West 48th St, between 7th and 8th Avenues, might not strike you as a likely place to unwind with African music on a summer Thursday evening. But it surely is this summer. WAN-LUV is presenting a summer series of events–Thursdays, 5:30-8:30PM–featuring DJ’s mixing African music and both local and visiting talent. The setting is an intimate courtyard at the Ritz Plaza, owned by the event sponsor, Stonehenge–so nobody’s going to complain about the noise. The event producer is Hip Hop Saves Lives, a non-profit organization the teaches humanity through hip hop as an after school program in NYC.
WAN-LUV is a pleasant, kid-friendly hang with raw food vendors serving luscious smoothies and healthy snacks. There’s room to dance, shmooze or just sit and unwind and, of course, music! The June 21 event featured Cote D’Ivoire reggae star Ismael Isaac in a rare, intimate set. Isaac was in town for the Mafrika Music Festival at Marcus Garvey Park a few days later. He had made a surprise cameo at the Tikan Jah Fakoly show at the Apollo Theatre on June 16, so why not serenade the the after-work crowd downtown in between? WAN-LUV keenly pursues that sort of serendipity, so watch afropop.org’s events calendar for more surprise guests at this garden event as the summer unfolds.
Even without visiting superstars, this free event offers a rare chance to survey some of New York’s African talent, by daylight. Chad Harper is the event MC, Jake Bright the house DJ, and New York based reggae outfit The Brown Rice Family–winners of WNYC’s 2012 Battle of the Boroughs–the house band. The June 21 event started out with a DJ set of afrobeat, reggae and dance pop. Then singer/guitarist Jah Stix played a fine set of mostly original reggae songs, using a loop pedal to conjure an entire band from his acoustic guitar–very effective, with riffs, slaps and slides providing all the essentials. Jah Stix concluded with a warm dedication to his adapted city, a reggae take on the jazz standard “Fly Me to The Moon.”
Next came Sekouba (Diakite), also from Cote D’Ivoire and the younger brother of Ismael Isaac. Sekouba lived for awhile in Gambia, and became immersed in Mande music. These days, he lives in New York where he leads a band that delves into all the styles that have touched him. Here, he kept it simple, singing a capella and showcasing his fine, deep voice, and then with light percussion backing.
Ismael Isaac wrapped up with a few of his classic reggae numbers, backed just by acoustic guitar, keyboards and percussion. Wire thin, walking with a cane, and in every way humble at the mic, Isaac marshals a spectacular voice, instantly recognizable and riveting to hear. He ended with gorgeous ballad. The set was short, but special for its spare presentation and casual setting. The whole event was over by 8:30–that’s the rules! But the action continues next Thursday, and all Thursdays through July 26, with a possible reprise in September.
Click here to see Brown Rice Family videos