Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sharon Jones and The Dap King; Ben L'Oncle Soul

Stern Grove Festival 74 was quite spectacular. Many in the audience there because of Sharon Jones and the Dapp-Kings were quite blown over by Ben L-Oncle Soul. The cute kid in glasses brought a full blown orchestra including a fantastic rhythm section with horns. He even had go-go boys in bow ties, knickers and blue cardigan vests, but that didn't stop them as they kept hydrated and boogied till the very end (smile). The day was San Francisco warm--record warm, not wear one's jacket and hope for the sun weather.

One could say that spring is here, summer just around the corner--

The line for autographs was so long, Sharon Jones was into her third, maybe fourth song before Ben finished. He sold out all his posters (large and small) along with his CDs at $30 a pop. Now Sharon Jones would have made a killing. I don't know why she didn't have product on sale, even if she couldn't sign them.

She was the name, the draw.

With radio announcer bass in his voice the bassist, who is also a writer, introduced the Dappettes first, Star Duncan and Sandra Williams who both sang a couple of songs before Ms. Jones came on stage in a short shimmy--black with silver accents. Hair in a short page boy, cute silver slippers with heels and modest silver jewelry, I couldn't imagine her as a corrections officer at Rikers Island until she sang a song about kids growing up.

However, it was her song for the ancestors--actually an ancestor set, that well,it was the best celebration of African American history on an Emancipation Day that I can recall.

She started talking about her heritage: Indigenous and African and how her African family got here-- in chains and how they must have danced when they were freed. She then started naming nations: Cherokee, Seminole, Crow, Blackfeet, Creek . . . . and incidents marking the massacres and slaughters, like the white man's killing off the buffalo. Then she did a dance such that they might have as they still fought for freedom--resistance was certainly in the air, in her genes, in Stern Grove Sunday afternoon as Jones's head back, arms out, knees bent danced her ancestor's freedom song.

Working up to her birth, decades later Jones spoke about attending church with her grandmother and recalled the SHOUT: one part praise, the other part joy. "Both ancestors started in the feet and the feet would ShOUT." Jones said.

Her explanation reminded me of Saturday at the Friend's of the Negro Spirituals Emancipation Sing-a-long, where scholar Wendell Brooks spoke about the SHOUT, how it black people used their voices as drums when the drum was taken away--the choral music tradition one created and embraced by enslaved African--the SHOUT a way of embodying the music.

As the saga traveled through her body: hips, arms, neck, and head . . . Jones added a bit more choreography to the step which was moving her from one end of the stage to another. It was here that she used her towel for the first time.

As I stated, it was simply marvelous watching her relive that history!

The tempo slowed it down with "100 Days, 100 Nights," which reminded me thematically of the Ark with Brother Noah. I think it rained 40 days and 40 nights. I'm sure everyone was a bit stir crazy. The story also reminded me of poor Scheherazade and the king . . . but that was "1001 Nights" or Arabian Nights.

This was the finale and the organizers told the band that there were no encores --that 4:30 was it. However, even that end was negotiable --all the people standing and clapping must have moved some bureaucrat's heart--so Jones ended her celebration of the musical tradition James Brown made popular, with his classic: "It's a Man's World."

It was such a perfect Father's Day song and she admitted after the song, as she wished dad's a Happy Father's Day, that she'd forgotten. But then she hadn't had she?

Her tunes which I didn't know at all included: "Longer and Stronger," "Money"--where she stopped and looked at my friend, and asked him if his funds were enough; "She Ain't a Child Anymore;" "Mama Don't Like My Man," a fun tune that showcased the women's harmony--the sisters were hot on this tune which was a throw back to the girl bands.

Ms. Jones said that she'd been on the road for a year and a half. That's a long time. Her band was bigger than Ben's, however, both groups were 60s funk and Jones could dance too.

She took us to Soul Train the famous line along a route that only stopped at the best stations. Jones would called out "Dapp Kings play some funky chicken music" and they would oblige--precise and professional, the band was rocking the entire time as with the toot of Jones's whistle even before she kicked off her shoes.

"That's okay," she said as someone looked for her dancing shoes in the dressing room. After dancing barefoot at the first stop, the tour could get better with stops at cool jerk, mashed potatoes, swim and others popular dances of that wonderful period in American history.

Ben's band was the perfect warm up for a Sharon Jones--who would have known? Well obviously the programmers at Stern Grove Festival did and so they brought this fantastic band all the way from France to hang out with us on Juneteenth--soul music in France. Singing in both English and French, Ben's band played an introductory medley where I hear James Brown's Hot Pants.

To get to know his audience, Ben asked all of us to say our names together after he introduced the band. It was really cool--I don't think anyone ever did this before. He played some covers --most I didn't know. One was a hip hop selection and the choreography showed the artist's range. Up beat and positive Ben shared a dream he had about a song as he performed.

When people outside American speak fluent English, I feel so lazy which is why children need to get a second and third language, before the privilege bug sets in (smile).

Musical historian at my table told me about the Dapp Kings as Amy White

One wouldn't have known Jones was now 55 if she hadn't told us. She danced the entire set nonstop.

Visit for information about the entire season. Next week Jazz Mafia Symphony feature MC Chali 2Na debuting a new symphony, Symphony No. 2, The Emperor Norton Suite. Concerts start at 2 PM.


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