Written by Will Dawson
There’s always been something about Harlem. It’s historically been a place where artists can go and express themselves, live out their dreams. Make them a reality. Since the village’s Renaissance days, from the swanky velvet ropes of the Cotton Club and all the way up to the Apollo Theater’s balconies, it’s been the go-to place for performers of colour.
HarlemStage has every intention of keeping that tradition alive in 2011 with its Uptown Nights at Harlem Stage series taking place this spring. The events range in scope but all have a singular focus: to bring great art to an uptown audience. To “reach back to a time when Harlem was a place to seek out the next big thing in music, and to hear top artists and rising stars in settings where socializing and community building was paramount.”
A diverse group of participating artists, including GRAMMY nominee Meshell Ndegeocello and award-winning DJ Rich Medina, got together on a Saturday night at Aaron Davis Hall to discuss the dynamic lineup and answer questions about the ambitious series, which explodes with dance parties and cabaret, tributes to both Jazz and Neo-Soul.
The series kicks off in mid-February when visionary Tamar-Kali brings her Cabaret Chocolat to Aaron Davis Hall on the 12th. Armed with an all-girl band as well as burlesque and aerial spectacle (people suspended in mid-air!!!), this promises to be Valentine’s Day you won’t soon forget. Tamar-Kali is excited about the return of the cabaret, which got rave reviews last spring. “The vibe of the show is intense but playful,” she says. “Something that will definitely get people excited.”
A tribute to the Neo-Soul movement of the 90s–Soul: Remixed, Revisited and Reconstructed–takes place at the Harlem Stage in March, with music director Marc Cary assembling a “powerhouse band of contemporary soulsters” including ArinMaya, TreZure Empire and group The Crowd to reinterpret hits from Neo-Soul’s golden era. Cary calls it “a work in progress” while the singers say they can’t wait to give voice to songs from artists like Amel Larrieux, Erykah Badu, Bilal and Lauryn Hill. “These people are icons, and the music is classic,” says ArinMaya. “To be entrusted with reinterpreting these artists is huge. Something I’m looking forward to.”
All of uptown should be looking forward to Tax Day, as April 15th will be the day legendary DJ Medina brings his signature blend of funk, house, afrobeat and soul to Harlem for the first time after years of spinning at APT downtown. “It’s exciting to get this opportunity,” says Medina, who has tweaked the dance party’s name from Lil’ Ricky’s Rib Shack to Lil’ Ricky’s Harlem. “Being able to move crowds uptown is something I’ve always wanted to do. Now I get that chance, and to be a part of such a great movement is definitely something special.”
The Fats Waller Dance Party, featuring Jason Moran and Ndegeocello, will be invading the Harlem Gatehouse in mid-May for two nights. The event promises to take you back to the times of jook joints and after hour spots as the duo splits open Waller’s catalogue and turns it on its ear. “We plan to dig deep and help people realize how funky that cat was,” says Ndegeocello, smiling at the possibilities. “We’ve got some great things lined up.”
So does Uptown Nights at Harlem Stage, which is clearly committed to turning this spring into one of the hottest seasons uptown has ever seen. So go check out www.HarlemStage.org for all dates, times and tickets.
And get ready, because there’s truly something about Harlem. Something extraordinary. Something funky. Something Jazzy. Something worth talking about. Something you definitely need to see.