For the majority of us, as mere infants we’ve been indoctrinated we the maxim, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What wasn’t revealed was that the phrase came with an expiration date and at some point in our lives, we’d come to know that words can inflict damage something far more fragile then bones; they can break spirits. By the same token however they can uplift and heel. That’s POWER!!
“Words are the infrastructure to understanding; the articulation of sweat, tears and blood and is as massive as any vehicle of change. Words not only agitate and propel ideas, but they can also get people to move. Words create an energy within us that will eventually manifest,” so says a world-renowned wordsmith in her own right, Mahogany L. Browne. Formally her impressive resume will list poet, author, educator, activist and who recently made history as the first-ever poet in residence at Lincoln Center, now houses a position as the executive director of JustMedia, a media literacy initiative designed to support the groundwork of criminal justice leaders and community members. Browne has received fellowships from Agnes Gund, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of recent works “Chlorine Sky,” “Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice,” “Woke Baby,” and “Black Girl Magic.” Browne is the founder of the diverse lit initiative, Woke Baby Book Fair; and is excited about her latest poetry collection. “I Remember Death By Its Proximity to What I Love” is a book-length poem responding to the impact of mass incarceration on women and children). She is based in Brooklyn and is the first-ever poet-in-residence at Lincoln Center. More impressive than what’s on the resume is the journey. Like many of her generation, hip hop was what inspired and eventually put her on the path that she currently finds herself. The Oakland, CA native first got on the radar as a journalist at a regional hip hop publication. “I come from that Too Short, Rappin’ Forte and C Bo. Their language was kind of abrasive, but they spoke it like we spoke it at home. They were not trying to appease anyone’s sensitivity or frailty. That gave me permission to speak honestly about what I was seeing, what I survived and where I was going next.”
Next for her was a style heavily influenced by the resolve and ferocity of the Black Panther Party, the foremothers of her craft in Sanchez and Angelou, and the not caring one ounce spirit of Grace Jones, Lady Saw and Little Kim. “I’ll never forget that it was a man who told me my expression wasn’t ladylike. I had a wakening moment and had to come to terms with who I was writing for, who I was speaking for and who was going to be the blueprint of my destiny. I became steadfast in that I refused to turn away from what I knew I could accomplish and to speak my life in MY words.”
On Saturday, Aug. 14, Browne set the tone for the impactful evening as she delivered beautifully illustrated spoken word poetry including pieces “Ritual,” and “Black Girl Magic,” while accompanied by her vocalist and bandmate. Up next, multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Melanie Charles dazzled onstage in a sparkly ensemble as she showcased her impressive vocals on songs including “Be My Friend,” and “How Glad I Am.” Charles paid homage to her Haitian roots while singing in Creole on “Damballa,” followed by “Osho,” “Women of The Ghetto,” and “Skylark.” She premiered “Suite” honoring her fellow musicians who were lost to the pandemic, followed by “Time Space,” and closed out with “The Dilemma,” a song about finding balance during these uncertain times. Following Charles’ performance, vibraphonist composer and vibes innovator Joel Ross and his band performed a captivating composition of their songs “Blued,” “Ya Know,” “The Nurturer,” and “Mellowdee.” Lastly, to bring the special evening to a close, GRAMMY-nominated pianist and composer Vijay Iyer took the stage accompanied by his new band Tempest, whose bandmembers include acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, composer, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, prodigy bassist Daryl Johns, jazz composer and vocalist Arooj Aftab, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and Philly-native, poet and activist Moor Mother. Before his set, Iyer, whom The New York Times called the “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” informed the audience that his new piece would be a response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the white-supremacy pandemic that has lasted over 500 years, to which he received sparking cheers from the supportive audience. The group delivered a celestial performance as they intricately layered each of their sounds for a dynamic catalog of contemporary and modern jazz.
The show took place at what was once the Prospect Park Bandshell (9th Street & Prospect Park West Brooklyn, NY). At the opening night of the return of live performances however, then-NYC Parks Commissioner Mitch Silver announced the official renaming of the Prospect Park Bandshell as the “Lena Horne Bandshell.” With a strong endorsement from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the historic concert venue has been renamed in honor of Brooklyn-born Lena Horne, who was a social justice and civil rights activist, trailblazing dancer, actress and singer in theater, film, and television. The renaming supports BRIC’s commitment to championing diverse culture-shifters and elevating artists from around the world and around the block.
For Browne, this added a new layer to the performance. Moments before taking the stage she shared, “This, after more than a decade of living in the borough, this is my FIRST Celebrate Brooklyn performance, and I was really honored to be there. This I feel is the heartbeat of Brooklyn, the pulse of the people. From past shows, you can see people were moved and changed when they leave. But this new component is amazing, Lena Horne is a pillar for Black renaissance and I’m excited to perform in her namesake, I hope I bring honor to her legacy!”
You did that, sis!!
Over and Out, Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife. At least play some catalog from the recently departed Chucky Thompson.