In the dark recesses of a tree-lined street in Brooklyn there is a glimmer of purple light that marks a hip BK resident’s after-after hours spot. This writer was fortunate enough to be invited with an exclusive and select few to migrate to this modern day speakeasy. Lurking in the shadows were writers, artists, lawyers, photographers, actors, producers, all converging on this Brooklyn basement during the wee hours of the morning. There was a rumor that Aloe Blacc would stop by to bless the crowd with a performance even after his 12 hour train ride back to the city.
Lush couches, a bar that didn’t ply it’s patrons with drinks, hard wood floors, exposed brick walls and wood finishes. The atmosphere was quite homey. Little Dragon spun on the DJ’s playlist as the stereotype of Brooklyn residents dissipated, everyone knew everyone even if you didn’t know anyone; a meeting place for old friends and newly formed relations.
By 1:30 am Aloe was not even in the room. There was an upright bass suited with black casing brought to the middle of floor along with a guitar and a box drum. A lanky, scruffy haired man stepped from the dark purple hued walls to take his seat on the box drum and reveal more percussion instruments. He was joined by a man donning a tan cap who picked up the guitar and a bearded sandy blond man who stripped the upright of its covering to show off a black and white stencil that took the upper left section of the bass and added even more character to the already massive instrument. But the gentleman taking the floor was NOT Aloe Blacc. I was introduced to a young Ghanaian-American with jeans, a track jacket, kicks and a brimmed hat. He rhymed in English and an unfamiliar dialect which I think could have been Twi. Both incredibly powerful and commanding; the producer, composer, percussionist, visual artist, and lyricist was none other than Blitz the Ambassador.
Closing his eyes he transported us to the sounds of Accra City, Ghana. I would admit that at 1:45 am I was not completely coherent as I am not a true New Yorker because in my city they actually do sleep. But what I was present for moved me to see more of this intriguing gentleman. As the speakeasy always wants to be respectful of their neighbors (another insight to BK residents that was not expected) the set was stripped down. Blitz combines Hip-Hop with Ghanaian High Life music which is horn heavy, but the horns were not present on this occasion. He rhymes about an Africa that we do not see on the news, struggle experienced by a skin tone and what lies on a man’s heart; family, love and his people. Abena Koomson (from the cast of Fela currently on Broadway) lent her voice to his set singing chords that sent chills across my body. Blitz asked for a little bit of crowd participation (again… at about 2:15 am). He even told that crowd they couldn’t sing… which was true, but still they chimed in per his request. I can say that I really enjoyed Blitz. I am surely excited to hear him with horns in tow. His latest EP, StereoLive can be downloaded here. (I am also feeling the track Change featuring Rob Murat on his mix-tape.)
There was a slight shifting of bodies. Musicians took a little hydration break and came back to play for another 30 – 45 mins with none other than Aloe Blacc. I remember Aloe from my days attending the Winter Music Conference in Miami. “Bailar” was my jam! That sound and his current sound are not the same. His electronic sound has given away to reveal a more serious and introspective showmen backed by live instruments. He showed us how “I Need a Dollar” was written and meant to be performed. Yet another interactive song which needed crowd participation at about 2:30 am … I am not sure he got what he was looking for from the shadows of hip BK residents. To paraphrase “we are more of a spectator society…”; which is quite true in many cases. He then performed it how we have heard it many times over. His set was engaging. He discussed creating his music and his thought behind some of his lyrics. He also asked a “What would you do if…?” question that got folks chattering about homeless people that would take that “dollar” and use it to possibly destroy their bodies. Folks started to go off on a tangent and one gentleman just KEPT talking. He was fired up about the topic. Fortunately, Aloe started to sing again and the crowd subsided. Aloe’s latest CD Good Things made its way to iTunes this week and should definitely be listened to. He struck a chord with the song “Mama Hold My Hand” a story of him growing from a child to an adult. There were a few tears in folk’s eyes at one point. His calm demeanor drew us all in. Really the song could have set up a lot of people but Aloe pulled us out with another song that allowed the tear ducts to relax.
I was sitting on a cloud in this Brooklyn speakeasy. The anthropologist in me was quite satisfied and the live music connoisseur was as well. There were two wonderful performances from two thought provoking gentlemen with substance and confidence.
If you are ever in Brooklyn and you see a purple light illuminating from a brownstone basement… you are probably in the right place.