New Stevie Wonder Special Tonight featuring India.Arie

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Tonight at 8pm, PBS presents Stevie Wonder in Performance at the White House, with hosts President and Michelle Obama. The event, featuring performances by various artists, is a celebration for Stevie Wonder’s receipt of The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. They’ll have live performances by India.Arie, Tony Bennet, Diana Krall, Mary Mary, Will.i.am, Martina McBride, Esperanza Spalding and more – including Stevie himself!

Giant Step’s Resident 38: Illa-J, Here We Go Magic, Jay Rock, President Obama

(Chuck Kennedy-Pool/Getty Images)

I’ve been spending too much time on Chinatown buses. When I hosted Pop Off! a party in D.C. with The General Store Inc., I took the crackiest mode of transportation possible: Apex Bus. There is a level of decorum on the Boston to New York routes that the D.C. and Philly lines don’t even pretend to bother with. Sparky ticket-takers in neon jackets spat bold-faced lies at me muttering, “5 O’ Crock, 5 O’ Crock” when at 5:25 I asked them what time the bus was leaving. I arrived at the party two hours late but I did get to catch the very promising RA The MC. She charmed me with a little ditty about some cute boy with the unfortunate name of Nikki. And DJ Sharkey massaged my ears with jams from Human League and The Pharcyde that I rarely hear outside of my own bedroom.

The worst thing about living in New York is going to your hometown and experiencing how profoundly silly it is by comparison. When my mom broke her hip I took the next Chinatown chariot to Boston. At the hospital, some mouthy RN noted I had “real Negro hair.” I ruined my leather boots wading through a foot of brown slush surrounding Boston Medical Center only to watch yet another news report on regional hockey results on the hospital TV. Boston is like this odd, arctic plantation where President Obama is just another Negro and hat-tricks are far more newsworthy than clashes in Gaza.

All this meant plenty of time to sit by myself and listen to music. Lately, I’ve been mad about Here We Go Magic and their song “Tunnelvision.” It’s all plucky guitar festooned with whimsical, billowy vocals. It’s like crashing a ho-down with David The Gnome. I’m also intrigued by this song, “All My Life” by Jay Rock. He’s a Watts, California native who ostensibly looks like any other rank-and-file rapper. But he has humility and an ease about his sound that’s appealing. Awash with velvety violins, it’s both a throwback to the balmy G-Funk that made Dr.Dre famous and a slick update on the sample-heavy sound. And I finally sat down and listened to Illa J’s debut Yancey Boys. J. Dilla’s textured beats for artists like Q-Tip and Slum Village turned my early flirtation with hip hop into a full-blown affair. Illa J pays tribute to his late brother with a collection of supple, artful beats reminiscent of Dilla’s handiwork. A solid 50 minutes of music.

As a Chinatown bus veteran the one time I really should have been on a titanium clap-trap with a cartoon dragon emblazoned on the side was when Obama was inaugurated. I had to work but I spent most of the day awestruck, choking back tears and committing CNN’s coverage to memory. At least I can tell my kids that long ago, back when people still rode busses, people with Afros were harassed in hospitals and American presidents were hopeless, I witnessed the exact moment when one of those things changed.

Giant Step’s Resident 33: Menahan Street Band, Hot Chip and Obama

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I’m gonna miss Michelle. And David. And Jon. And Nicole. And even Marianne, although we’ve only recently become acquainted. On November 4th we’ll have a new president but I’ll no longer get eloquent emails addressed to me from the good folks at the Obama campaign. Yes, most of the emails were like, “Mawuse– With your contribution of $25 dollars we can make it rain on this here election.” But still, I felt special. And what am I going to do with no more rallies to attend? I have to entertain myself now that we’re done with the Young Professionals, DJs, Promoters, Housewives and Seal Pups for Obama events. For instance, I went to a Yogis for Obama rally. And I hate yoga. I listened to Russell Simmons speak about how we can make change in this election while patiently sipping “liberation tea.”

If Barack and Michelle were really my homies, I would hip them to some other quietly superhuman talents: Menahan Street Band. MSB is a project featuring members from all the New York instrumental bands that have mattered in recent years: The Dap-Kings, Budos Band, Antibalas and El Michels Affair. Their languid “Make The Road By Walking” is the basis for Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” and their album of the same name is just made so well. Think full, smoky soul that wags between plucky dub and crackly, wheezy country.

And something tells me that if Mimi and Barry weren’t busy saving the world, they’d be into the Delicious Rmmxology compilation. The premise is simple: A few DJs slice up classic Delicious Vinyl jams. I could see Barack grooving to Hot Chip’s gravelly re-working of The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By.” Michelle would be easily enamored with the Philippians’ delicate synthy remix of Pharcyde’s “Runnin.’” And I’m convinced no one can resist the epic, hyper thump of Masta Ace’s “Sittin’ On Chrome” as re-imagined by Mr. Flash.

Like the Obamas, UK-based outfit, Friendly Fires is just what this country needs. They make flashy yet airy disco rock replete with tangy cowbells and turbo drumming. All while wearing these darling little pantsuits. Their cover of Lykke Li’s “I’m Good I’m Gone” makes great use of power piano chords once left to rot on old CeCe Peniston records. “Paris,” with its dreamy lyrics and mammoth chorus could easily be the soundtrack to an historic inauguration.

Even if he gets too busy to keep in touch, I’m glad I got to know one of the biggest hope dealers in American history. And on November 5th, while I’m listening to MSB’s “Esma” and planning what to do with all my free time, I just hope I get a very simple email: “Mawuse — We did it.”

Giant Step’s Resident 28: New York Fashion Week, Solange and Barack Obama

By Mawuse Ziegbe

New York Fashion Week is like a flu virus: most people are affected and the city is overrun with lots of sickly-looking people pretending they’re extra fabulous. But, it’s an NYC rite of passage and like all stupid traditions you have to do it once. I have one of those freakishly put-together friends who just mounted her first fashion show for the Spring 2009 collection of Harlan Bel. Underfed waifs stalked down the runway to the startlingly cool sounds of The Pharcyde’s “Passing Me By,” The Knife’s “Heartbeats,” “I Belong To You” by Lenny Kravitz and “Blow Ya Mind” by Styles P. The clothing was a survey of sleekly architectural construction; prim minidresses detailed with sharp pleats, daringly asymmetrical cocktail frocks and pin-thin slacks with choppy, low-slung waistbands. The types of looks you might find in the Judy Jetson Resort Collection but not at all cartoony and comfortingly wearable.

However, the lead-up to the show was the most nerve-wracking thing, not because I was involved in the process but because I had to show up to the damn thing looking, well…good. After stressing for days, I finally settled on a beige tunic, shorts and these vintage-y black and white flats that made me look like an abolitionist out for a lark. I was all smug until I arrived and realized that next to real fashionistas my “effortless downtown chic” looked more like “useless bumpkin,” complete with the sad clown shoes. Good thing the actual show was no longer than 20 minutes and I was free to run off into the night where I could be judged not by ability to accessorize but by my hearty alcohol tolerance.

Fashion week is all about celebrities – none of whose shiny Botoxed glamour I’ve witnessed up close – but some of them still release music on these flat donut thingys called compact discs. Solange’s second album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams is the best reason I’ve seen for not stopping at one child. Beyoncé (or Robot Knowles as I like to call her) is all oiled abs and billowy hair extensions and not enough actual personality for my taste. But Sol-Angel swings from downy, Mid-century soul to ethereal trip-hop to languid, churchy blues; all powered by Solange’s plucky vocals and candid, catchy lyrics. On this record she gets mad, ecstatic, vulnerable and high on “life.” Plus, she prances about in obscene amounts of chiffon like an extra in Mahogany. Lovely.

And since I have a degree in Political Science and not fussing over dry-clean only clothes, my only other fashion week event was a Barack Obama fundraiser at Sutra. Questlove lorded over the club crammed with supporters still gussied up from the tents. It was fun and all but I’m just praying that America judges the candidates on their ability to lead and not the just their runway potential. Although Obama has it sewn up either way.