Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 23, 2011

Still Black, Still Proud-An African Tribute to James Brown

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
Great Barrington, MA
November 20, 2011
by Eric Sutter

An explosively warm presentation of soul funk that turned hot was displayed through saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker, along with other guest artists of African origin. Both are legendary alumni of the James Brown Band. The Godfather of Soul would be proud of classics like "Soul Power," furthering his legacy in this exploration of the connection between his music and modern African music. In particular, "No Discrimination" was a socially conscious Afro-Beat number.

Singer-songwriter South African activisit Vusi Mahlasela sang joyous African folk songs in his highly melodic and tonal voice which blended highs and lows exquisitely. Themes of struggle for freedom and reconciliation with enemies dominated the lyrics. He spoke of "Ubuntu" which translates to the philosophy of the African ethic of "I am what I am because of who we all are." Known as "The Voice" in his home country, he proved his title with a beautiful version of the #1 R&B song of 1959 "Try Me." The doo-wop style and a double sax solo dominated.

Vocalist Fred Cross did a bang up job as he channeled James Brown's ecstatic vocal ambiance of the African-American church with "Baby, Baby, Baby" as he danced to the syncopated beat. "A Barama" lit up the stage with African percussion instruments and a chant led by Senegalese musician Cheikh Lo. He danced in the soukous style which translates to "shake," similar to an African version of the Rumba. "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World" featured Lo on vocals accompanied by the gospel sound keyboards of Peter Madsen and the funky downbeat of Maceo Parker's sax.

"Say It Loud, I'm Black, I'm Proud" showcased Cross, Lo and Mahlasela in traded lead vocals from each other's respective African heritages in this rendition of this late 60's civil rights anthem. The hard driving brassy jazz swing of "We Want The Funk" ended the evening on a literal high note of Pee Willis sax and dancing in the aisles. The troupe encored with the 70's James Brown Band "Pass The Peas," led by soul man Maceo Parker's singing and hot horn blasts.