For many Brooklynites, the first sign of
summer is not weekends at the beach or installing the air conditioner,
but the BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival at Metrotech, which this
year begins on June 5 and runs every Thursday through Aug. 7.
The 10 noontime concerts will feature both established talent and rising stars - in an eclectic mix of classic and neo-soul, funk, gospel, reggae and world fusion sounds.
The series begins with funk band Zapp, whose single hits include "More Bounce to the Ounce" and "Dance Floor." Other funk acts include Floetry (June 12), a duo featuring songstress Marsha Ambrosius and emcee/spoken-work artist Natalie Stewart; and Fred Wesley and the J.B.’s (July 31), the legendary supporting cast of musicians behind James Brown’s R&B, soul, and funk hits during the 1960s.
Guitarist and singer/songwriter Corey Harris will perform his modern interpretation of Delta blues on June 26; and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band will demonstrate how it revitalized the brass band tradition with its blend of traditional marches, funk, R&B, hip-hop, gospel and rock on July 10.
On July 17, the Rhythm and Blues Festival presents a double bill: singer, songwriter and Atlanta icon, Donnie, and, opening for him, up-and-coming Downtown Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Martha Redbone.
In a telephone conversation from his home in Atlanta, Donnie told GO Brooklyn that his Metrotech performance will "be a first," as he’s never performed in Brooklyn before.
Donnie said he’ll be doing material from his newly released debut album "The Colored Section" (Universal), filled with socially conscious songs that speak to the African-American experience in America from the 19th century to the present.
Donnie says he’s been influenced by gospel singers ("there’d be no Backstreet Boys or ’N Sync without them"), and artists like Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, but his first and greatest inspiration was Michael Jackson.
"He was larger than life when I was a little kid," says the 28-year-old singer.
Donnie doesn’t believe, however, that black performers should only be influenced by other black performers.
"I love The Mama’s & the Papas," he declares enthusiastically.
But most of all Donnie considers himself a child of the ’90s.
"I’m a hip-hopper. I feel at one with my generation," he says. "I use the slang and rhythms of hip-hop. It’s opened a lot of doors for people who want to talk about more than partying and getting jiggy."
If Donnie’s earliest influences include gospel, that’s only one indication of the seminal importance of groups like Mighty Clouds of Joy (July 24). Led by singer Joe Ligon, the group began recording in 1960, pioneering a distinctly funky sound and fusing traditional southern gospel music with more secular music (they were the first gospel band to add brass, drums and keyboards to the standard quartet accompaniment of solo guitar) and even scoring a major disco hit, "Mighty High."
The sounds of the Caribbean are well represented at the festival, too. Steel Pulse, which was founded by British-Jamaican musicians, and became one of the most successful reggae bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s, will appear on July 3. The band blends traditional reggae, Euro-pop and messages of social justice in albums such as "Handsworth Revolution" (Mango, 1990), "Tribute to Martyrs" (Mango, 1990) and "Babylon The Bandit" (Elektra/Asylum, 1986).
Two members of Steel Pulse have close ties to Brooklyn - keyboardist Sidney Mills has a recording studio on Church Avenue near Utica Avenue, and guitarist Clifford Pusey lives in Flatbush.
Mills, who has been with the group for the past 15 years, told GO Brooklyn that the band will be performing songs from previous albums, as well as songs - such as "Africa Unite" - from an album to be released later this year.
"In the beginning, the band sang about living conditions of working class black people in Birmingham, England," said Mills. "But when the band became more popular, we could see outside Birmingham to world issues. We were a focal point for African liberation and the poor class that doesn’t get the chance to voice its opinions."
The legendary Jimmy Cliff, who helped define modern Jamaican music through singles such as "Wonderful World Beautiful People" "Wild Wild World," and, of course, "The Harder They Come," will close the festival on Aug. 7.
There’s even something for people who like surprises. Keep a lookout for the as-yet-unannounced guest artist of June 19.
Whether your musical roots go back to the ’60s or you blossomed in the ’90s, whether you swing to the blues or get inspiration from gospel, you’ll find lots of cool music for the hot summer at Metrotech.
BAM Rhythm & Blues Festival at Metrotech concerts will take place on Thursdays, from noon to 2 pm, from June 5 through Aug. 7. All concerts are free and open to the public. The concerts will be staged at the Metrotech Commons, at the corner of Flatbush and Myrtle avenues. For more information, call BAM Ticket Services at (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.
©2003 Community News Group
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