In concert: The Roots and Mambo Sauce draft "American Playlist" at Kennedy Center
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.
July 19, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories: In concert | Tags: Mambo Sauce, The Roots
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