Like the free-form radio of the early ’70s, when you could hear Miles Davis, Aerosmith, and Parliament-Funkadelic back to back to back, the Providence Black Repertory Company has attempted to defy categories and expectations. Since its inception 10 years ago, the non-profit’s bread and butter has been to open the eyes and ears of its patrons, whether by putting disparate artists and genres together on the same bill or by snagging and showcasing unknown but remarkably talented acts. The only thread that holds each together, says, Black Rep founder Donald King, is quality.
BRINGING THE PHILLY SOUL: The Spinners.
“Most normal people don’t listen to the same kind of music day in and day out. They’ve got their iPods filled with all kinds of stuff. You can’t have 10,000 songs on an iPod and not have different genres on it!”
King and his crew’s “genre-defying” tag is real, and at no time is it more real than in the coming week, when they’ll be staging Sound Session ’07, one of the most electrifying events of the year on the local music calendar. It begins on Sunday (the 14th) with a gospel brunch and ends on Saturday (the 21st) with a late-night show in their back lot.
“We set out to create a genuine organic cultural event that would bring the community together,” says King. “We’re trying to create an event that, if you’re adventurous, you could sample the acts and be blown away. Every act we book is of superior quality.”
Sound Session began four years ago as a three-day festival, but with increased sponsorship and audience support, it has since blown out into an ecstatic, weeklong musical celebration.
“I think we’re really finding our groove,” says Black Rep’s Micah Salkind, the public programs coordinator. “We’ve been surprised by the reception of something so genre-defying. People come for the whole week and they trust us to give them something great every night.”
The fest begins with the gospel acts MUSIC ONE, TRINITY RHODES, and THE VOICES OF RHODE ISLAND MASS CHOIR and operatic soprano LISA E. HARRIS, and ends with a set by soul singer JAGUAR WRIGHT. Monday night’s show stars TAYLOR MCFERRIN, the talented son of Bobby. Tuesday boasts the Haitian roots music of ZILI MISIK and dancehall diva QUEEN IFRICA. The all-female ZM will also back up Ifrica, creating the rare opportunity to see the male-dominated reggae performed by women. On Wednesday it’s Latin jazz and salsa with the EDWIN PABÓN ORCHESTRA. Thursday brings the deep house of RON TRENT, and on Friday it’s soul greats THE SPINNERS at PPAC, with AUDIBLE MAINFRAME (a live hip-hop band) and LADYBUG MECCA (from Digable Planets) in the late slot at the PBRC’s HQ on Westminster Street.
There are many other performers in this spectacular cross-pollination, and the ultimate hope for King would be to see some of them hit the stage and jam, to meld styles not just on the same bill, but on the same stage. “We want to demonstrate to people what ‘genre-defying’ actually means,” says King. “The idea is to get past the surface of music and dig down deep to see what we can find.”
SS07 will culminate on Saturday with all-star jazz and Cuban jazz with JAMES MOODY and PLENA LIBRE at Waterplace Park, morph into a parade through the city from the park to the Black Rep, and then a big block party with the WHAT CHEER? BRIGADE and the YOUNGBLOOD BRASS BAND, avant-rockers MAHI MAHI, DJ RICH MEDINA, the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of DRUMS OF FREEDOM, and Trinidadians UTOPIA PAN SOUL. Saturday’s slate looks to be a night of nights, with its mindboggling array of style and substance.
King’s elaborate and ambitious musical vision may at first seem haphazard. But he and Salkind insist that all that happens throughout Sound Session ’07 — an event in the planning stages since last fall — is by design. “All year round we asked ourselves, ‘How can we create an event that can bring together people from all sections of the city?’ ” says King. “We do it all through the year at Black Rep, and we just try to take it one step further, as best we can given our monetary constraints, when we put together the festival.”
Ideally, those monetary constraints will be temporary. This year, 30 sponsors have stepped up their contributions in a big way, putting money where their mouths are to support the non-profit effort. The enthusiasm already has King thinking about next year, the fifth installment of Sound Session: “Hopefully, if we gain enough friends and members, we can expand our programs.” PBRC also has educational programs for kids. “We want to keep our doors open for everyone in the community. Next year we’d like see a rock stage at the festival and bring some of those rock bands to play on the other stages and see what happens then!”
Apparently, the creative wheels of King and PBRC never stop turning.
Foo!’s on first
Speaking of block parties, if you’re downtown on Saturday, July 14, you’ll find Empire Street overrun by thousands of thrill-seekers, daredevils, deal-hunters, indie geeks, heroes and villains, sinners and saints. The excuse? It’s AS220’s “gazillionth annual” FOO! FEST, a block party that features a lively bill of curious and worthwhile rock, savory eats, sundry shopping, and Technicolored entertainment. It’s that rare occasion where you’ll find nighthawks under the blinding rays of a noonday sun gorging alongside eager music types in a free-for-all rave-up that raises money for AS220, the city’s vital non-profit arts haven. Bring a little extra cash and pick up some of that ol’ vinyl you’ve been looking for at the Providence Record Sale and Rock ’n’ Roll Yard Sale. And who knows what you’ll find in the handmade arts section, dubbed a Crafty Affair, or at the Anarchist Bookfair. Call 401.831.9327 or go to www.as220.org.
: New England Music News
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