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Rahzel and Friends: A Rap Reunion at Brooklyn Bowl

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Rahzel and Friends at Brooklyn BowlThe message to the audience at Brooklyn Bowl for the Rap Reunion on July 28 was that hip hop music in the 1990s was more socially conscious than it is today, with something to say beyond just bling, babes, and bennies. Again and again, the performers who took the stage rammed home the point that politics and social commentary is where hip hop began, and that in some ways the music had lost its way over time, focusing more on celebrity and the high life. But mostly, the show was nostalgic for the old days the Eighties and Nineties, when Queens reigned as one of the rap centers in the country, whether in Queensbridge (Nas) or Hollis (LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C.) or St. Albans (A Tribe Called Quest), though the borough would ultimately be eclipsed by the rappers from Brooklyn and the West Coast.


The evening's headliner, Rahzel (born Rahzel M. Brown), is a former member of The Roots known for his prowess as a human beatbox—in particular, his ability to beatbox and rap at the same time. Throughout the evening, he told stories of how things used to be back in the day, such as his wariness whenever he and his crew went to Brooklyn, not wanting to show off their jewelry.


In a nod toward the future, the emcee’s son Rahzel Jr. started off the show with his song “The Culture.” Professing his love for hip hop culture, he rapped: “I don’t do it for the fortune or fame, I do it for the culture." 

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Celebrate Brooklyn 2016

IMG_3809Ever since I moved to Park Slope 14 years ago, the one thing that had kept me here more than any other is Celebrate Brooklyn, the two month series of (mostly) free concerts at the bandshell on the corner of 11th Street and Prospect Park West. I didn't make it to the first few shows of the season, but have made up for lost time over the last couple of weekends with several stellar shows from Martha Redbone, Josh Ritter, Aoife O'Donovan, The Wood Brothers, and the Egyptian megastar Hakim who, though new to me, drew a crowd of thousands of adoring expats. Indeed, the only English Hakim spoke all night were the words on his black t-shirt, printed in orange block letters: 'COME TO EGYPT."

More pics below.

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Preview: Big Ears Festival 2016

Big ears festival 2015I'm excited to be returning to Knoxville, TN this weekend for the Big Ears Festival, which I attended for the first time last year and was pretty much blown away by the wall-to-wall mix of new music, electronic music, jazz, drone, and every other genre that doesn't neatly fit into a Pandora's box. This year's lineup includes everyone from Philip Glass and John Luther Adams, to Andrew Bird and Sunn O))). The festivities begin tomorrow night; stay tuned here and @feastofmusic for updates. Click here for a video montage of last year's festival. 


Africa Now! at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

Mokoomba at the Apollo Theater(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The Africa Now! music festival, which just wrapped up it's fourth year at the Apollo Theater, aspires to provide American audiences with a tasting menu of current trends in African music. Of course, the problem in general with music showcases (i.e., SXSW, CMJ, etc.) is that sometimes a nibble just isn't enough. Often, groups are just hitting their stride when out trots the smiling emcee to introduce the next act.

Alsarah and the Nubatones, a Brooklyn-based band with origins in Sudan, played a silky smooth, jazz-inflected set that would have connected better with an audience in a midsize venue. Occasionally, she let out a sudden roof-raising belt that sent shivers through the audience, but most of the songs mixed gentle jazz rhythms with folk-style vocals, all strained through an East African filter.

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Christine and the Queens at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano

  Christine and the Queens
(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

To an English-speaking audience, the name Héloïse Letissier (le-TISS-ee-ay) was probably destined to drop to the bottom of the sea. But, reimagined as the semi-alliterative Christine and the Queens, Ms. Letissier has surfed across the Atlantic on a perfect wave of media hugs and kisses from Spin, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and others, who have heralded not only her brightly appealing dance pop, but also her gender-bending persona, often dressing in men’s-style suits.

Touring this fall in support of Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens headlined the Grand Ballroom at Webster Hall on November 11, playing to a sold out audience including a sizable French-speaking contingent. Technically speaking, Christine and the Queens is not a group, but a solo project. But Ms. Letissier tours with others—in this case, two dancers, a guitarist, and a guy on keyboards and electronics. She likes to run back and forth on the stage, moving in a manner that reminds some people of Madonna-style vogueing.

Ms. Letissier is an extremely beguiling performer. She's a bit goofy, a bit romantic, screams, whimpers, and throws herself headlong into every song. In her own words, she is your weird cousin who sits at the end of the table during dinner, playing with her fork. Her English is flawless, which should help her bypass the resistance some Americans have toward Continental Europeans.

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