Times Square 2009

 

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  Fair to say about any city, New York in particular, Times Square is Manhattan’s busiest bee hive of activity and one of the reasons this town never sleeps.  With its gigantic screens, Times Square is one of the best places for New Yorkers to gather to hear the news that shape and affect our world. Two events that brought New Yorkers together at Times Square are the Inauguration of President Obama and the memorial service for Michael Jackson. 

New Yorkers stood in the crispy January air to witness history as the first Black president took the oath of Commander in Chief.  Whether you voted for Obama or not, no one could dispute the importance of the day.  For those who couldn’t get to D.C., Times Square was the next best thing.  Standing in the cold gave a sense of unity as New Yorkers stare into the face of war and recession, but staring into the faces of those that were shivering beside one another, New Yorkers also received a dose of hope as change had come to Washington D.C., America and the world.

When news that Michael Jackson was rushed to the hospital, my jaded journalist mind thought it was a publicity stunt.  Or maybe I just wanted it to be a publicity stunt as some human beings seem immortal.  When I heard that he had actually passed away, I refused to believe it was true until I saw a member of the Jackson family confirm it.  Once Jermaine made a statement, I knew the horrible news was true.  Again, Times Square played host as the jumbo screens showed the memorial service in L.A.  People wore his t-shirts, danced like Michael, sang his songs and dressed like him.  It was a day filled with somber celebration and Times Square offered a place for so many people close to Michael’s music a place to go and mourn.

Times Square has seen it share of memorable events over the decades and will see many more.  Each year people from all over the world choose Times Square as the place to shed the old skin of the past year and welcome the possibilities of the New Year.  As the editor of F.A.M.E NYC I hope every FAMER has a bountiful, healthy 2010.  As we cross the threshold into a new decade let our past help to shape our present as we create the mold for the future. 

The slate is clean and I can’t wait to share with you the goings on of NYC for the next year.

Lady Gaga Top Artist for 2009

 

Since the world is revisiting the ‘80s again, with its economics, fashion and music, I was waiting for the neo-Grace Jones to appear, and finally she has.  Native New Yorker Lady Gaga has emerged from LES to take the world by storm.  The proof was delivered at the MTV awards.  Everyone was waiting to see who would be the victor of the Beyonce and Gaga showdown. 

Grace Jones was clearly ahead of her time, but the new millennium was ready for an artist like Lady Gaga to captivate the world.  Artists like Madonna, Grace and David Bowie laid down the ground work.  Lady Gaga has taken influences from all these legends and created a persona which she owns with utter fierceness.    

She delivers a vocalist’s trifecta lyrics, vocals and a stunning on stage performance.  Gaga understands the meaning of being an artist in the new millennium, delivering shock and awe everywhere she goes. 

Her sense of fashion is completely editorial, with every piece contributing to the overall story.  Whether you think of her as a genius or a walking car crash, people can’t help looking at and listening to Lady Gaga. 

Her edgy style has influenced other artists from Rihanna to Christopher Lambert.  Even Beyonce has collaborated with this young prodigy.  I firmly believe that Lady Gaga will be to future generations what Madonna was to Generation X, and with the way this artist pushes boundaries we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Empire State of Mind Top Single for 2009

Not since Frank Sinatra’s rendition of New York, New York has the Big Apple had a theme song that unites, describes and inspires the way Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” has.  Jigga hit pay dirt with this single and the feature of Alicia Keys, another fellow New Yorker, on the hook.  Both these artists are at the top of their game musically and could make for no better New York duo.  The song seemed to be perfect for the time since the Yankees used it as their theme song while clinching their 27th World Series victory.  “Empire State of Mind” took on a life of its own; from ringtones to victory parades, this single was everywhere.  It took more than 30 years for hip hop to deliver an anthem dedicated to the birth place of hip hop.  Thanks to Hov constant creativity, “Empire State of Mind” has reached beyond hip hop’s global borders with a timeless anthem that will carry us into the next decade of the new millennium. 

Barbara Tucker: 25 Years In House Top Event for 2009

To me, house music is not just a genre of music; it is my religion, my culture – essentially a way of life.  House music and the culture it inspires is one of the last underground cultures to be born out of NYC.  Unfortunately the decline of parties and venues that truly support my culture have forced us to revolve in lounges that focus more on what your bar tab is at the end of the night than the vibe, the music and the amount of sweat that is dripped on the dance floor. 

It seems funny to think that the city that spawned my culture is now placing a stranglehold on us – forcing us to adapt or to fade to black.  It is a conversation I have had with many househeads – the chase for the experience we once had that seems to be beyond the grasp of our fingertips, but one we get to touch once in a while.   On March 19th, four decades worth of househeads made the pilgrimage to Webster Hall for Barbara Tucker: 25 Years In House. 

If house music is a religion, then Barbara Tucker would be a saint.  She is definitely one of the divas of our scene.  Her track record of 25 years in house music shows that she is one of the hardest working singers in the business.  Songs like “Beautiful People”, “I Get Lifted”, “Most Precious Love” and “Stop Playing with My Mind” are classics that every househead knows.

The room was filled and space was limited, yet it didn’t seem to matter.  Wherever there was space, househeads were getting it in, contributing to the beautiful vibe that was in Webster Hall that evening.   Seeing Saint Barbara on stage singing her classics made me feel as if I was 17 again, when I was first started venturing into different clubs in Jersey.   The incomparable Louie Vega, David Morales and Tony Humphries fed us the energy to dance well into the next morning and provided a memory that will be looked upon with fondness as we party into the next decade.  Besides the music, the highlight of the evening for me was watching La India and Barbara on stage with Louie Vega behind the DJ booth.  Watching the players behind “Beautiful People” on stage exceeded all my expectations for an evening that will be talked about for years to come.  In fact, people that attended the event were still talking about March 19th well into the summer of 2009.

Barbara Tucker: 25 Years In House offered memories for us to cradle in our hands, keeping us loyal to this culture.  Paradise Garage, Sound Factory Bar, Afterlife, Zanzibar, Club Shelter – all the major clubs that reigned in the NYC area was represented.  We danced and shared experiences with househeads that haven’t been seen in years.  It was a long overdue family reunion filled with love, music, dance and good energy – it was a househead’s dream.

The Black President Comes To the Great White Way Top Broadway Production for 2009

Whether you are walking or driving in Times Square, the gridlock can feel as if you are going to a United Nations Summit.  The electricity from the flashing lights and projection screens places you are on another planet, but when you walk into the Eugene O’Neil Theater you are transported into time. 

After passing through the doors you are no longer in modern day New York City, you are whisked to Lagos, Nigeria.  Pictures of black leaders adorn the walls colored in rainbow hues.  The espiritu of the Orishas openly gather like spectators at a coming out party.   It is the time of bell bottoms and dashikis and on the continent of Africa Afrobeat is being brought to the masses.  Who is pied piper you ask, the black president of course, not Barack, but Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

On Broadway the spirit and long overlooked legacy of Fela Kuti is being resurrected through Fela! The Musical, courtesy of director Bill T. Jones.  From the opening curtain to the last one, Fela!  The Musical leads the audience through a high energy journey that follows a particular time in Fela’s life.  The musical takes place in the Shrine, Fela’s famous club in Lagos.   It may his final performance, as he is contemplating leaving Nigeria six months after the brutal murder of his mother, played by Lillias White, by the hands of government soldiers.  His existential crisis is explored through the number “Trouble Sleep.”

Like the actual performances held at the Shrine, Fela, brilliantly portrayed by Sahr Ngaujah, interacts with the audience through his music, testimonials to the corruption in Nigeria and storytelling.  The play tells the story of how Fela came to be the originator of Afrobeat, focusing on his influences like the Yoruba religion and artists like James Brown and John Coltrane.  It takes the audience back to Fela’s friendship with Sandra Isadore, played by Saycon Sengbloh, a relationship that spawned Fela’s awareness of self.  This awareness was brought to life in the number “Upside Down.” 

Fela began to reflect this awareness in his music and took it back with him to Nigeria from abroad and it is of course Fela’s music that is the highlight of this production.  For the majority of the people Fela! The Musical will be their first introduction to Fela’s music, but for me this musical is a homecoming.  As a devout househead, Fela is one of our high priests; his music is extremely influential to our community and music. 

My feet were moving to Fela’s feverish horns, African rhythms and powerful lyrics way before I knew about the man and the sacrifices he made for his beliefs.   At times it was torture to remain seated while watching numbers like “Zombie”, “Expensive Shit”, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)”, “Yellow Fever” and “Water No Get Enemy”, some of my favorite Fela tunes.  I wanted to get up with the rest of the cast, gyrate and move my feet in praise of the black president.

The choreography was magnificent with footwork; pelvis grinding and aerial moves that remind me of the incensed lit, baby powered dance floors I spin on and dance circles I revolve in.  In fact, everything about the musical feels authentic.  The use of multimedia helps to guide the audience deeper into Fela’s world.  Sahr Ngaujah is perfect as Fela Kuti.  Sometimes I thought he was Fela; the extensive research he did for the role paid off.  He delivers a performance that is worthy of a Tony nomination and win. 

The most powerful point in the play is the recreation of the raid on Fela’s compound.  “The Storming of Kalakuta” was one of the most compelling dramatizations I have seen on stage.  The impact of the barbarous acts committed on that day was not lost on the audience although the scene was not visually graphic, yet the visions were still seared into your mind anyway.  Fela! The Musical is a tour de force in American musical theater, long live Fela Anikulapo Kuti. 

Video courtesy of FelaonBroadway.com

From Harlem to Off Broadway Top off Broadway Production for 2009

Women had The Vagina Monologues; thanks to Jim Jones hip hop heads have their own soliloquies.  Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones first debuted off Broadway in 2008 and had a brief revival in March.  It was a theatrical listening party of sorts as it featured singles from his album Pray IV Reign.  The play appears to be an autobiographical account about Jim Jones.  Playing himself, Jim Jones returns to Harlem to take the audience through different sequences of his life –relationships with his baby’s mom, fake friends, the police and himself are all examined.  Ultimately Jim has to decide if he should give his street life.

Director J. Kyle Manzay makes great use of the stage blending props and multimedia to give the audience the ultimate Harlem experience.  When I think of Harlem, I think of a place where cats are always on the move, even when they are sleeping they are looking for ways to make moves.  Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones moved and Harlem shook from beginning to end.  It is a cleverly crafted showcase of an artist who is definitely on my top ten best rapper list.  My sincere hope is that more productions like it will be debuting in the decade to come.

History of Violence Top Live Art Installation for 2009

Violence is almost as American an activity as baseball.  This country was liberated by war; our forefathers were nothing more than wig wearing rebel rousers.  This fact, I’m sure, was not lost on British artist Russell Young when he first envisioned A History of Violence

In March, Bagatelle teamed up with Keszler Gallery to present a private viewing of the exhibit.  Young’s work added a sassy energy to the romantic French bistro.  The dimly lit chandeliers and track lighting glimmering off the freshly painted silk screens gave the restaurant sex appeal.  It was a delight to sip wine and watch Russell create right before our eyes.

Before the art world beckoned, Russell past incarnations included celebrity photography and directing music videos.  A History of Violence examines the connection this country has to violence through iconic imagery and eye popping color.  I’m sure Russell’s background in photography aided in his selections of photos, which were stunning and told individual stories that help to contribute to the entire visual narrative.

Don't talk to me about heroes, most of these men smoke cocaine. 2006 Screen print on canvas

Hollywood has always had a fascination with the Wild West; in fact movies depicting boisterous stories from that time help to save Hollywood and television.  Shows like Wagon Training, The Rifleman and Maverick taught generations of kids about the rough frontier existence, morality and how violence is sometimes a necessary part of living.  No movie sums these lessons up better than The Magnificent Seven.  The movie was just as majestic as the soundtrack.  To see Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and company astride their steeds, ready to save the day, all in pink plays with the ideas of masculinity, vigilantism and heroism. 

Marlon Brando "Oh that boy's a slag" 2007 Acrylic and enamel screen print on linen

What makes bad boys so appealing?  It is a question that has perplexed parents and their daughters since the beginning of time.  Russell chose one of the ultimate bad boys to make his statement about the allure of a man who lives outside of the law, makes his own rules and still has a heart –Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  Painted boldly in red, Brando in his biker gear and looking defiant as ever in dark shades shows exactly why the bad boy is so tantalizing – there is nothing more intoxicating than the idea of a man being able to protect a woman from peril and no one messes with a bad boy.

Beauty, at times can be tragic, like a moon plant that dies in the face of dawn.  The photo of Marilyn Monroe trying to shield her face as she suffers is the epitome of tragic, fragile beauty.  This photo shows that sometimes the violence can come from within and is inflicted on ourselves.

The most compelling installation completed that night was of a gun cataloged by police.  By sight it is an ordinary handgun until the audience learned that it is a photo of the gun that killed John Lennon.  Instead of paint, Russell uses blood. 

Mouths hung as Russell smeared the blood on the silk screen.  The silence in the room while he is creating the piece was beyond creepy as we all came face to face with the mayhem that a violent mind can create.  As we sipped our wine in this trendy restaurant, the idea that violence is a part of our history and our present was never clearer to me.  Safety is only a hope, not a guarantee. 

The Dali Lama stated, “It is my belief that whereas the twentieth century has been a century of war and untold suffering, the twenty-first century should be one of peace and dialogue. As the continued advances in information technology make our world a truly global village, I believe there will come a time when war and armed conflict will be considered an outdated method of settling differences among nations.”    It is this sentiment that came to mind when I witnessed the canvas of President Obama shimmering in gold paint. 

It is no wonder the photo sold that night, Obama represented hope and change to many around the world, and is the perfect visual representation of historical change.  Art is at its best when it stimulates your senses.  The History of Violence did that and more.

Photos courtesy of KB Network News and http://www.russellyoung.com

The Call Was Answered Top Event at MSG for 2009

September 11th will always be a day of remembrance and reflection for New Yorkers, but this year Jay-Z sent out a call and answered without a shadow of a doubt.  New Yorkers made their way through the downpour of showers to Madison Square Garden to witness Hov deliver a knock out performance.  The Jay-Z and friends concert proceeds were donated to the New York Police And Fire Widows’ And Children’s Benefit Fund providing awareness to this worthy cause as well as an additional boost of pride on the usual somber day.

The friends that came out for this show included Kid Cudi, Diddy, John Mayer, Memphis Bleek, Pharell, Kanye West, Rihanna, Santo Gold and Jigga’s wife, the diva Ms. Bey.  The tickets sold out faster than a New York minute and thanks to Fuse those who were unable to witness the concert live were able to see the concert without interruption. 

The energy that was circling at the Garden was crazy.  The concert was a genuine celebration of every life lost in the 911 attacks. Every time another artist came out on stage the energy heightened.  Everyone was rocking and singing along, it was the best representation of hip hop I have witnessed in a long time and made me realized why I loved this music.  The Garden has played host to many events, this will undoubtedly rank in the top of all time.  I just hope Jigga will give us an encore next year.

It Most Certainly…WAS Top Tour for 2009

That it I am referring to was Beyonce’s “I AM…” world tour.  I checked out the show at Madison Square Garden on June 23rd and can honestly say even P.T. Barnum would have fallen crazy in love with this display of fabulousness.

French designer Thierry Mugler has always been known for his fashion forward, futuristic designs.  Both Beyonce and alter ego Sasha sashay in some the best work from Mr. Mugler since George Michael’s Too Funky video.   He mixes opulence, sexiness and strength seamlessly.

Beyonce’s all-female band can be summed up on one word, rockin’.  These ladies can jam and made sure that crowd did not remain in their seat for too long.  I also enjoyed the background vocals from “The Mommas.”  These ladies reminded me of days when Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes sang behind Sylvester.  They’re thick, beautiful and full of soul.

The show began with Crazy In Love and featured a special on stage surprise from Jigga himself.  Beyonce performed songs from “Dangerously In Love”, “B-Day” and “I am…Sasha Fierce.”  My favorite highlights included If I Were A Boy (in which Beyonce broke into Alanis Morrissette’s break-up classic You Oughta Know), Baby Boy (in which “the diva” was hoisted above the crowd with wire cable, performing mid-air somersaults ala Cirque du Soleil), Ava Maria (which shows just how Beyonce has grown vocally since her days with Destiny’s Child),  At Last (which shows video footage from the march on Washington, D.C. and ends with footage of the first couple dancing at one of the Inaugural balls), and of course Single Ladies, the new anthem for single ladies everywhere.

Another favorite of mine was the Ego interlude because that was what the show had, ego from beginning to end.  Beyonce’s “I AM…” tour delivered in every way imaginable.  The wardrobe changes on stage were effortless. She performed all her hits even those from Destiny’s Child.  The choreography is upbeat and sensual with hip swinging, booty shaking, leg jiggling and hair flipping action that would make the great Tina Turner proud.  The energy that was exchanged between Beyonce and the crowd would make anyone feel as if they had been hit with a lightening bolt.  The show provided glamour, excitement and empowerment.  It didn’t matter what seat you are in, you were included in the party.  Whether you called the show fierce, fabulous or fun, it was…all of that

Happy Holidays NYC

FAMERS, it is my sincere hope that you all had a happy, healthy and blessed holiday.  The after Christmas sales are in effect, and the kids are home on vacation.  I received a special gift on Christmas evening; a parking ticket (thanks NYPD).   

New York City is magical during the holidays – the window displays, Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park only add to the holiday appeal.  I suggest everyone take an afternoon to take in the city during the holidays.

Christmas also marks the end of the year, but this year also marks the end of the decade.  As the final days of 2009 draw to a close, I will post F.A.M.E. NYC’s Top 2009.  I am also going to take my own suggestion and spend an afternoon in the city to take in the holiday décor.

Please stay tuned.