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. 

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