“Mr. Mwenso, a Sierra Leonean vocalist, comes from the jazz world, but his messages arrive in the form of a growl, not a croon, and his band, the Shakes, is a thrashing hybrid whose concerts often take the form of a prewar revue. If a tap dancer arrives to blow your mind midsong, don’t say you weren’t warned.” – The New York Times
A century ago, the Great Migration turned New York City into a hub for rising black culture, where the Harlem Renaissance ushered in new waves of powerful black thought, literature, fashion, and music.
With Harlem 100, a collaboration with Harlem’s National Jazz Museum and JMG Live, host Michael Mwenso leads his band, the Shakes, through a multimedia variety show in celebration of this legacy. A refugee of Sierra Leone’s civil war, a teenaged Mwenso caught the attention of James Brown and became a regular guest at his London appearances before he relocated to New York to curate late sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at the request of another famous fan, Wynton Marsalis. Those concerts ultimately led to the Shakes, a highly adaptable and endlessly energetic outfit that plays with the zeal of perennial discovery. They revisit the sights and sounds of the Harlem Renaissance, bringing the songs of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Ethel Waters back to life as a tribute to one of the most influential artistic movements of our country.
Mwenso & the Shakes
Immigrating from Sierra Leone, London, South Africa, Greenwich Village, Madagascar, France, Jamaica, and Hawaii, Mwenso & the Shakes command jazz and blues expression through African and Afro American music for an electrifying show The New York Times calls “intense, prowling, and ebullient.”
“Brianna Thomas is the complete package… she exhibits emotional depth, to-die-for scat skills, incredible pitch control and shading, soulful bearing, and great range” (All About Jazz). With a healthy serving of sass, coyness, and soul, Thomas "may be the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of her generation" (The Wall Street Journal).
Michela Marino Lerman
Michela Marino Lerman is a globally sought-after tap dance artist. The Huffington Post has called her a “hurricane of rhythm,” and The New York Times has described her dancing as “flashes of brilliance.”
Young South African jazz vocalist Vuyo Sotashe is making his mark in the New York jazz scene. He won the very first Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Vocal Competition, the Audience Prize Award at the Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition, and was the very first male vocalist ever to place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal competition's finals.
Pre-Performance Talk with Michael Mwenso, 6:30 pm
Harlem Renaissance 100, This website details the Harlem Renaissance 100 event including artists, history, and ways to participate.
The Infectious Joy Of Mwenso & The Shakes, An NPR World Café studio session in which Mwenso & the Shakes perform songs from their jazz/R&B fusion album and talk about the origins of the band.
A Tap Dancer’s Place: After the Horn Player, Before the Drummer – The New York Times