Giant Step’s Resident 36: Blitz The Ambassador, Chester French and Fauxcialite

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.

Giant Step’s Resident 34: Q-Tip, Jazzanova, K’NAAN and Miriam Makeba

margin-left:10pxBy 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.