Words by Korby Benoit
Amanda Seales and Kris Bowers recently debuted their live collaboration Mo’ Betta Wu at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York. Mo’ Betta Wu is a one of a kind show where the artists reinterpret hip hop classics by the Wu-Tang Clan as jazz standards. It all results into a spirited and comedic performance that will amuse hip hop heads and jazz cats alike.
Backed by an accompanying 4 piece band dubbed The Shinobis, Seales handles all the vocal duties as the character Killandra Bea (the name is a play on the term ‘killa bee’). Killandra is a long-time resident of Staten Island’s Stapleton housing projects. She is bold and quick witted, as she engages the audience with clever quips in between the reworked Wu-Tang bangers. Songs like “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Shimmy, Shimmy Ya” and “Triumph” are presented in a manner in which most hip hop fans would never imagine.
Seales flexes some impressive vocal range, while the arrangements of jazz pianist Kris Bowers manage to retain the head nodding appeal of the original Wu-Tang material. The beats are easy to recognize yet unfold in new ways. This was a significant challenge for, Bowers as he explained, “That was a worry of mine as an arranger. Whether or not people were going to hear the samples through what we were playing. So I was glad that the audience picked it up.”
Much of the show is driven by the chemistry between the artists and the audience. Amanda Seales displays a certain awareness which allows her to be playful and improvise much of her performance as Killandra Bea. She states, “It comes from a genuine connection to the audience. I’ve been really lucky to have that intuition and to be able to feel. And this is going to sound really existential, but to be able to feel beyond what people are showing me. It’s what helps me be a good comic. It’s what helps me be a good DJ and good performer.”
With the 20th anniversary of Wu-Tang’s seminal Enter The 36 Chambers upon us, as well as other hip hop masterpieces such as Nas‘ Illmatic, it is refreshing to see artists pay homage. Perhaps projects like Mo’ Betta Wu are a way to remind us of hip hop’s limitless potential.