by Steven Pisano
If the name Ned Sublette rings a bell, you may remember that his band achieved fame in the late nineties and early oughts for country music flavored with Cuban stylings, including the hit "Cowboy Rumba." But, Sublette is also a formidable musicologist and historian, with a special focus on New Orleans and Cuban music.
At Symphony Space this past weekend, a range of artists read selections from Ned Sublette's critically acclaimed book "The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry" Among them were film director Jonathan Demme, R&B singer Nona Hendryx, writer Carl Hancock Rux, writer and country singer Kandia Krazy Horse, and jazz singer Lezlie Harrison, among others. Sharing the stage was the New Orleans sax legend Donald Harrison, along with Detroit Brooks on guitar and banjo, Zaccai Curtis on piano, and Darryl Staves on drums. Slides projected on a screen over the stage made the performance feel like we were in the middle of a Ken Burns film.
For the most part, the band played music from the 1800s as an atmospheric backdrop to some of the readings. But on a few occasions, the musicians let loose to show what they could play, much in the same way that a spiritual sung at a Baptist church raises up the congregation after a stern sermon from the minister. Harrison and his bandmates revitalized the theater audience after a long night of tales about the economic history of slavery.
More photos can be found here.