Harlem has a legacy for keeping things classy, but for the crowd at the Marian Anderson Theater on Friday, March 2nd Uptown had a more metropolitan feel than usual. Ten blocks north of 125th street, ladies and gentlemen sat in the tasteful auditorium while a full orchestral like band– including a full horn section, piano, bass, drums, guitar and percussion players–all got in position and tested their instruments.
Everything seemed very hi-brow… right up until the conductor came out sporting a loose blazer, button-up shirt, baggy 501 jeans, white Adidas and a fitted hat to cue up the first tune. That’s when it became obvious that this wasn’t Opera at the Met with Beethoven and Bach. This was Hip-Hop in Harlem with composers named A Tribe Called Quest.
“Their impact,” says Simone Eccleston, Assistant Director of Programming, on why Tribe got the nod for the tribute, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: Innovation and Legacies, A Movement in 4 Parts. “Everyone from jazz pianist Vijay Iyer to neo-soul pioneer D’Angelo references them in concerts, it’s an incredible legacy!”
During the three-day event, sectioned off into 4 separate movements, the attendants were welcomed into ATCQ heaven as the Harlem Stage organization saluted arguably the G.O.A.T. of Hip-Hop groups. The first movement, “Footprints,” featured analysis of Tribe’s music with experts Alvin Blanco, Akiba Solomon, Fab 5 Freddy and moderator Harry Allen. This was followed by some electric relaxation for movement two, “Excursions,” with Revive Da Live Big Band their arranger and conductor Igmar Thomas moving the crowd.
“The biggest challenge was keeping it relevant for the average listener,” Igmar says of the creative process behind converting the jams into band form. “The trick is to make it as cool, fun, and entertaining as possible.”
Well, with Buckshot of Black Moon, Dres of Black Sheep, Sadat X of Brand Nubian, Dinco D & Charlie Brown of Leaders Of The New School, singer Vinia Mojica and in-house MC John Robinson teaming up to perform tracks from all over Tribe’s catalog, it looks like the mission was accomplished.
“It was full circle movements,” John states. “Rocking amongst some of the same cats who indirectly raised me up as an MC and writer, it was dope.”
Horn solos and live percussion gave new life to the expertly sampled tracks like “Scenario” and “Find A Way.” However, it was the human touches that really made the night more than just another music tribute. At one point an original member of Tribe, Jarobi, came on stage and asked the mother of Phife Dog, who was in attendance, to stand up and be acknowledged as he thanked her for “making my best friend” to a standing ovation.
When the last song wrapped the crowd headed across the street for the third movement, “SPIT (Speakin In Tongues)” and was greeted by DJ Cosi spinning the best of the Native Tongues from De La Soul to Queen Latifah. When the music stopped, Dres of Black Sheep grabbed the mic and broke into their classic “Flavor Of The Month.” After inviting Jarobi onstage, the two announced their new group Evitan (Native backwards) and swung into their new songs “Give It To Me” & “Keep Keeping On” before closing out with the “The Choice Is Yours.”
Not wanting to be outdone by the night before, Movement 4, “Beats Rhymes & Beyond” paid tribute to one half of The Ummah, J-Dilla. A live band known as the J-Dilla Ensemble backed local rhyme heroes YC The Cynic, John Robinson and Homeboy Sandman closing out the night with some of Dilla’s most memorable work.
Once the lights came on there was no doubt that the music didn’t have to be Opera to be classic.