Concert Review: Jay Z, Magna Carter World Tour

Live music is important to me. Sometimes it’s expensive, and money is no excuse for me; not because I have a lot of it, but because music is what I choose to spend it on. Money seems to be a lot of my friends’ excuse, but that just means they have different priorities than me. I’m glad I have surrounded myself with a variety of people with different interests, who spend their money how they see most beneficial to themselves and their community. In the end I’d rather have the friends I have, than a bunch of people with exactly the same interest as me. As they say, opposites don’t necessarily attract, but if you are exactly alike, then one of you is unnecessary.

I couldn’t convince any of my friends via any form of social media or text to go a show with me, so I dropped the dough and went to a Jay Z concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Alone.

Let’s start from the first moment I heard on the radio that Jay was coming to the Palace. It was 92.3 and I probably had just been blushing over Keith Sweat’s bedroom voice. They do this part of his evening show, where lonely middle aged women call into the station and he asks them how their day was and asks them a romantic, but appropriate, question. It ends up being sexy even though they’re talking about mostly mundane things. The fact I went to a Jay Z concert alone pretty much predetermines my fate as one of these lonely middle aged women calling 92.3 to talk to Keith Sweat.

While driving to the Palace for Jay, I listened to Thriller, the album. Just kidding! I listened to “Baby Be Mine” on repeat, because that’s my song. About three miles out from the Palace, traffic was basically standing still, but I didn’t care because I was dancing to Michael Jackson in my seat. I got there, I parked. Did you know they charge for parking too? I didn’t. At this point I had spent over $55 on Jay Z’s concert and I hadn’t even parked yet. #whatever

I’m walking from my car to the entrance and a group of five men approach me, of which at least two have braces and three are wearing khakis. “Why are you walking alone? I bet you got 16 friends in there waiting for you.” “Nope.” “YOU’RE SITTIN’ WITH US!” I walked spritely to the nearest women’s bathroom.

Take note, gentlemen who enjoy speaking to females: Saying, “Would you like to sit with us?” is much better than “YOU’RE SITTIN’ WITH US!” Give the girl the chance to say no, my brethren. This way she does not have to run to the nearest area designated for women only in order to shake you off.

This was my first concert at a big arena like the Palace. I frantically texted my friends about how excited I was. As I sat there in the upper bowl, gazing at the Piston flags hanging from the ceiling, a part of me wished that my first experience at the Palace had been a Piston’s game.

There were basically two kinds of people at this show: people being totally themselves and interacting with their friends, and people constantly looking around trying to be noticed by others. People walking to their seats said excuse me to the first kind of people, and the second kind were groped as others squeezed past them in the isle.

I’m happy that I was sitting between two people who knew lyrics to every song. The guy on my left, about my age, kept his coat on, sat most of the time and recited what he knew. The man to my right in Detroit Lions get-up from head to toe, older than me, stood the entire time, smoked a joint, and rapped along like it was his job. He also video taped whatever he found most interest in, narrating the show for whoever he was going to share the video with. I stood, danced, and recited a bit of what I knew. I didn’t recite all of what I knew, because it’s not my place to stand there and recite Jay Z’s experience back to Jay Z. Sometimes the best and most honest role a snowflake can play is to simply listen. You don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to “earn” your place listening to hip-hop. You don’t have to show off that you can dance, and you don’t have to stand with an awkward curve at the base of your spine in an attempt to make your butt look bigger than it actually is. Jay busted out laughing when he said “twerk Miley twerk,” and the musicians cut out the music because he was falling behind on the form due to his own laughter. You don’t have to appropriate black culture. You are allowed to just do you, and listen to the music.

My apologies to any snowflakes that I may have just riled up and made defensive.

I tried to hear as much of the man on my right’s narration as possible. I don’t know Jay’s music as well as many of the audience members there do. I do know that in 10 years, I’d kick myself for not seeing this tour. The week before the show I listened to as much Jay Z as possible, and decided just to absorb as much of the experience as I could while I was there.

A few questions went through my mind as I watched this spectacle of a concert, with lights that reminded me of both

the Blue Man Group

and Einstein on the Beach.

How could this man just stand there, at most walking a bit from side to side, keep the entire audience engaged? Many women who perform at the same caliber as him, (i.e. his wife) have to also be able to dance in costume. I dare Beyonce to perform an entire concert in an arena, just sitting on a stool at the front of the stage, in jeans and a t-shirt, and allow herself and her band to have zero choreography. No sarcasm intended, I bet the audience would still love that performance and adore the courage it takes to strip away the spectacle from a presentation.

I gotta give it to Jay though, he did have a costume change. He switched his hat to be forward facing and he added 6 more gold chains around his neck about ¾ of the way through the show. During that time, Timbaland performed a few numbers but the audience gradually lost interest in Timbaland’s interlude. However, when the close-up cams focused on Timbaland’s hands, I felt relieved that he was only using two fingers to play the keyboard. Even I can do that! Getting a degree in music was worth that piano lab!

At the beginning of every one of Jay’s songs, the audience gave an excited shout, as folks usually do when “their song” comes up. And, after each of those shouts Jay would say “I’ve got a million of these!” and then, everyone would scream at the intro to the next song and he’d repeat “I told you! I got a million of these!” The audience was reacting to old songs from Reasonable Doubt, all the way to newer songs like “N***** in Paris” and “Holy Grail.”

The amount of power that I was witnessing was unlike anything I’d seen before. There were thousands of people, reciting every word of his work along with him. That’s incredible to witness.

Thousands of people, in one place, reciting the entire canon of one man’s work.

It’s not like that only happened once, it happens everywhere this man goes. Music is a powerful, powerful (have I said that word enough?) source of information and unity. As Erykah said, “Hip-hop. It’s bigger than religion.”

What if a group of thousands of people could stand in one place and recite the work of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Steve Biko or Zora Neale Hurston? What if he had dedicated his performance to Toussaint Louverture, Malcolm X or Mumia Abu-Jamal instead of Nelson Mandela? These questions eventually lead back to the Harry Belafonte debacle.

I saw Harry Belafonte speak on MLK day, and he spoke for over an hour. He mentioned calling upon Jay Z & Mos Def for social action. Through connecting with Belafonte, these hip-hop megastars are going to perform a benefit concert on Father’s Day this year, dedicated to cultivating consciousness about violence against women. I ask the blogging community to stop criticizing Jay Z using Belafonte’s words. Somewhere amidst this outburst, our community failed to recognize that Jay and Belafonte are actually working together to bring about the consciousness of a global injustice.

Near the very end of Jay’s concert at the Palace, he told the tech crew to put the lights on in the house, and he surveyed his audience. He had the close-up camera crew zoom in on folks with “detroit vs everybody” and “detroit hustles harder” shirts. He thanked us for welcoming him to our city and asked us permission to perform “Empire State of Mind.” He gave shout outs to people who he noticed could rap along with every word throughout the concert. He showed love to every section of the audience and gracefully thanked everyone who was there. He genuinely smiled through most of his performance, and spent as much time as he could just talking with the audience, telling stories between songs and telling security that they were allowed to party too.  In the more relaxed moments of the show, I felt like the venue was infinitely smaller, where storytelling comes with territory. As far away from the stage that I was, I still felt warm and welcome there. I felt close to the music, and left knowing Jay a bit better than I did when I arrived.

Until next time,
Head-nod friends, head-nod

Taking Back the Night

by Maria Navedo

Take Back the Night is an annual event to raise awareness about sexual violence, relationship violence, and domestic violence. Usually when it comes up in conversation (So what’s this gig for?), just having the words “sexual” and “violence” next to each other is enough to end the conversation immediately (Oh okay.). That squirming is what Take Back the Night (TBTN) is trying to work through by inviting the public to explore these issues through workshops, panels, and group discussions. Other TBTN events are designed to give survivors a safe place to express themselves and their story, if they wish to, by decorating a T-shirt to hang on the anonymous Clothes Line Project, marching through the community, or the Speak Out event, where survivors can share their stories.

This year, Lansing’s Take Back the Night event also included an open-mic night. The goal of the event was to provide a break from workshops, which can often be very emotionally charged, to remind all of those who are survivors that there is more than just ‘surviving’ after an abuse. The event was called A Celebration of Life: Thriving Past Surviving. As a musician and a member of the coordinating committee, I decided to help set up and orchestrate this event along with Kari Edington – one of the co-coordinators of the entire event. I approached my good friend and talented bassist, Hannah Dexter, about putting together a group.

Ms. Dexter wanted to put together an all-girl funk/soul group for a while, but with the busy schedule that kept most of us working on other things, it had fallen through the cracks. Now, with a gig lined up and for a cause that perhaps made an all-girl group seem even more appropriate, the gears started turning. Eventually the final line-up of players was figured out featuring the swinging Len’I Glenn (surprising us all with her chops on drums as she is an accomplished bari saxophonist), the highly knowledgeable Cori Matsui on guitar, the fearless Mariela Alessandra Versola jumping head first into the land of the melodica (a usual alto saxophonist), of course, the fro-flow force of nature that is Hannah Dexter on electric bass, and myself on alto saxophone. We are Clean the Flo’

It was a powerful night that Friday. The little coffee shop was quiet and calm save for the individual efforts of those bent over notes and laptops.  We five women came in and unloaded our equipment bags. We set up in the corner, leaving just enough room for the audience which began to trickle in in small groups. Most of them would later perform music or spoken word later on. A buzz began to fill the cafe, which suddenly felt much larger, as they waited for the music – some happily, some nervously, others almost defiant in their strength.

It was time to hit and we took to our places. We played songs like Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by by Marvin Gaye, Watermelon Man by Herbie Hancock (a la Head Hunters), I Want You Back by Jackson 5, and F*** you by Cee-Lo Green. Playing in an all-female group creates a very special feeling for me. It’s the same feeling as realizing for the first time that a blindfold test turned out to be the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. For me, its a feeling that is at the core of Take Back the Night. Yes, there is a squirming and discomfort when the subject of sexual violence, relationship violence and domestic violence are brought up, but why? Because it’s taboo. Take Back the Night is an event to support and encourage people to break the silence – through the efforts of women and men survivors and co-survivors (their immediate friends and family who support them through the healing process) who are helping to slowly change the public conversation on sexual violence.

Being a female jazz musician used to be taboo too. Many women experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse as a result of being in the business of late nights, constant traveling, and often being a minority of the band. It was a virtually unheard of save for some of the strong, brave, beautiful women who paved the path and continue to lead the way. It is a slow process, but it is jazz artists like Mary Lou Williams, Billie Holiday, Tanya Darby, Anita O’Day, Tia Fuller, Terri Lyne Carrington and so many others who have done so much for the music that inspired Clean the Flo and many others that night to break the mold and break the silence.

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!
The JazzGirls

10 Fingers: Ishmael Butler


by Ella Campbell

For my birthday weekend, I traveled to Detroit to see Ishmael Butler perform in his duo known as Shabazz Palaces. In this group he rolls under the alias Palaceer Lazaro, but he is still affectionately known to many as Butterfly from Digable Planets. We know, Ishmael, Dig Planets take the three of you, but you hold a place in our memories that we can’t ignore! Ishmael is joined by a multi talented Zimbabwean percussionist, Tendai “Baba” Maraire. I love Ishmael’s voice, [I definitely have a place in my heart baby-voiced emcee/producers like Ishmael and QTip.], I love his vibe, style, MUSIC, hair… smile… salt n pepper beard… Lord have mercy.

I was watching the men of Shabazz Palaces create a type of music I’d never seen mixed live before. Their sound was so robust and full that it rumbled, rattled and kicked within my core, and clattered my eardrums. The combination of Ishmael’s skeleton rattling bass and electric sampling, with Tendai’s congas, mbira, hi hat, and other auxiliary percussion was mean. Tendai laid back, hard. Ishmael’s voice floated above it all. The way he pronounced his lyrics was all very soft, soft consonants. The blend of the timbre of his voice and softness of his pronunciation, with the mix’s rumbling underbelly, was truly astounding.

While writing, I’ve been listening to Black Up, Shabazz Palace’s latest album. Then I decided to switch to Reachin’. My heart blossomed with petals of admiration for Ishmael as soon as his voice graced It’s Good To Be Here. I busted out. I know Shabazz Palaces is completely different than Digable Planets, but you can still hear the Butterfly in Palaceer Lazaro – he even references some Dig Planets songs in his rhymes on Black Up. It’s like Daniel Radcliff or the cast of Friends, it’s hard to separate their past endeavors from their new projects. It’s also not a bad thing, just like when you listen to an artist and you hear their influences through them: the Ahmad Jamal in Robert Glasper, the Roger Troutman in Casey Benjamin, the Ray Charles in Ben L’Oncle Soul, the Billie Holiday in Madeleine Peyroux, it aids your admiration. It gives you a piece of history to connect them to.

I’m sure that Ish would be shaking his head if he saw how much I was talking about Dig Planets so let’s cut to the chase. The show ended. It’s amazing how fast the crowd peace’d so it was very easy to get backstage to talk to Ishmael.

1. What music did you grow up with that has stuck with you? Motown. We told him that was a good answer for being in Detroit, and he said “Oh yeah! I forgot that’s where we are. I tried to go to the Motown Museum today but it was closed. At least I got to look at the outside of it.”

2. What was the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? Prince, 1999. [Ishmael answered this question quicker than anyone we have interviewed yet. He said it before we finished the question.]

3. What is your favorite thoughtful music? Grachan Moncour III, Air Raid. [Jazz girls. If you are not hip to the album Evolution, I highly suggest you get it. A lot of the cats are on this record.]

4. The first time I asked the previous question, I said artist, not musician, and he mentioned Mickelene Thomas. Ishmael said she has the ability to depict creation in a biblical sense. [I noticed he said “‘biblical’ sense” – while wearing a keffiyeh and performing under the name Shabazz. I don’t think it’s significant, but it’s certainly intriguing!]

5. What is your favorite basement album? Ariel Pink (whose music has been distributed by Animal Collective)

6. If you could see any musicians perform, alive or dead, who would they be?
James Brown
Miles Davis
Billie Holiday
Erykah Badu
Lil B

7. What music were you listening to today? “I had a Wiz Khalifa song stuck in my head. I use Shazaam a lot too.” He pulled out his iPod “The song it’s on right now is T Rex, Ride a White Swan.” Tendai said he’s been listening to Lee Morgan and Nite Jewel.

8. Who is a young musician we should be looking out for? OC Notes. That’s all I’m going to say.

9. A film crew from Wayne State University was also there, and they interviewed him before us. We got to stand in the background and watch. They asked what their music was to them and Ishmael said “it’s hip-hop to us.” However, when the camera left and it was just the four of us, I asked him, What do you call the music you perform? “Black music. Because it’s true.” I rebutted, “So what am I doing here?” And they looked at me like I was crazy – Tendai spoke up “That doesn’t mean you can’t be here. It doesn’t mean you can’t listen to it.”

10. We are female musicians. When we go on stage we get a different vibe from the musicians and the crowd. Females add a different energy and dynamic to the stage. Can you tell us what it was like working with Ladybug? What is it like to have a female dynamic in a group? At this, Ishmael bowed his head and started laughing. My fellow jazz girl and I gave each other “that look.” I turned back to Ishmael and said “No. No giggling. Tell me exactly the first thing that came to mind when I said that.”
He looked up – “the first thing? Fantastic. It’s an adventure. It’s an adventure travelling with a woman. She is a true original. And, I like women, I think they are fantastic. But even if you don’t, women have a cerebral sensual power that everyone relates to differently. Female energy is not something to ignore. There is something very visceral about it.”