Mwenso and the Shakes (USA): Harlem 100
Mwenso and the Shakes: Harlem 100
Decades after the Civil War had ended, the supposed Reconstruction gave ground to a tide of segregationist policies and politics in the South. As a result, The Great Migration began to turn Northern cities into hubs for rising black culture. Chief among them, of course, was New York City, where the Harlem Renaissance ushered in new waves of powerful black thought, literature, fashion and music. Jazz evolved quickly in this fertile artistic environment, which saw the stride piano of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, and the bold voicings of Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday—all becoming key catalysts for the United States’ most original music. A century later, the Harlem Renaissance remains a key period of progress in the United States’ slow push for equality—and in the advance of its arts.
With Harlem 100, a collaboration with Harlem’s National Jazz Museum, undeniable showman Michael Mwenso leads his band, the Shakes, through an ecstatic multimedia celebration of that legacy. A refugee of Sierra Leone’s civil war, a teenaged Mwenso caught the attention of James Brown and became a regular guest at his London appearances before he relocated to New York to curate late sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at the request of another famous fan, Wynton Marsalis. Those concerts ultimately led to the Shakes, a highly adaptable and endlessly energetic outfit that plays with the zeal of perennial discovery. At The Clarice, they revisit the sights and sounds of the Harlem Renaissance, bringing the songs of Waller, Ellington, Holiday and the like back to life, showing that the force and fun of these standards remain.