both writers and artists provide spiritual sustenance in this moment; it’s important to spend time with them in order to understand what we need to do now.” 

For the spring 2015 Ancestral Witnesses series, reflections on the works of Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka will take place at Harlem Stage. The series is a joint partnership between Columbia University, the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Jazzmobile Shines at 50-Year Celebration

Cynthia Scott sings alongside Patience Higgins and Jeremy Pelt
Old jazz souls united under one roof to honor 50 years of Jazzmobile, the country’s oldest non-profit organization dedicated to keeping jazz alive.

Hosted by Rhonda Hamilton of 88.3 FM WBGO, the tribute concert took place at the First Corinthian Baptist Church on Friday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. with appearances by venerated jazz legends and young, emerging stars. 

“And I’ll get along, as long as a song, strong in my soul,” were lyrics to Without a Song, sung by Melba Joyce, that echoed throughout the evening and reflected the beauty of musical composition and it’s role in feeding the soul. She described it as a song about “us and about music” which was powerfully performed. 

Vocalists like Cynthia Scott, Ghanniyya Green, Lynette Washington, and Whitney Marchelle were some of the leading ladies that ignited the stage that evening with beloved jazz standards and cherished blues renditions. 

Many musicians played unpaid for the love of music, and many were Jazzmobile educators like bass player, Darnell “Jay” Starks. 
Patience Higgins on sax, James Zollar on trumpet

“Over the last 50 years we have reached over 200,000 students, like Solomon Hicks,” said Hamilton, regarding the organization’s commitment to joining students of diverse backgrounds and ages with the opportunity to develop a talent into serious skill. 

Solomon Hicks, 19, a guitar and singing prodigy, showcased his music alongside the jazz idols he grew up listening to.

“When I first learned jazz, I was in the classes studying how to read music at 13 - 15 years old,” said Hicks. “I feel so fortunate to play with so many Jazz musicians like Danny Mixon, Lafayette Harris, and Patience Higgins,” he added. 

One of his favorite guitar players, Michael Howell, taught an intermediate class with Jazzmobile that Hicks was a student in. 
“He would play at a million miles per hour,” said Hicks, “but I kept on keeping on and now I’m a full-time professional musician.” Now a musician that has played at venues like the Lenox Lounge and the Cotton Club, he also plays internationally and said “all of this basically started with Jazzmobile.”

Currently in the midst of numerous projects, he looks forward to future collaborations and is working on preparing for upcoming performances with Antoinette Montague who entered the stage of performers for the second set.
The FCBC's Young Dreamers Choir opens for the jazz performers

“It means everything, because every time you get a chance to rejoin the people, during these crazy times, it’s a privilege,” said Montague. “It’s an honor to work for Jazzmobile during the summers, they help give me my Harlem audience and my New York presence.” 

“Whenever she’s around its always a good time, she's got really a warm and loving spirit,” said Hamilton about Montague. 
For New Year's Eve she announced her upcoming show with Danny Mixon and Solomon Hicks.

“We’ll stomp the yard and have such a great time,” she said. 

Another young artist, Camille Thurman, known for her skills on the flute and saxophone, performed and scatted the evening away.

“It’s like a full circle experience,” said Thurman, who started in her early teens with Jazzmobile and is now part of their 50th anniversary celebration. 
Camille Thurman resting the sax to scat away

It was at the National Endowment for the Art’s Jazz Masters Ceremony hosted at her school, LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, where she had the opportunity to play with Chip Jackson, Winard Harper and Dr. Billy Taylor. That then opened the door to attending a summer music camp, expanding her opportunities to collaborate with other artists.

Inspired by Sarah Vaughan, Thurman said that taking the stage allows her to feel “free as a bird” when she scats a melody or jams to a tune.

Jazzmobile, founded in 1964, has grown to the outreach organization that touches New Yorkers to “preserve, promote and propagate Jazz.” With music workshops, symposiums and artist panels they work to incorporate a fundamental understanding of a style of timeless music and serves as resource to the musically expressive spirit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Makandal Mixtape Heats up Harlem Stage

The Pedrito Martinez Group featuring Yosvany Terry
“We are la familia, all right?” said Oneza Lafontant, lead vocalist of Kongo. “We breathe from the same air, we are all connected to the same source.”

That was the sentiment behind the bodies swaying to the pulsating rhythms of the Kongo and Yoruba-influenced sounds that filled Harlem Stage during their Uptown Nights Series last Saturday, Nov. 8th. The evening, titled the Makandal Mixtape Live, featured musicians with cross-cultural connections to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and aimed to share those traditions that have rippled throughout time.

With it’s conquering and jubilant themes, guests were free to stay seated in the Havana-style nightclub tables, enjoy local food and drink - beer by Sugar Hill Brewery or hot food and mixed beverages, and were invited to dance throughout each show.

The sets served as a soundscape to lands far away but had very indelible marks as it connected to Harlem’s multi-cultural community of today. The evening was curated by Habana Harlem and tell the story of the “the only successful slave revolution [in Haiti]” and celebrated the influence of Yoruba and Kongo culture on Latin and Creole music. 

Theatre and dance enrich Kongo's story-telling performance
“Among many of the wonderful things we are doing is the Makandal Opera with the music that Yosvany Terry has composed,” said Patricia Cruz, Executive Director of Harlem Stage. “The actual opera, that links the cultures and the people of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, is an incredible transportation of, and transformation of African music.”

Brad Learmoth, Director of Programming, said that the significance of the opera was to highlight the undercurrents of culture that were not as well known as the historical struggles between them. To chronicle that dissemination through song and dance was something special that he said Harlem stage wanted make accessible to everyone.

“Our people suffer…despite our ancestors’ ultimate sacrifice, the struggle continues,” were the words behind Kongo’s performance of Poul Nago Néné.

The Kongo-Haitian Roots Music repertoire channeled the resilience of ancestors before them to bring about a beautiful display of strife and empowerment. Not soley a collection of musicians, but the group is active in many community projects that provide cultural enrichment and support for social justice campaigns internationally. Their performance was joined with a dance performance by José Figueroa, whose previous work includes performing traditional Dominican-Haitian gaga dance in venues such as Lincoln Center. 

When Dominican bachata rhythms were melded with R&B and Hip-Hop, listeners were taken to the dance floor with the Ripiao Kings, the second headlining group. The Ripiao Kings incorporated the influence of Dominican Bachata and blended it with aspects of other forms of music that the group has come to appreciate.

“There are no barriers of age or race its just a matter of love and respect,” said Cruz on the diversity of the crowd engaged with the performances.

The Ripiao Kings keep the crowd dancing
Afro-Cuban Rumba and elements of Bata were all combined in to explode in a vivacious final performance by the Pedrito Martinez Group. A dynamic musical conversation between the artists unfolded on stage, with vocals lead by Pedrito Martinez the and instrumentals of the effortlessly dancing around intertwined melodies.

Guest-starring alongside the Pedrito Martinez Group was Yosvany Terry, saxophonist and composer for Makandal Opera. Known in Afro-Caribbean community for his continuous projects that receive high praise, he also collaborated with Carl Hancock Rux and Jan Lars, director, for the opera.

In between sets the music kept right through with local producer and author DJ Asho, formally known as Ariel Fernandez Diaz, spinning Afro-Cuban selections throughout the night. 

The Uptown Nights series runs throughout the rest of the season with shows centered around emerging artists.

Upcoming events for the series take place on Friday, Nov. 21st with Rock & Soul, Thursday, Dec. 11th for Black Music NOW, Wednesday, Dec. 17th for a listening session with Thundercat, and Friday, Dec. 19th for a performance by Thundercat. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Marcus Samuelsson Celebrates Kehinde Wiley with Dinner

A print of Venus at Paphos
Palettes were pleased as art and the appreciation of international flavors were fused to honor Kehinde Wiley in an intimate dinner attended by friends, supporters and appreciators of the painter’s revolutionary artwork.

Marcus Samuelsson, renown Chef and owner of Red Rooster, hosted the 12 Season(ing)s Dinner with Kehinde Wiley last Wednesday, Oct. 8th in Harlem at Ginny’s Supper Club to celebrate his return to New York and latest travels. 

The evening was an opportunity for guests to share in the artist’s journey with a nine-course menu selectively crafted by Samuelsson, which touched upon the varying nations Wiley developed his work in.

“You also always connect pop culture, hip hop, with these incredible, gorgeous beautiful images of black men and you send those images to the rest of the world,” said Samuelsson to Wiley.

Each plate was themed to represent the blend of flavors from varying regions with the finest attention to detail and ingredients. From the start of the evening guests were presented “the Board,” an array of small bites including deviled quail eggs, pickled grapes and miso marinated beef heart. 

Hamachi with oxtail stew and pickled chanterelles
Other dishes from the special menu included a Foie Gras Ganache, served with jerk duck breast, thai basil and banana paired with dewatsuru “sakura enaki” a rose sake from Japan, and another course featured Endive served with, bailey hazen blue, pear, hazelnut sherry paired with a “rainwater” madeira from Portugal.

Wiley, an American painter and Russian art student, spent much of his time journeying to Haiti, France, Nigeria, Israel and Brazil, among other countries in search of portraying life as he sees is and capturing its essence.

Known for his regal paintings featuring black individuals from around the globe in poised and dignified poses, he evokes a vivid image of raw beauty and elegance in each of his pieces. His work is influenced by 17th and 18th century classical art but focuses on very much on the present and the paradigms existing within society today.

The painter, amongst friends and supporters
“There is a difference between what you see on television, media, and what happens when you’re walking through the world in this black body,” he said, “the truth of your life, the truth that you know, and the truth that you’re being spooned, and the truth that you increasingly see being down to other regions of the world.”

Christine Miller, an appreciator of his work and local Queens resident, was enthused at the opportunity to pose a question to her favorite painter and hear his words.

“It’s an honor to be here,” Miller said, as she enjoyed the dining and intimate conversations. As textile designer, the quality of his work always made a deep impression on her so upon hearing of the event she knew she was going to attend.

“It’s about meeting with young people of goodwill and figuring out what their stories are,” Wiley said when discussing the meaning behind his concepts, “allowing that to be something that we can all recognize in fine art.”
Goat cheese parfait with mango curd and blueberry sorbet

A small booklet was presented to each guest titled “Apple.” It included 6 recipes centered around the seasonal fruit, Robert Frost’s After Apple-Picking and a small print of Wiley’s Venus at Paphos.

The evening also coincided with news from the Brooklyn Museum of his upcoming Feb. 2015 exhibition that will showcase his latest series, A New Republic

Monday, September 15, 2014

Apollo's 2nd Annual Healthy Soul Festival

Apollo President, Jonelle Procope
Preventative health tips, balanced wellness and medical seminars were joined with music and local vendors for the Apollos 2nd Annual Healthy Soul Festival on September 13th.

Speakers included medical experts such as Dr. Ian Smith, Dr. John Palmer, Dr. Olajide Williams and Dr. Icilma Fergus to help discuss the dynamics behind several health complications that can arise from poor diet, little exercise and present everyday solutions for residents.

The free event was held from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m. and featured discussions on the dangers and facts of obesity, heart disease and major killers of minorities across the U.S. which are prevalent in the Harlem Community.

Fergus, President of the National Association of Black Cardiologists, introduced the Harlem Healthy Hearts program where health insurance can be discussed, clinical trials can take place at the benefit of participants or individuals with any health risk or concerns can get screened.

What we do is we talk to them about being heart healthy, everything from what you eat to how you feel, she said about the program, which is not hospital specific.

Earl "the Pearl" Monroe signs autographs for a Knicks fan
Even Knicks veterans, like John Starks and Earl the Pearl Monroe came out to support by signing autographs for fans who cherished their games from when the Garden was Eden.

Being a Harlem resident, I can relate to this and even if I wasnt out here signing autographs, I still would be here, said Monroe.

There were also selfie stations using hashtags of #harlemhealthy, first aid tents, food demonstrations by Chef Raymond, and health screening areas by Holistic Care, the William F. Ryan Community Health Center and Harlem United Mobile Clinics.

The greener you are is the cleaner you are inside, were the words to attendees from one of the  food demonstrations by the Reggae Sun Juice Bar.

Dr. Ian Smith discusses preventative health measures 
April Jenkins happened to be walking past the festival when she walked in to discover about programs for children's swimming for her daughter and also get retested for high blood pressure.

Its the first time I ever had it and the numbers switched and theyre going to help me find out why, she said.

Despite the intermingling of rain, crowds gathered for the festival to attend the information seminars and performances of Faith Evans and Christian Guardino inside and even joined under the tents to participate in activity while it poured.

When you look at ethnic minorities in the Harlem community - the access to health, the lack of financial wherewithal - impacts health directly, because they cant get healthcare and they cant get insurance, said Dr. Smith. All the things that prevent diseases or treats diseases become a problem.

Reggae Sun Juice Bar offers health tips and advice on juicing
He said that it all starts with desire, and recommended even utilizing large government organization health sites such as and that can be a portal regarding information about heart disease, stroke and cancer.

This is healthy for me, this is healthy that people learn about health so they can cure themselves and live longer and be around for their children, said resident Shaheed Muhammad.

The event was a partnership between Apollo, Coca-Cola and EmblemHealth.