Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks,Chaka Khan

 

Eccentric, groundbreaking, triumphant and tumultuous may all be words to describe Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks or Chaka Khan , at some point in their illustrious careers.

All have had long career breaks, but their enduring personalities remain a pull, and of recent all three are on the comeback.

When I saw Jones at JFK Airport this month, I did not immediately recognize her. She was dressed in all black, in an outfit resembling aviation pioneer Ameila Earhart – hat included.

It was true Jones. Whatever your views of her are, she knows how to make an entrance.  Immediately I thought of her movies ‘Conan the Destroyer’ and ‘Boomerang’. Of course I began to detail her movies to her and she was quite indulgent, repeating signature phrases from Boomerang. She told me to look out for her new documentary and to buy ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ her recent book and departed with a hand-shake.

And sometimes you have to pay your way to that celebrity access.

I could not pass up an opportunity to hear my feel-good song, ‘Through the Fire’ by Khan. So I paid the $60, after discount, for the May 13 fundraiser at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. Khan is currently working on a series of mixed media visual works and a new CD for release this year, says the Center.

Well, I did not get to hear ‘Through the Fire’, but ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Naughty’, ‘Tell me Something Good’, ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and the powerful ‘I’m Every Woman’ made up for it. I cannot say if the two unexpected restroom breaks prevented me from hearing my feel-good song. Or her heavy emphasis on her 70s songs. But my friend and her mother who were enjoying a pre-mother’s day outing enjoyed the experience. And being serenaded by the legendary 10 time Grammy winner who can complain.

And in April on his way to Trinidad and Tobago I met Jamaican Artist Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon aka ‘Mr Loverman’ also at JFK.  It was a fleeting contact that I made the best of. “I love your music,” I said, as he passed with his wife Michelle. ‘There is more coming,’ he said. I remember 90s hits like ‘Ting-A-Ling’ and ‘Twice my Age’ hits that define dancehall at the time. Of course he had hits like ‘Bedroom Bully’ and ‘Mr Loverman’, the question now is what lyrics can we expect. The legendary Ranks was the first to win a Grammy for his genre.

And so we wait!

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Jamaican Ballet and Moko Jumbie

By Nicosia Smith

A story of folk songs, reggae and dancehall music is wonderfully told through graceful and skillful dancing.

When watching the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) you get an authentic, down-to-earth Caribbean experience through dance.

Choreographer Renee McDonald, ‘Into The Blue’ (2015), revised 2016, reveals a beautiful mixture of Caribbean integration. Nineteen dancers in blue danced as if the ocean pursued. It was a scene of battles lost and won at sea. Their fluid movements created a lot of waves that took you through the waters with them. The powerful dance moves, although distinctly Caribbean got a twist with official soundtracks from the movies ‘Gravity‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘. To become a ballerina it takes years of training, some dancers begin at 4-years-old. But after seeing this piece these dancers have what it takes for ballet. I believe it should be the next step the company takes.

However, this will take more than just will but on the ground support.

Dance, culture and the arts must become more meaningful to the Caribbean populous. Our love for dance must transform our focus to demand more from our entertainment than street corner parties. It means we must support formal dance projects.

But back to NDTC.

NDTC co-Founder Rex Nettleford choreographed ‘Gerrehbenta’ an all traditional Caribbean folk piece. The folk singing, dancing and drumming in Gerrehbenta is charged with traditions, namely African ones. This piece showcase’s to its fullest that part of the Caribbean culture that was adopted from Africa.

It reminds us of a people brought to the Caribbean against their will. And reflex the content of their minds and the fight in their spirits to survive. I like that even the cloth around the waist and necks of the dancers were interwoven into the piece, as skirts flared and pants waist were tighten. In the center of this dance is a long moko-jumbie like character, with a cow-like mask a-top the colorfully clothed stick frame. The NDTC noted that the dance takes its name from two of the major traditional rites practiced in Jamaica, ‘gerreh’ in Hanover and ‘dinky-mini’ which uses the musical instrument, the benta, in St. Mary.

We have some ways to go to have the Caribbean’s distinct cultural dance styles achieve global recognition but certainly the NDTC is doing their part. And the audience last month at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College felt the same, judging by the thunderous applauding.

 

From Jukebox to Haitian Jazz

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)

Emeline Michel speaking with fans after performing at the Brooklyn Public Library. (Nicosia Smith photo)

 

By Nicosia Smith

In great weather, what does an art and culture lover do, get out.

Howbeit my umbrella was necessary towards the end of the day.

My first stop was at the Schomburg Center in Harlem to view ‘Motown: The Truth is a Hit’. It was like treading on familiar territory.

Last year I attended Motown, the Broadway musical, which is the same name of the label founded by Berry Gordy Jr., in 1959. This exhibit traces, chronologically, the growth of the Motown sound, complete with songs playing in the background. While the musical gave a much wider spread of the events leading up to the creation of Motown, the exhibition gives snippets. Life size photos of the Supreme, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5, Mary Wells, the Temptations and many others told this Motown story.

However, the exhibit did delve into the latter years of Motown. That is, showcasing pop singers like Vanity and Lionel Richie. If you can, it’s best to see the musical and also view the exhibit which runs through July 26.

Then it was off to Brooklyn.

To an evening of intoxicating lyrics, that took me from the American Jukebox, to the Caribbean island of Haiti.

International Haitian Jazz singer Emeline Michel kicked off the Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival at Brooklyn Central Library. Jazz is not her only genre; she combines Haitian compas and rara, in pop, samba and bossa nova.

Michel sings in French and Haitian Creole combining these rhythms to create her unique sound.

It is an intoxicating soulful infusion of instruments (piano, guitar, and drums) that gives a powerful yet smooth blues/jazz feel. This is complimented by Michel’s voice – that takes you up to a high or simmer you down low. And at times leaves you within yourself to contemplate. It’s the type of sound that makes you want to sing, dance and listen all at once.

And if you do not know Haitian Creole or French, no problem, you will feel as if you know what is being said. Michel is also very good at explaining the concepts behind her songs, which covers from the personal, social to the political. And moving to her lyrics comes natural, as I found out.

Both the Schomburg and Central Library have continuing events and I will be keeping my ears to the ground.

It’s a blessing when you can absorb your surroundings and learn from things around you.

 

 

Masekela Jazz meets Steel pan

By Nicosia Smith

It may well be an explosive combination, of steel pan and trumpet.

The juicy, racy and up tempo, steel pan music, with the jazzy, ethnic, sometimes blues notes of the trumpet.

In this case with an internationally renowned trumpeter.

South African Hugh Ramopolo Masekela has made a collaborative CD with Trinidad and Tobago, Petrotrin Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra.

Over ten years ago at the San Fernando Jazz festival, he heard and fell in love with the sound of the Deltones. Hence the collaboration.

Now, carnival sounds is meeting the unique African cultural and ethnic take on jazz.

I have not yet heard the mix, but this collaborative effort was widely reported last year in T&T.

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (Nicosia Smith photo)

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (Nicosia Smith photo)

While he is a world-renowned trumpeter, he likes to play that down. I realized this when we spoke. He is also straight forward and speaks his mind. For example, he loan me his hat to take a photo with him, not wanting my hair style to get in the way.Joint works like these, I believe stretches the scope of music, and introduces audiences to new and innovative sounds. And this is important toward bridging the  musical and cultural gaps that currently exist.

For example, a younger generation is now introduced to the freedom songs and jazz of Masekela and he to theirs.

And the collaborations continued this year, as Masekela, told me on his way to T&T last month, from New York.

Masekela favorites are Bring him back Home, a song during the apartheid era in South African to free Nelson Mandela and Stimela (Cold Train).

So play on, play on  Masekela and the Deltones, let the trumpet and steel pan rhythm lead.