Review of Freedom Singer by Khari Wendell McClelland at Le Balcon
Ask my wife and she will confirm that I talk too much. I always have something to say…yet tonight, after this performance…I’m speechless.
I could describe the journey through an empty church to a corridor that leads to this hidden room with tables and chairs reminiscent of underground jazz clubs of the past. I could describe the 4 talented musicians that accompanied Khari during this performance. I could write about the experience of tonight, but mere words could not describe the evening that unfolded before us.
Khari was a guide, taking through a history not so distant from our time when humanity was in a dark place. Yet, amidst the cruel past that his ancestors had to endure, there is a tale of courage and determination that brings light into the dark room. As we chanted “Kizzy” to begin the show, we pay tribute to the woman that escaped slavery, to bring the next generation a life of freedom. Although we’ve never met Kizzy, we could recognize her strength emanating from the man that was before us tonight.
A mixture of music ranging from gospel, rock-and-roll, hip-hop and soul, mixed with spoken word and archival audio from the past was served to us. Sherie Marshall brought Nina Simone back to life and put a spell on us as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Noah Walker used his guitar as a time machine, weaving back and forth through different eras of music throughout our journey.
We felt the seeds of The Million Man March through fragments of lyrics Khari found on his ancestral journey. Lyrics with forgotten melodies where brought back to life with the same power and feeling from an era where song was the only escape from the brutal punishment of the day. These songs of pain emphasized the ember of hope that would soon blossom and bring about change. To say that racism is a thing of the past would be naive, it still whispers all around us. Yet, like Khari emphasized in his interview, there are people, heroes of our generation, that stand up for the voiceless. There is hope that small acts of kindness can be amplified and affect change.
When Khari sang Bowie’s “Five Years”, he reminded us of our mortality and how important it is to be agents of good, while we can.
While most of the songs tonight were from the Freedom Singer album, he did share a song from his Fleeting Is the Time EP that could help us get out of any trial we might face: Roll On.
After an intense set, full of emotion, kindness, laughter and pain, he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Moved by the display of appreciation, he could not help but sing one more song of positive energy: Lean On Me by Bill Withers. We then once again chanted “Kizzy” to close out the show in her honor.
Tonight was a show like none other. My emotions filling the spectrum from sadness to joyfulness.
After saying goodbye to Khari, who stayed to greet everyone in attendance, I left feeling that I had just attended a concert that would never be repeated. The intimacy of the room, which allowed Khari to sing without a microphone at times, resonated deeply within all in attendance. The charisma emanating from Khari would fill rooms much bigger than the one we were in tonight, and I suspect that next time, the room will be much bigger.
For those in attendance tonight, we will look back on this night and be grateful that we shared in this special moment in time. We connected with the past, as ugly as it was, and left feeling hope that by remembering the evil, we can avoid it and work towards good.