By: Dru Era
Welcome To Bronzeville
I approached the Short North Stage auditorium on March 14 not really knowing what to expect. This was my first time hearing about The New Black Eastside Songbook, a six-song suite, but was intrigued as soon as I could grab a seat.
The opening performance brought a lot of Harlem Renaissance nostalgia from unforgettable saxophone player Eddie Bayard and drummer Dr. Mark Lomax, whose contribution "Welcome to Bronzeville" sounded like an instrumental off of Kendrick Lamar's jazz-influenced LP, To Pimp A Butterfly. This instrumental collaboration set the tone and was followed by applause from a crowd patiently waiting for what was to come.
After the introduction, a spoken-word piece was performed by DJ Krate Digga called Blight Privilege, which had an epic, yet abstract instrumental featuring hi-pitched chipmunk vocals transitioning into dark low-pitched (screwed) vocals. The content being delivered was about troublesome issues within the black-community such as high mortality rates, low graduation rates and gun violence.
Following this act was a nice solo performance named "Rashaan Rollin' in the Dirt" from In The Record Store’s very own, Jordan Sandidge. Jordan painted the picture with his soulful vocals that, "No one gives a damn about Rahsaan, they don't want him thinking for himself," giving the crowd the perspective of a black male living within the boundaries of an unjust system.
Soon after Jordan's performance was another jazz reference from Counterfeit Madison who played the piano as well—reminiscent of of Ella Fitzgerald—with a message of, "Shame on the ni*** who forgets that he's a target". This powerful message, called "Olde Town Beast," conveyed that a black person should never feel completely safe or comfortable due to any status he or she has in America, because those who build you up will tear you down just as fast. Jay Z's “The Story Of O.J.” references this message as well.
Throughout this suite, a lot of gentrification and oppression was being discussed through each artist creativity, until Paisha Thomas and Co. brightened the crowd up with hope, making us all wonder what our culture would be like if Christopher Columbus was black. We all know the historical narrative about the genesis of Africans coming to America, and they were painting the picture of what if and how life would be different today through "Things to do in Black Columbus."
Overall, I really enjoyed the performance from all the acts and loved the messages that were presented on stage. The New Black Eastside Songbook’s artistic messages was a great reflection on society highlighting the triumphs and issues within black culture. I feel that art is at its best when you can easily see the influences in it through the society we live in; after all, art is imitation of life.
Organizer Scott Woods did a great job conceptualizing this set, and I look forward to seeing future performances from everyone.