Mos Def and The Amino Alkaline Orchestra with Gil Scott-Heron
Carnegie Hall/JVC Jazz Festival 2008
New York, New York
Saturday, June 28, 2008
On Saturday, June 28, 2008 the JVC Jazz Festival brought Brooklyn's own renaissance man, Dante Smith, a.k.a. Mos Def, to town with his big band Amino Alkaline Orchestra, featuring special guest Gil Scott-Heron. Mos Def's Amino Akaline-The Watermelon Syndicate rocked the dome of Carnegie Hall for a diverse audience of what seemed like thousands. The show opened with the featured performer's twenty-three piece band walking onto the stage with the image of the late, legendary radio man, talk show host, and activist, Petey Greene, shown overhead on a large screen above the stage, eating watermelon. Petey Greene urged the audience to eat and enjoy; perhaps a metaphor for the evening to come.
Once his band was in place, Mos Def seemed to glide smoothly on the stage, to the roar of shouts and applause. The young rapper, poet and thespian wore a white sailor cap, a long white t-shirt and multi- colored shorts that nearly came to his ankles. The ever unpredictable and charming rapper, greeted the crowd and jokingly said to an audience member in the front row, "What? You don't like my shorts?" The crowd laughed. The band started up with classic jazz, bebop and blues sounds, as he sipped water and prepared to deliver his rhymes. The twenty-three piece ensemble included an impressive horn section, keyboards, guitar, drums, and an all-female string section, which Def pointed out as comprising "very beautiful and talented women."
At a time when critics and artists alike have questioned whether hip hop is dead, one of the genre's own manages to bridge hip hop, jazz and blues in a most elegant way, while keeping it real. Mos Def announced at the beginning of the show, "We put this band together because we love music. It's something we wanted to see going on that wasn't." When Mos started singing the early '90's R&B song "Poison" by Bell , Biv and Devoe, the crowd went wild. The audience bobbed their heads and sang along when Mos covered the Pharcyde's "Passing Me By" and Stevie Wonder's "That Girl." He showed the masterful emcee skills that he is known for when he rhymed lines in succession, from several classic hip hop songs by artists such KRS-1 and Eric B. & Rakim. Amino Alkaline meanwhile gave concert go-ers of all ages something to enjoy as the band covered tunes from Busta Rhymes' "Gimme Some More" to Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue." Along with Def they also paid tribute to James Brown and Fela. Def himself appeared to be in musical heaven as he scatted and sang the lyrics to Fela's "No Agreement" while praising Barack Obama's goal to become the first African- American President. A refreshing moment in the show was the rapper's duet with Renee Neufville (formerly of Zhané) on the Eurythmics' song "Sweet Dreams."
You could feel the love and energy in the air as several audience members throughout the concert called to Mos Def, saying, "I love you!" and "We love you!" Halfway through Mos' performance, an audience member shouted, "Do 'Umi Says'!" Def paused, faced the audience, and replied humorously, "Thank you for your interest, but not now. See we got this thing called a set list and rehearsals. For your sake and ours." The audience laughed once again.
At one point Def gave shout outs to "New Orleans" and "Wayne Carter" for Carter's newly released album, which has recently sold one million copies. In between songs, Def told stories and shared his artistic vision with the audience, "I'm from Brooklyn, New York. Starting a band is an excuse to have a gang. If you gon' bang, bang for freedom," he said. And then he held his red, black and green flag high above his head. After this introduction, he delivered a rap acapella, written by Jay Electronica, an artist he admires who is from New Orleans.