Akua Allrich at the Howard Theater
Amidst clapping hands and shouts of encore from the now-sparse but delighted Wednesday night crowd, the band started packing up to leave. After some gentle coaxing, a clearly beaming Allrich returned to the mike and delivered the surprise of the night: an ingeniously rendered version of Simone's "Baltimore." Rearranged into a thoroughly modern R&B ballad, Allrich's political bent and insightful interpretation leveraged Simone's pointed lyrics into a poignant and contemporary reminder of the progress still needed to heal the social and economic inequities that Simone depicted and that sadly still exist 40 years later. This departure from the usual upbeat "burner" encore underscored Allrich's unusual talents and approach. Her choice to conclude the evening with a bittersweet moment lingered in the mind on the return home, drawing one's eyes to the empty streets and parts of the city still untouched by Washington's economic rise.
A stellar debut for Allrich, the night was also a reminder that on any given night if you find yourself in the right place and listen closely, moments of beauty and powerful self- expression are there to be found.