Michael Mwenso says he knows the value of fans appreciating his artistry whenever his band, Mwenso & The Shakes, travels. That's why he's eager to start the band's 32-city tour, "Harlem 100," in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the black arts cultural era known as the Harlem Renaissance.
“This is the first time visiting a lot of places on this 32-city tour,” Mwenso said. “It’s a monumental time to have this position, to be able to have the platform to play in these places. So Baton Rouge is a beautiful start to the tour and it’s the first time we will have performed there.”
Mwenso & The Shakes will bring its unique style of jazz and blues expression to the Manship Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 8, with a program that honors the Harlem Renaissance. The cultural movement spanned the 1920s and into the '30s and saw an explosion in artistic, intellectual and social innovations created by African-Americans centered in Harlem, New York.
“We always deal with that period of music — it is the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, so it is a pivotal time to play that music,” said Mwenso. “It's a pivotal time, all of the time, to be able to represent black culture — anytime we have the opportunity to do that in the world and represent black music in a way people don't really get to see.”
The "Harlem 100" program "deals with the history in the music that also brings it to the future," said Mwenso, a Sierra Leone-born jazz vocalist. Along with incorporating works by the era's iconic musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, the show will include poetry by Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and a recognition of the movement's legacy.
Part of the tour's mission is to educate youth across the country on the cultural movement that changed the landscape of American arts. It is one of the aspects of the coming tour that excites Mwenso the most.
“We’re looking forward to a lot of the educational collaboration in visiting lots of schools and doing workshops,” Mwenso said. “We are looking forward to performing for those young people so they leave with an understanding of the music and the culture.”
The eclectic Mwenso & The Shakes — which features musicians from London, South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica and Hawaii — will not only perform songs written during the Harlem Renaissance, but will also play works from its critically acclaimed debut album, "Emergence.”
The album, distributed through Ropeadope Records, is a hodgepodge of the kind of music that has made the band sought after performers — described as part jazz, part funk and part Broadway show tunes by critic reviews.
Mwenso is appreciative of the warm reception “Emergence,” which was recorded live at the Baltimore club Creative Alliance, has received from various publications. Live music albums have somewhat dwindled in popularity among modern music consumers, the bandleader said.
“I’m thankful for the acclaim and positivity. I was worried that it would be too much because people don't really listen to live albums anymore," Mwenso said.
Mwenso & The Shakes
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8
Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St.