On Friday the 23rd, don't miss the New York debut of Kameron Corvet and Monica Blaire from Detroit, and Postman from Holland. Sound in Color will be a night of quality neo soul hosted by Maya Azucena, late night at Joe's Pub.
By Mawuse Ziegbe
The holiday season is always a sickening deluge of parties, stiff "holiday cheer" (which I temper with stiff drinks) and a glut of obligations. In a year of highs (getting my own column, fluffing an increasingly enviable Afro) and lows (finally ending that relationship, trying not to strangle yokels at the day job) I needed the festive distractions of the silly season more than ever. I spent Thanksgiving in the ER grappling with my mother's decaying health taking breaks only to try to coax her into retiring and to bitch about the lack of beer in the hospital gift shop. At dinner, I looked after my mother during one of those large family gatherings attended by old African aunties and uncles who think "my writing career in New York" is a euphemism for "hooking on Hunts Point." I returned to New York only to field calls from relatives who dropped clumsy hints ("why don't you move back to Boston and take of your mother?") about how I should handle the situation. Hello stress-related acne.
Managing her health crisis from another state, doctors regarded me like a crackpot with reverse-Munchausen syndrome. After rattling off a list of concerns M.D.s would respond "well she looks just dandy! We sent her off with some Halls and a smile. To do any conclusive tests we'll need her consent and $20,000 for a new vending machine in the break room. Where are you calling from again?" Doctors would announce to colleagues that I was her daughter from New York as if I wasn't interested in her well-being but instead looking for the right moment to steal her wallet. Between witnessing my ever-fabulous mother (we used to get mistaken for sisters until, well, I moved away) fade into a shadow of her former self and dealing with residents who act like they got their book-learnin' from the Fisher Price School of My First Malpractice Suit, I needed some cot-damn holiday cheer.
The only fete I could drag myself to was the Okayplayer and Frank 151 bash at B.B. Kings. The lineup was like The Roots Present Everyone They've Ever Met - EVER. Melle Mel milled about in a white suit that can only be described as "pimpalicious." After a tepid set by Tanya Morgan featuring 88 Keys and a jazzy appearance from Alice Smith, Res and Talib Kweli satisfied fans with "Get By" and "We Got The Beat." When The Roots began rocking the frenetic thump of "You Got Me," we knew it was time for an extra special female guest. Out came Estelle with a completely uncalled-for bowl cut. Despite the "Family Ties" hair, she delivered a dubby version of the classic Roots joint and segued into her dubby single, "Come Over."
After The Roots performed Fela Kuti's "Beasts Of No Nation," Bilal, looking and sounding like the bastard love child of Melvin Van Peebles and Prince, howled his way through an epic rendition "Soul Sista." Q-Tip performed "Manwomanboogie," "Gettin' Up" and a few gnarly freestyle bars. Pharoahe Monch and Black Thought joined in and then, smooth as pie, Q-Tip swapped drumming duties with ?uestlove. So then, it's 'Tip on drums, Thought on the mic and my jaw on the floor. I left around 2 AM with the plucky tones of The Roots' "Next Movement" as my traveling music.
I dread it every year but in 2008, I learned that the holidays can always be worse. So bless The Roots, a band that has given me countless memories that don't involve congested shopping malls and tense family moments. Bless the friends who have been able to slip in a festive distraction here and there. And bless my ma, whose wallet I hope to make off with come Christmas morn.
By Mawuse Ziegbe
In a city of screeching hype, blasé insiders and tepid stage shows, I'm always on the hunt for that ol' razzle dazzle. So many thanks to Blitz The Ambassador who threw down one of the best shows I've seen in forever. He's a New York via Ghana MC who rocked the Knitting Factory with a whirl of sweaty, rumbling energy. Flanked by a dapper band, Blitz shamed the lot of these pansy-ass rappers, growling his rhymes, rocking an African drum solo and paying homage to the greats of hip hop all within the first five minutes. Amanda Diva also performed and I liked her song about how being a female MC can suck. But she was all types of average (and dressed in an unnecessary amount of neon) compared to Blitz.
Chester French isn't so much old New York glamour as it is teen movie recklessness. When the Star Trak duo (who met at the grimy halls of Harvard University) took the stage at Puma's 60 Anniversary party at Williamsburg Music Hall, I felt like an extra on the set of Can't Hardly Wait and the faux nerdy girl was about to make her debut as a hottie. I mean, there were actual balloons and people in the corner necking. Bedecked in preppy flannel they played over 40 minutes of their vaguely offensive hip-pop-rock including "Jimmy Choos" and "She Loves Everybody." They're like if Ben Folds Five scored '60s surf movies.
At Fila's sneaker launch party on Madison Avenue, I checked out some new-school glamour for narcissists who are easily amused by spinning thingys. This company called Fauxcialite had a rotating platform where patrons spun and took photos. Later, they projected animations of people trying to look fabu while keeping down whatever exotic libations that were dished out at the event. So, I guess there were new, sparkly hi-tops I should have been cooing over but I spent most of the time giggling every time a life-sized projection of me making drag queen poses splashed against the wall. It was grand.
Thursday night at The Box, I was able to experience a dizzying conflation of several types of New York glamour: bridge-and-tunnel bottle-poppers, foreign-based Euro-tossing dandies, cavalier in-the-know Downtowners and their freeloading friends (I'm obviously of the latter). The last time I went to The Box, Sting was milling about the bar and one of the acts included a woman dry-humping a mannequin. This time the cabaret show was way more 42nd Street than I was ready for. I appreciated the camp factor of the giant dancing vagina decorated in magenta sequins and marabou feathers. And the topless aerialists were pretty fun. But when the tranny picked up the Jack Daniels bottle with her...um...and then, er, drank out of it...and um...I think we're done here.
Going into this holiday season of parties and warm fuzzy moments, just remember this: whether it delights the senses, massages the ego or induces nausea, be thankful for any performance that will make some new memories.
Photo of Alice Russell
By Mawuse Ziegbe
This week is all about revelations. Firstly, TK Wonder is the greatest rapper alive. She rocked the When Boy Meets Girl IV show at Southpaw which featured acts like Sarah White who pumped out sweet, punky soul that is a pain to classify but easy to shimmy to. With her psychedelic leggings and a feather in her hair, TK looked like Gem playing a game of Cowboys and Indians. But then she spits over Taylor McFerrin's mouth-made beats with the rapid fire diction of Busta Rhymes and the mellow, gravelly tone of Digable Planets' Ladybug Mecca. And the random, robotic dance breaks? She had me at the first hip-thrust.
Revelation #2: I hate spoken word. Hate it from the bottom of my Dolce Vita heels to the tips of my Ms. Jessie's-lacquered afro. I've hated spoken word for years now (I nearly rioted the last time I went to Bowery Poetry Club) but I kind of thought I'd grow out of it. Even the quick-tongued observations of spoken word collective Ill-literacy at Crash Mansion couldn't snap me out of it. They were definitely entertaining; calling out celebrity hypocrites and dropping the f-bomb to the glee of the crowd. But I just felt like I was in a freshman dorm.
Revelation #3: History is repeating itself. I checked out a screening of Milk about the first openly gay US politician Harvey Milk who was gunned down in the late 1970s. Sean Penn plays the affable Milk as the epicenter of the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Director Gus Van Sant authenticates the film with actual broadcast footage that echoes the current clash between proponents and critics of California's Proposition 8. Milk's rhetoric of hope is especially eerie in light of our incoming presidential administration.
Revelation #4: Rappers have no business anywhere near Broadway. Jim Jones, who has been building his indie cred by remixing MGMT and Kid Cudi, recently staged an off-Broadway two-night run of the autobiographical play, "Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life and Mind of Jim Jones." The play follows Jim Jones as he completes community service after being caught up in a shoot-out. "Monologues" finishes with the goofiest non-ending ever: After Jones' girlfriend gives birth, he sprays the stage with bubbly and launches into his latest single "Pop Champagne." Like, what?
Revelation #5: I need to spend more time above 14th street. Friday night, Alice Russell lit up Hiro Ballroom with her snarly versions of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." After two encores, I moseyed over to APT where Jeannie Hopper was spinning. She dropped lots of twinkly electro-soul as her friend schooled me on how to fake my way into a prescription for medical marijuana. Later, I checked out Fedde Le Grand at Pacha. The place was brimming with bridge-and-tunnel charm and I spent a lot of the time dodging dry-humping couples (Fun fact: the columns at Pacha are padded to facilitate comfortable dry-humping). As Fedde dropped intense, bottom-heavy hard house, chalky fake smoke descended from the ceiling and a blitz of strobe lights shot through the club. My downtown posturing melted away and I raised my hands and gave into the amazingness. Show me someone who can resist flashing lights, growling bass and store-bought fog and I'll show you a brazen lie-teller.
Revelation #6: Never underestimate the magic of nightlife.
By Mawuse Ziegbe
So, I have this crush. He's this mannish, dude-ly, male person. He builds things. He smokes things. He skies down things. It's awesome. He's also wicked different from me. When he tells me about his time on a ranch in Wyoming, all I can think is, "what the fuck is Wyoming?" When he invites me over for Scrabble I desperately hope it's a euphemism for something involving latex and candle wax. Sadly, the earnest, good-guy gleam in his eye tells me it's not. But in the interest of new horizons and all that, I accompanied him to a Reggie Watts show at Joe's Pub. Reggie Watts looks like a cross between Counting Crows' Adam Duritz and a down-on-his-luck Sideshow Bob. He beat-boxes and does all this nonsensical yet still politically biting scatting business that sounds like a cross between Doug E. Fresh and a manic Sideshow Bob. I mean, parts of it were cool - he made beats onstage by sampling his own voice - but lots of it was just...foolish.
When I'm not faking an interest in live music to get in a guy's pants, I'm drooling over Q-Tip's new album, The Renaissance. I was initially very apprehensive about this project (the internet singles like "Work It Out" were making my brain barf). But for serious, The Renaissance is gorgeous. Q-Tip has reined in his penchant for the stuttering, monotonous beats and stiff, shallow rhymes that sank 1999's Amplified. The Renaissance is replete with dusty soul samples punched up by 'Tip's melodic flow and conscious yet not overly preachy messages. I literally gawked at my iPod when I heard Raphael Saadiq's androgynous, syrupy vocals on "We Fight/We Love." I'm all over the bendy Boogaloo beat of "Manwomanboogie" with a surprisingly sassy Amanda Diva. "Believe" is glossed with the sublime glow of D'Angelo's trademark falsetto.
Jazzanova's latest album, Of All The Things is also unexpectedly addictive. The German collective has handily produced one of the best albums of the year. There's frisky nu-jazz and buttery soul that pulses with vibrant basslines and some of the most diverse voices in music. My favorite rapper Phonté tries his hand at singing "Look What You're Doin' To Me" and absolutely floored me with a papery falsetto that is identical to Dwele's soft crooning. Detroit artist Paul Randolph flexes his dapper vocals throughout the album, including the sunny, inspirational number "Let Me Show Ya." And Ben Westbeech, who's moving feets with Kraak and Smaak's recent hit, "Squeeze Me," wields some UK soul on the groovy, "I Can See." Of All The Things is like a mixtape packed with your absolute favorite songs by Mark Ronson, Solange, Coldplay, Al Jarreau, and Donnie. This is a good album to kick off any Jazzanova obsession.
African hip hop star K'Naan is kicking off his latest project with the lead single, "ABCs." K'naan doesn't really have a reason to make dance tracks, what with being a Somali refugee and the lack of body-rockin' fodder that experience provides. So it's good to see he found a way to make a party jam by spitting about the ills of street life over a souped-up version of Chubb Rock's "Treat 'Em Right." Activists need to get down too.
And I'm lucky the first time I ever got down in concert was with the legendary African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba. I was about three and my parents took me to see her at Boston's Symphony Hall. I was just barely able to see over the seats but I remember jamming to the horns for what seemed like hours. Miriam looked far away but she was washed in bright lights, commanding the sprawling band and just moving! That concert is one of my best family memories to this day; my parents were still together and Miriam's fierceness was one of the few things they agreed on. There may not be many more Reggie Watts concerts in my future but when your first live performance is from an artist who can inspire nations, quell feuding spouses and sing until the last very last breath, you understand the rarity of greatness.