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.
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.
Events coming up …
Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.