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In concert: The Roots and Mambo Sauce draft "American Playlist" at Kennedy Center

roots mambo sauceBlack Thought (left), meet Black Boo (right). The Roots and Mambo Sauce frontmen collaborated at the Kennedy Center, Sunday night. (All photos by Jahi Chikwendiu/TWP)

By Mark Jenkins

The Kennedy Center's "An American Playlist'' series promises an eclectic mix, and the wildest juxtapositions may be yet to come. But it's unlikely that the two subsequent performances can rival the sheer oddness of Sunday night's "An Evening of Music and Verse.'' The Concert Hall show was a squirt of go-go, a splash of hip-hop and a big gulp of rage.

The 90-minute concert opened with Mambo Sauce, a local group that plays a smoothied version of go-go, D.C.'s syncopated brand of funk. The sextet soon relinquished the stage to a pair of dark-suited functionaries, including a guy from Target, a major funder of the center's free concerts. They were followed by the show's hosts, ?uestlove and Black Thought of the Roots, the
Philadelphia hip-hop group that is also Jimmy Fallon's studio band. But the evening belonged to 15 young poetry slammers, most of whom performed without any musical accompaniment.

(Read the rest of this review and view more photos, after the jump)


Clearly intended as a cross-section of a diverse nation, the performers hailed from New York, Hawaii and New Orleans, and included a member of the Dine Nation, from New Mexico. And yet the tone of the monologues didn't vary much. Most of the pieces were confrontational, self-justifying and unleavened by humor. Even George Watsky, who ventured into stand-up-comedy terrain with a riff on the word "green,'' turned earnest in his final seconds.

Women predominated, so it was wise of Joshua Bennett not to rile them. The title of his piece, "10 Things I Want to Say to a Black Woman,'' drew some groans, but apprehension turned to applause when all 10 things turned out to be flattering (if sometimes greeting-card sentimental). Chennai's Chitralekhi Manohor blasted the people who label her "a Paki, a fatty, a wog,'' and April Chazev's mix of Dine chant and poetic rap ended with the declaration, "I am woman.'' (At the turntables, ?uestlove didn't reach for a Helen Reddy disc.)

Performers suggested that deadly tsunamis are somehow the result of "privilege,'' that Guantanamo prisoners are interchangeable "bodies,'' that Switzerland's ban on minarets is a form of "genocide'' and that Americans hide their murderous history by building "malls on your graveyards." (Not sure if the Target exec was still around for that one.) Politically, some of the taunts were justified. But even listeners who agreed with the sentiments -- and yes, of course, the Swiss should not have banned minarets -- might well have recoiled from the poetry's bombast.

If the show brought a leftist-coffeehouse vibe to D.C.'s plush culture palace, there were also moments of old-school show biz. After Black Thought finished the program with the second of his two short raps, Mambo Sauce frontman Alfred "Black Boo'' Duncan "spontaneously'' suggested a little jam. The combined musicians launched into the Roots's "The Next Movement,'' with ?uestlove on drums, as the assembled poets danced around the edges of the stage. However briefly, Guantanamo Bay yielded to Atlantic City.


By Click Track  |  July 19, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Mambo Sauce, The Roots  
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Is the only hiring requirement for this blog that the writers be cynical and myopic? This review is as off base as Chris Richards' write up of the Dead Weather show last week. Though it is true that some of the poems last night were confrontational (especially the Guantanamo Bay piece) the vast majority of them were well constructed and moving, and some of them were completely apolitical.

Even if Jenkins took issue with every piece in the performance, how could the closing piece by Kataalyst Alcindor not warrant a mention? A beautiful poem, about a young man trying to find his place in the world, conversing with God on the nature of the universe and love, had the entire concert hall clapping and cheering and closed out the night on a poignant (and poetic) note. The musical performances that came after felt, at least to the immediate crowd around where I was seated, like a continuation of the emotional journey the audience had just taken.

It is unfortunate that the writers of this blog feel the need to twist minor details of the performances they review to construct entirely negative narratives of the events featured in their articles. Can anyone surfing the comments recommend a good DC arts and events blog? I just had some space open up in my Google Reader.

Posted by: nowonderwapoisdying | July 19, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

It is a shame that "nowonderwapoisdying" cannot keep the names "Richards" and "Jenkins" straight. These are two different names belonging to two different people. But why let facts stand in your way?

After reading this, as well as some of the "comments" to Eugene Robinson's op-ed this morning, I am convinced more than ever that, on the WaPo site, either 1) comments should be submitted, and screened before being displayed on the site, or 2) comments should be eliminated, and anyone wishing to respond should send a traditional letter to the editor. The vitriol, and the frequently personal nature of the attacks that appear on this site, are truly disgusting.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | July 20, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

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