- SHOWCASE WINNERS: Velvet Kente.
In the sixth week, we found a winner. Velvet Kente, a band largely unknown before the 2009 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, turned a crowd into believers at its coronation concert. Much like the group's semi-final win, it was a deeply rhythmic performance centered on lead singer and composer joshua.'s huge vocals.
Again with a black hoodie pulled tightly around his face, joshua sang — eyes closed, head tilted up — like someone possessed.
Or maybe he was simply self-possessed and with a keen sense of his forebears. His vocal style encompassed a great history of black music — West African chants, Afro-Caribbean-inflected folk, the blues, '70s-era funk/soul. His lyrics, too, of racism and social justice, recalled a time when activism in music was a given.
But this wasn't a black music history pastiche. The vocals and music were far too immediate. Give huge credit to the other players: Jamaal on drums, Tim on keys and Steven on guitar (it's a no-last-name kind of band). Despite having only played a handful of shows together, they gelled staggeringly well, nowhere better than the band's standout track, “binti.”
Built on an Afro-beat rhythm supplied by human drum machine Jamaal (or Tony Allen in disguise) and ornamented by a bright, looping guitar line, the song finds joshua. chanting, in a righteous growl, about suffering and war and corporate greed. But for every problem, a solution. In this case, it comes with a call that's still stuck in my head: “Come let's dance our troubles away!” There were plenty of takers Friday night.
But for all of Velvet Kente's power, most everyone else shone pretty brightly, too.
I was nervous about the kind of crowd we'd get for an 8:30 p.m. show, but Jonathan Wilkins' faithful turned out in droves and were rewarded with an impassioned, raucous set that led Jason Tedford to say, “If this set was a CD, I wouldn't fast forward through a single tune.” Follow his lead and check out Wilkins' new one, “Endless Highway,” via lastchancemusic.com.
The See continues to be one of my favorite new bands in town. The trio writes sturdy songs that hold up to repeat listens, and plays live them with a steely intensity. One of the best moments of the night came when bassist Dylan Yelenich tried to pogo himself off the drum riser, but instead landed on his back on the stage. He made it work. Look for the band's debut to be released on March 26, when the band opens up for the American Princes at Revolution.
Those who caught Nik and Sam will most likely be bragging to their friends in a couple of years about seeing the duo pre-fame. The twins from Dover seem destined for much, much bigger stages. I agree with judge Nicole Boddington, who said, “I'm not a fan of pop country — but I am a fan of Nik and Sam.” She also said she found herself singing along to their single, “Down Home.” Why is this not on the radio?
The Chicklettes followed, and if their semi-final round was marked by R-rated provocation, this was decidedly NC-17 territory. Sophondra Mayhem lived up to her name. She spent a good deal of the band's set delivering mostly indecipherable curse-filled tirades. She threw things. She broke things. She fell on the ground legs akimbo. She was the drunk girl at the party with the microphone.
Too bad. The band's hijinks in the semi-finals were campy fun. Not so much on Friday.
On a sunnier note, many thanks to all of our sponsors, especially Sticky Fingerz and Revolution, to all of our semi-finalists and to everyone who came out to catch any of the shows.
Make sure you catch Velvet Kente at Riverfest!
Who? Singer/songwriter, producer, jingle writer.
On the winner: By far the most promising new band in Arkansas in years.
Who? Local music critic.
On the winner: Could listen to them play all night long. Nobody can touch that voice. Pure, soulful, moving, funky. The drummer nearly stole the show, but they're all THAT good.
Who? Last year's winner.
On the winner: The most high honor of being unclassifiable goes to Velvet Kente.
On the winner: Incredibly funky, original and powerful. Monster drummer! Probably the strongest single player in the Showcase.
guest judge march 6
Who? Former A&E editor of the Arkansas Times, Riverfest big wig.
On Velvet Kente: Best voice I've heard in a while. Musicianship topnotch all the way around.