USF gets Wide aWoke with a little R&B
As a jazz and funk band played behind him, George Jean Noel took the mic Wednesday night at USF's Alumni Center to kick off June's edition of Wide aWoke Wednesdays.
"Wide aWoke works because we got something that's intangible," he told the crowd. "We got energy."
Then, as if to prove his point, he morphed into emcee mode.
"When I say Wide, you say aWoke! Wide!"
"When I say Mo, you say Town! Mo!"
Then he emerged: Motown Maurice, the young, high-top-fade-wearing, budding media impresario who was toasting the two-year anniversary of Wide aWoke Wednesdays, the live monthly talk show he created and hosts, with a musical celebration of Black Music Month.
I will not lie to you: I was not aware that June is Black Music Month. I know June is Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, and February is Black History Month. But June being Black Music Month is news to me, the white, bespectacled indie-rock blogger. I wish it had been noted on my calendar.
Nevertheless, Black Music Month it is, and so Motown Maurice (nee Jeoffroy) utilized the occasion to showcase a handful of young, local R&B talents.
But first: A primer.
Wide aWoke Wednesdays started in 2007 as a way for videographer Motown (the nickname was inspired in part by his love of old-school music) to present a fresh new forum for issues and ideas relevant to Tampa Bay's African-American community. Every month, he and his team present a series of interviews and comedy skits about issues like race, religion, relationships, stereotypes and politics.
A few sample show titles:
-- "Why Black Men Don't Go to Church"
-- "Are We Ready For a Black President?"
-- "Why Should I Get Married?"
-- "The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys"
The more controversial the title, Motown told me, the better the attendance usually is. They've had a few standing-room only events. Wednesday's show was not one of them, although about 70 people did brave the drizzle to check it out.
To call the show a straight-up concert might be a stretch; it was more like a talk show (complete with band!) that had an almost open-mic quality to it.
A giant screen played tributes to Jill Scott, India.Arie, Tupac and Wayman Tisdale*. Motown interviewed four artists -- rapper Highlight and singers Soul, PaVonne and Tamika, all of whom got the gig by replying to an e-mail blast from Motown -- and each one performed a song.
Soul, a Lakeland singer who's been performing in public for about a year, did a sweet a cappella rendition of Al Green's Let's Stay Together. PaVonne, who studied with Bobby Valentino and now teaches kindergarten at Progress Village Academy, did a Lalah Hathaway song and another tune I didn't recognize called Battleship. Highlight, who has written a book of poetry and opened for Ace Hood and DJ Khaled, did a love jam called Twisted. Tamika also went a cappella, with a thoroughly impressive, jazzed-up version of Jill Scott's Whenever You're Around.
No one will ever confuse the USF Alumni Center with the world's grandest concert halls, but the acoustics were respectable enough. I liked Tamika's performance the best, and so, apparently, did everyone else -- they voted her the night's top performer, and she went home with a plaque. (That's Tamika and Motown in the photo at the top.)
This was my first Wide aWoke Wednesday. The setup was a little bare-bones -- Motown's team operates solely on donations and volunteer hours -- but was nonetheless quite professional, which is a key point to make. I can't tell you how many roundtables and showcases I've witnessed over the years that were poorly organized and orchestrated, and as a result came off looking somewhat pathetic. This one was technically smooth and sound. You could picture everything taking place in an actual television studio.
I will also say that I think the format, a live monthly talk show, is pretty intriguing. Wednesday's show spotlighted local R&B talent; why couldn't some other enterprising indie rocker or rapper do the same?
We already have some good open mic nights around town -- Jeremy Gloff's Antisocial at The Social, Aych's Da Cypher at Crowbar, Natty Moss Bond's Girls Night Out at Dave's Aqua Lounge. Why not ask a few questions instead of just handing a singer the mic? Talk to the performers a little bit, raise a few issues of relevance to the local music community? Motown's got the right idea. Proactivity can work in this town. Can't it?
Motown Maurice's goal for 2010 is to get Wide aWoke Wednesdays on a local TV station. Local cable, anything.
The show does have energy, I'll give them that.
Here's to two more years and beyond.
Next up in The 50-50 Club: Joe Nichols, June 19, the Dallas Bull, Brandon.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
* Tisdale died May 15, and Wednesday's show was a partial tribute to him. And let me tell you, fewer people in this world have lived a more secretly fascinating life than Wayman Tisdale. Son of a pastor, Oklahoma basketball legend, gold-medal Olympian and 12-year NBA veteran, acclaimed smooth-jazz bassist and recording artist, lost a leg to cancer, died at 44. Jamie Foxx once told Rolling Stone his dream band would include Prince on guitar, Wynton Marsalis on sax, Herbie Hancock on keys and Wayman Tisdale on bass. You are unlikely to see an Oscar-bait biopic of Tisdale anytime soon, but you tell me -- how many other human beings do you know who've led a life like that?