Michael Mwenso’s Sacred Protest Songs: From Africa to America Michael Mwenso’s Sacred Protest Songs: From Africa to America

with Vuyo Sotashe & Sullivan Fortner

Tue August 15th, 2017


Main Space

Minimum Age: 18+

Doors Open: 6:00PM

Show Time: 7:00PM

Event Ticket: $15

Day of Show: $20

event description event description

Mwenso & the Shakes premiere new works of Struggle, Empowerment & Triumph with Vuyo Sotashe (South African Protest Anthems & Beyond) and The Gospel of Sullivan Fortner (Voice and Organ)

A unique and curated presentation that showcases three different templates of human protest through song. Sullivan Fortner will display the foundation of all great American sacred music that grew out of the shackles of slavery, focusing on hymns from the great Thomas Dorsey to father of modern gospel, Rev. James Cleveland. Vuyo Sotashe will then share the unique folkloric tradition of South African township songs that he heard sung in villages throughout apartheid as a young boy. The evening will culminate with a premiere of new music by Mwenso & the Shakes with the cyclical but inspirational message to have no regrets and to persevere.

Checkout from WBGO’s Simon Rentner will be there to host and record this world premiere performance.

Ticketing Policy


Table seating for all seated shows is reserved exclusively for ticket holders who purchase “Table Seating” tickets. By purchasing a “Table Seating” ticket you agree to also purchase a minimum of two food and/or beverage items per person. Table seating is first come, first seated. Please arrive early for the best choice of available seats. Seating begins when doors open. Tables are communal so you may be seated with other patrons. We do not take table reservations.

A standing room area is available by the bar for all guests who purchase “Standing Room” tickets. Food and beverage can be purchased at the bar but there is no minimum purchase required in this area.

All tickets sales are final. No refund or credits.

the artists the artists

Mwenso & The Shakes

Whether fulfilling the role of vocalist, emcee, showman, or impresario, Michael Mwenso conveys both the sophistication and spontaneity of hardcore jazz and the music’s folkloric roots with impeccable craft, creativity, and communicative flair.

Most frequently, Mwenso performs as leader—or ringleader—of Michael Mwenso and The Shakes, a revue comprising between three to five vocalists (they include himself, Brianna Thomas, Charenee Wade, and Vuyo Sotashe) and a rotating ensemble that includes rising stars like drummers Joe Saylor and Jamison Ross, pianist Chris Pattishall, trumpeters Alphonso Horne and Bruce Harris, and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott. From time to time, internationally acclaimed singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianists Jonathan Batiste, Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner—among others—augment this close-knit musical family. All developed their ideas and accrued public visibility at late night shows booked and overseen by Mwenso since 2012 (when he joined Jazz At Lincoln Center as Curator and Programming Associate) at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at JALC’s complex in New York’s Time-Warner Center.

Mwenso, 31, developed his unique skill sets through the course of several eventful life journeys. Born in 1984, he lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa until age 10, when his single mother brought him to London, England. He began singing and playing piano, then trombone, and by 13 was touring with an old school swing band. During these formative years, he also immersed himself in recordings of American jazz and roots music. His learning curve rose dramatically after his mother, who worked as a nightclub hostess, decided to have him spend nights at the internationally prestigious Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, whose floor manager was a family friend. Mwenso took advantage of a singular opportunity to witness, talk to and learn from jazz giants like Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Betty Carter, Benny Carter, Tommy Flanagan and Johnny Griffin, all attracted by his superior knowledge of their recordings. His charismatic blend of raw talent and precocious erudition also drew the attention of James Brown, who offered Mwenso the signal honor of a guest spot singing and dancing at his UK engagements when he was 14, 15 and 16.

At 16, Mwenso left school and turned professional. He played trombone in reggae and Afrobeat horn sections (including a group led by drum legend Tony Allen) and jammed with American expat drummer Clifford Jarvis and London’s strongest African- and Caribbean-descended hardcore jazz musicians. At 21, he started to focus on singing, most consequentially in a four-voice group, mixing well-wrought high-velocity bebop vocalese and scat, the blues, standards, and Black American folk music. They performed not infrequently at Ronnie Scott’s, where in 2007 Mwenso established a late-night jam session. Under his ministrations, it soon became a go-to spot not just for jazz musicians, but millennial generation dancers, actors, artists and general music fans.

In 2009, Wynton Marsalis—who met and befriended Mwenso in 1997—played a week at Ronnie Scott’s. After witnessing the vibrant scene that Mwenso had coalesced, he invited him to move to New York, with a mandate to attract a younger, broader audience to Dizzy’s and JALC, while retaining values consistent with Marsalis’ “all jazz is modern” mantra. Mwenso’s success in accomplishing this mission is evident: the Shakes were featured on the November 17, 2015 edition of Christian McBride’s Jazz Night In America on NPR, and performed at the Kennedy Center’s 2015 New Year’s Eve Gala.

“You’re getting a generation of holistic musicians who love Louis Armstrong just as much as Woody Shaw, Sidney Bechet as much as Ornette Coleman,” Mwenso says. “They want to be free in all styles of music—free in themselves. We’re figuring out ways to play this music as art, but as entertainment, too.”

Vuyo Sotashe

Young South African jazz vocalist, Vuyo (Vuyolwethu) Sotashe, is gradually making his mark in the New York jazz scene. Sotashe moved to the NYC in 2013 after being awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to pursue Master of Music at William Paterson University. Since then, he has gone to win first prize at the very first Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Vocal Competition in 2014, and performed on the festival’s main stage in February of 2015. More recently, he won the Audience prize award and placed second over-all at the Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition in 2015, held at the annual Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland. In the same he placed third in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocal competition, where he was the very first male vocalist ever to place in the competition’s finals.

Sullivan Fortner

Sullivan Joseph Fortner Jr. is a native New Orleanian who has already made a significant foray into the jazz world that belies his young age. While touring with Stefon Harris & Blackout, Christian Scott Quintet, and the Roy Hargrove Quintet, Sullivan completed his Master’s degree in Jazz Performance at Manhattan School of Music under the tutorage of Jason Moran, and Phil Markowitz. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Performance from Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Sullivan began playing music by ear at the age of seven. Two years later, he was playing for church choirs throughout New Orleans. By the time he was 11 years old, Sullivan had won a Cox Cable “Amazing Kids Award”. At the age of 13, Sullivan furthered his formal education in piano by attending the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and earned scholarships to several prestigious summer jazz programs, including the Vail Jazz Institute and the Skidmore Jazz Studies Summer Program. A standout on the stage and in the classroom, Sullivan was Valedictorian of his high school class while simultaneously graduating from NOCCA. He has studied and performed with many great musicians, including The Marsalis Family, Donald Harrison, Nicholas Payton, Billy Hart, Gary Bartz, Marcus Belgrave, The Jordan Family, Irvin Mayfield, Peter Martin, Dave Liebman, and a host of others.

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