Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Antidote

Now that the bruising, 24-hour-a-day election madness of the last several months which has wreaked havoc on my sleep and ruined relationships from coast to coast is nearly finished, I’ve got good news -- a three part antidote is available immediately courtesy of our friends at the Arsht. Where I hail from, the drumline was an every Saturday event. Before my local Cougars would play football, the band would take the field and that was that. The high steppers, drum majors, flag twirlers, majorettes, baton twirlers, and horns would get down on it while the drummers -- bass, snare, tenor, and cymbol -- ruled the roost. All over the country, high school bands would take to the field and perform their version of the hits of the day. I remember hearing Kool and the Gang, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Earth Wind and Fire’s Celebrate. 

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been at the forefront of this movement. Earlier this year in St. Louis, Show-Me Sound held its 3rd annual Drumline competition. Participating drum ensembles included Central State University’s “Invincible Marching Marauders,” Harris Stowe State University’s “Phunk,” Howard University’s “Thunder Machine,” Kentucky State University’s “Soul Section #1,” Langston University’s “DEN,” Lincoln University’s “Groove Dynasty” and North Carolina A&T University’s “Cold Steel.” I heard Cold Steel in Berlin playing with German rapper Peter Fox a few summers ago. This is big business with a long history, as evidenced by Honda’s sponsorship of the Battle of the Bands.On November 11 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, The Arsht Center will present Drumline Live at the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. Half of the cast contains local talent with roots related to Florida A & M’s famous (then infamous) Marching 100. Get ready to get down if you go. Tickets are $25 and $55 and may be purchased through the Arsht Center box office by calling 305 949-6722, or online at

Google Lagrimas Negras and Diego El Cigala and you will get treated to an assortment of fine, YouTube versions of the Spanish flamenco-gypsy singer doing it along with extraordinary Cuban pianist Bebo Vald├ęs. Take 30 minutes then come back and read the rest of this.

El Cigala will visit us at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday November 10th at 8:30. Tickets start at $40. Like athletes and mobsters, flamenco singers have nicknames. El Cigala means Norway lobster; Diego -- well -- kinda looks like one. Spanish Romani people are known as Gitanos. The names Gypsy, Roma, Romani, Gitano all mean the same things and are used interchangably, dissatisfying those who frown on all the historical baggage attached to the names.

Finally, the Live at Knight Series at Miami’s Arsht Center will bring us Macy Gray’s soulful singing on November 8th at 8:30. Maybe you remember Ms. Gray, she of the smoky, scratchy voice and 2001 Grammy Award for “I Try.” After having made it, she went to work with a global coterie of stars -- Italian pop-star Zucchero, DJ/Producer Fatboy Slim, classic guitar idol Jeff Beck, and eccentric/cerebral Erykah Badu among others -- before toying with covers of Prince, Rod Stewart, and Radiohead. This led to her latest venture, Covered, where Ms. Gray has gone all in on the concept, reimagining Sublime, Mettalica, Eurythmics, and Arcade Fire. Just the material alone should be tempting.

The election is over. Turn off the TV. Calm down. Go out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Talib Kweli: Idle Warship with RES at the Adrienne Arsht Center

There aren’t that many opportunities to use future perfect tense any more, but by the time you read this column, I will have seen Friday, October 19th’s Talib Kweli concert Live at the Knight at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. 

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I had hoped that I might have the chance to interview Kweli and RES, but his people and my people -- well you know how it goes. Gino Campodonico from the Arsht Center went out of his way -- deeply out of his way -- to arrange an interview with Kweli and collaborator RES from their new duo Idle Warship. Now I owe everyone an apology because my work and home life got in the way -- I missed the email AND the phone call.

“In Moment of Clarity “ from Jay-Z’s splendid Black Album, J-Hova says, "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.” In Kweli’s track "Ghetto Show" from the Beautiful Struggle, Kweli responds by stating "If lyrics sold then truth be told/I'd probably be just as rich and famous as Jay Z." 
So I’m left to describe what I would have asked had I had the esteemed young brother on the line.

Me: Sorry I missed the call.

Kweli: I should hang up now.

Me: Sorry, sorry, sorry. You have been doing your thing for a while now? Is this what you expected? What is happening with lyrics these days? 

Kweli: Well, kids change. They love poems, Sesame Street, Big Bird, and get into poetry slams. On the other hand, texting, Twitter, and Facebook are not the most grammatically accurate platforms. 

Me: How much credit does your mother get for you being a good lyricist? She’s an English professor right? Your father also has the academic/university background right?

Kweli: Are you talking about my momma? Truthfully, I was raised properly. 

Me: You’ve worked with everyone and they with you. Jay Z, Nas, Mos Def, Common, KRS, the Roots, Kanye, Mary J. Blige, the Neptunes. What’s the vibe like with so many successful people? Who is the boss when the talented get together?

Kweli: Bruce Springsteen is the Boss. 
Me: In 2004, you recorded The Beautiful Struggle:  Does the struggle remain beautiful? Do the inspirations remain?

Kweli: The struggle remains a struggle for millions. It was beautiful for me so I want to remain optimistic.
Me: How does the Yankee hat go over in LA? Have you been converted? Does your family prefer California? 

Kweli: In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do. But look at that mountain. Look at that tree. I love LA. 

Me: Talk to me about the MIA. Isn’t the Knight a gorgeous facility?

Kweli: Lebron, Crockett, Tubbs, Anna Kournikova, Dwyane Wade, Gloria Estefan, Pitbull, Ricky Martin, sun, sand, graffiti -- hundred thousand dollar cars, e’rybody got ‘em. The Knight is a blessing. I know we don’t nee another hero, but Adrienne Arsht is a hero.

That’s what I would have asked Talib Kweli had I not been a working man with responsibilities. So by the time you read this, hopefully, I will have enjoyed last Friday’s concert immensely. Future perfect tense lives!

Hopefully, there’s always next time for an interview. Given the Arsht’s fine upcoming schedule, I am going to beg Gino to schedule a moment way in advance with bassist Esperanza Spalding, scheduled to play on April 19, 2013. Then, I will be able to write in present tense.