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Apollo Music Café and Ethiopia’s Wanya is what’s up

Nightlife

David Goodson | 1/16/2014, 4:58 p.m.

I won’t beat a dead horse, because we all kind of have a similar stance on the state of Black music. Yet we still enjoy it. But sometimes the question arises of why we still enjoy it, particularly when it comes to live performance. Is it the pageantry of actually being seen at the place to be (you know, those $300-ticket shows)? Maybe it’s the thrill seeker in us, wanting to be there when it pops off—when the artist or the audience acts the fool, causing the blogs and Facebook pages to ignite in response to the scandal. Anything but the music is the lure.

That wasn’t the case this past Saturday at the Apollo. It was about communion for some and discovery for others. The draw: an artist from Washington, D.C., by way of Ethiopia named Wanya. While the name may not be familiar (even though a brother by the name of Stevie Wonder said she’s “incredible”), at a glance, her credentials are impressive.

While a student at the University of Maryland, Wanya was crowned Miss Black Unity in 1995, earning a one-year tuition scholarship and special honors for “Best Talent” and “Best Response to Question” at the pageant. The following year, she founded a gospel quartet and performed with the group at the world-famous Apollo Theater, where they placed as finalists in the Amateur Night competition.

After earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and speech communication from the University of Maryland, Wanya began her professional career as a writer in the White House for the Clinton administration. However, her need for artistic expression eventually led her to where we found her on Saturday: standing front and center, a Grammy-nominated (Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the song “Lovin You”) recording artist three albums into her career (“Moments of Clarity: Book 1,” “Higher Ground” and “The Expats”) and a seasoned performer confident enough in her talent and art to tear a house down by being herself. The songs “Send It Away” and “Amazing” were worth the price of admission alone.

Wanya later said on Facebook: “Thanks from the bottom of my heart to everybody who came out last night and made it literally one of the most special nights of my life.” That’s what’s up.

The Apollo Music Café, now in its fourth season of providing an outlet for underground artists across a series of genres—including R&B, hip-hop, soul, jazz, pop, funk and rock—isn’t what one would particularly think of when it comes to an Apollo audience. Presented on the theater’s intimate Soundstage, Music Café offers a lounge-like atmosphere—complete with a bar and stage-side seating—for you to experience innovative, avant-garde performances.

Continuing the Apollo’s commitment to nurturing up-and-coming talent, the Music Café has attracted a wide array of music and art lovers. Egos are checked at the door for this experience, as the series is designed to create opportunities for independent artists to shine. The Apollo Music Café will run monthly through June 2014.

At bat for February is Ava Luna and Rachel Brown on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 10 p.m. and Alison Carney and Lucius Clark on Friday, Feb. 7 at 10 p.m. Doors open for the bar and food at 9 p.m.

Tickets for the Apollo Music Café are $20 and $15 in advance for the Apollo’s A-List (sign up at www.apollotheater.org). For tickets, you can visit the Apollo Theater box office at 253 W. 125th St., call 212-531-5305 or 1-800-745-3000, or visit Ticketmaster online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Over and out. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.