Sunday, August 12, 2012

Afro-Colombian punk funk jazz

Jane and I went to the Kennedy Center tonight to see friends play on the Millennium Stage. We were thrilled to find a parking spot on the street and, because it’s Sunday, we didn’t have to feed the meter. (Parking in the garage at the Kennedy Center is $22—a huge incentive to drive around the block a few times looking for a space.) We were thrilled when we got there to find two unoccupied seats in the front row center. But wait! We found out we had the date wrong—our friends are playing next Sunday. Duh!

The Millennium Stage has a free show every night. Sometimes it’s something great like Los Lobos; sometimes it’s not worthy of a drive into the city, like a Bulgarian harpsichord ensemble or a mime theater. But tonight our mistake ended up being a ton of fun, even though it was far different than any band we might have chosen to see.

It was a band from New York City—an Afro-Colombian punk funk jazz band called M.A.K.U. SoundSystem. The band has a huge pulsating sound, consisting of guitars, a variety of drums and percussion, keyboard, saxophone, clarinet, and trombone. (Surely I’m forgetting something.) While they are playing, there’s a screen behind them showing what looked like home-grown videos, presumably of Colombia, showing someone carving a drum and someone else butchering a large fish. The lead singer/bassist looks like Bob Marley and dances like a wild man. The lead female singer/percussion player is mesmerizing, with a crazy, totally original off-kilter haircut. The clarinet player looks like Keb Mo and he sometimes is featured playing klezmer music to go with the Afro-Colombia punk funk jazz. Somehow it works.

Nearly every seat was taken—old, young, black, white, tourist types. Behind us were two young women who appeared to be from some undefined fundamental religious group—heads covered and dressed from their heads to their ankles in black (except for the green turtleneck shirt one of them was wearing under the black clothing). They had to be really, really hot.

With the exception of Jane and me, the entire front row got up and danced. There were young guys dancing up front like the M.A.K.U. version of a mosh pit. There was a pregnant woman dancing and man with a Cuban t-shirt and mismatched shoes, a woman in a sparkly cocktail dress, a geeky young woman in a Hawaiian print dress who danced wildly to a beat unrelated to what the band was playing, and an androgynous guy wearing red pixie shoes. There was an entire troop of Australian Girl Guides in uniform, all dancing. People were shouting call-and-response lyrics in Spanish.

And to make things even more perfect, the performance was videotaped and is available on the Kennedy Center website. If you look carefully and wait until close to the end when they show the audience, you can see Jane and me in the front row. Sadly, we’re the only ones not dancing.  It’s at

So crazy, so we-are-the-world in a much more funky way. So much fun. I trust that when our friends play at the Millennium Stage next Sunday, it will be great. But lucky for us, we went on the wrong night.

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