That left Atlanta's neo-soul staple, a British guest and three hip-hop big names to carry the torch. Chuck D. bailed, leaving Public Enemy cohort Professor Griff to his own devices. He strayed off topic, requesting a 60-second moment of silence for recently deceased New Black Panther Leader Khalid Muhammed. True to his Minister of Information title, he shared a New Yorker article on medical conspiracies in the Third World.
Despite other artists dropping activist euphemisms like "the cause," the line-up wasn't able to capture the true reason why they gathered. The mini sets filled in by DJ Kemit's spinning had the feel of a super-sized Chocolate Soul or FunkJazzKafé. Other artists and organizers from those events were, in fact, mingling in the audience.
All the same, there were some strong performances. Poet Jessica Care Moore tried to be one. Wearing a red leather tank top, puffy denim flare skirt and red high-heeled boots, she looked like a glammed-up Black Panther. She urged the small, mostly Afro-puff, locked and head-wrapped audience to pump their fists in the air in the "Amandla" gesture. When she launched into a message about liberation, her words were garbled by the sound system. By poem two, Ms. Moore added the jazz stylings of Mausiki Scales and Common Ground. The result was a fight between her spitfire delivery and the smooth instrumentation ... and the instruments won.
Julie Dexter's performance was a stand-out among the musicians. The U.K.'s Queen of Soul (as she's dubbed) seemed to appear out of thin air, sitting behind a keyboard that she played. Feedback and poor volume threatened to ruin her two-song performance, but her effortless and soulful vocals rose above the fray. Though the audience had doubled in size by then, bringing more diverse faces, they were hushed as she breathed, "It Ain't Easy." They were equally rapt when she improvised "Will You Walk With Me?" over a spare guitar. Fans who wanted more would have to buy it. The locked and slender Dexter stuck to her two-song promise and left as mysteriously as she appeared.
If a darling was to be named among the string of performers that included Seek, Kindred, Fertile Ground and Doug E. Fresh, it was perhaps Ms. India Arie. She came with a tiny posse -- gal pal/background singer Kerisha Hick and songwriting partner Anthony David, otherwise known as the guitarist for Atlanta alterna-hip-hop band El Pus.
Technical sound problems were solved, allowing her voice to ring loud and clear above two guitars. With the crowd's permission, she sang more than the rest. One of the highlights was a rendition of Terence Trent D'Arby's classic, "Sign Your Name." She also crooned playfully over the poetic and sensual "Brown Skin." Just when organizers were indicating Ms. Arie was wearing out her welcome, she closed on her trademark single, "Video."
It was clear Arie has grown and matured since her lone days strumming at the defunct club The Point. Her presence is humble yet strong, a perfect cohort to Ms. Mandela. And since Winnie Mandela promises to give Atlanta a raincheck and India's star is rising fast, a benefit bringing the two together certainly would help give a painful part of South African history a more appropriate recognition.
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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