Juneteenth celebrates global Black American music — #Berkshireweekend

Guitar and percussion are racing, warm and complex as a river in the rain, and Tendai Muparutsa is singing songs he grew up knowing at home in Zimbabwe. He’s laughing, drawing in the audience to clap, playing the rhythms against one another. In African music, he says, people don’t just listen — we play.

We’re at the Church Street Center at MCLA, a crowd of all ages, celebrating Juneteenth on Sunday afternoon. Children run up to the front of the room between songs. Elders move to be comfortable, and I’m joining in the body percussion.

I’ve heard Tendai sing and perform as director of the Zambezi Marimba Band at Williams College, but when he picks up the mbira here, or holds a drum under one arm — a talking drum? — the music feels … closer to home.

Gina Coleman, vocalist of the cclaimed Berkshire group Misty Blues, performs live. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA.
Misty Blues

Gina Coleman, vocalist of the cclaimed Berkshire group Misty Blues, performs live. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA.

We’re in the middle of an afternoon of music, ranging over time and place, from Chantell McFarland’s hommage to Aretha Franklin to Diego Mongue’s electric guitar and rap-inflected rock. On a day that celebrates freedom, hundreds of years of songs are weaving together to honor the depth and force of Black American music.

Gina Coleman and the Misty Blues walk on stage with humor, not far off the beginning of their European tour, and reach back to the roots of blues and to the Puerto Rican rhythms Coleman tells us she knew growing up in New York. She sings low and driving, the sax and guitar accelerate into their solos and her voice powers liftoff.

And then Wanda Houston walks out on stage, with the presence to fill the room even sitting in silence, and she moves us through a century of strength and call to action — we’re in a jazz club with W.C. Handy, we’re in Summertime with a taunting challenge, we’re with Nina Simone in the fear and heat of a summer 50 years ago that could be today — and she knows how to fly.

Berkshire and nationally known vocalist Wanda Houston. Press photo courtesy of the artist.
Wanda Houston

Berkshire and nationally known vocalist Wanda Houston. Press photo courtesy of the artist and Construct, Inc.

Events coming up …

Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.

A boy and a lamb walk by the pasture at Hancock Shaker Village.
Apr 17 2024 @ 11:00 am
Hancock Shaker Village welcomes visitors to meet their newest farm babies – lambs, piglets, calves, chicks and kid goats, and enjoy events and activities throughout the Village.
Wildflowers bloom on Stone Hill with the Clark Art Institute in the distance. Press photo courtesy of the museum
Apr 17 2024 @ 1:00 pm
Celebrate spring and Earth Day at the Clark with an art-making activity that incorporates indigenous pollinator seeds that you can take home and plant.
A local exhibit of poems celebrate the Hoosic River on the suspension bridge at Tourists Welcome in North Adams.
Apr 17 2024 @ 6:00 pm
The Hoosic River Watershed Association invites everyone in the communities along the river to celebrate the waterway and write haiku inspired by the river and its surroundings.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

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