Photo Credit: Author
“In those days it was either live with music or die with noise,
and we chose rather desperately to live.”
- Ralph Ellison
The thing about being a witness to history is, the moment can
be heightened by simple connections of events. I thought about
this as I made my way back home 48 hours ago from the venerable
Apollo Theater in Harlem, after seeing one of the last concerts
that will ever be peformed by Yaasin Bey, formerly Mos Def. My
main man sent word that he had been given a pair of tickets,
we made plans to link up, and once at the venue, we wound
up being there no more than twenty minutes before being
invited to sit in the front row. Call it karma, call it divinity at
work, call it good fortune - it made the scene that much more
Magic is the word that you will more than likely bear witness
to the most in this post. Undeniable Black magic.
From the moment Yaasin appeared on stage bearing a basket
of rose petals for every soul who ever appeared on the Apollo
stage, to the triumphant ovation at the end, true magic was
the mode of the evening. Like almost everyone else in the
first three rows save for one or two, I stood up for the entire
show. Black and gold balloons dotted the stage, as part of
Yaasin’s celebratory salute to the late Jean-Michel Basquiat
who’s birthday was on the same day. Two little girls came out
to join him in kicking most of the balloons out into the crowd,
as we sang the Stevie Wonder “Happy Birthday” song. From
there, Yaasin ripped through his discography like a true maestro.
He was tapped into all of our emotions. So much so that at
key moments, he was overwhelmed to tears. Each time, the
audience clapping and shouting love to him. Thankful for what
he spoke, and sang. Thankful for the breaks where he cracked
jokes. Thankful for the energy, both the mindful strains and
the high octane further strengthened by a guest appearance
from Pharoahe Monch for “Oh No” and “Simon Says”.
True magic. Enough so that at moments you didn’t realize
how warm it was in the place until the song ended and the
sweat collected on your brow like commuters at a bus stop.
It was a bonafide house party in the Apollo. Yaasin made it
comfortable, embracing. A man who in the past few years
has obviously seen and been impacted by so much. This show
was a house party for the soul, so needed after this year.
No pretensions. No airs. Just the freedom to…be. It was
evident in the way he danced throughout. Whirling, moving
like the dervishes of Sufism. And as he did “Umi Says”…he
stopped and listened to the crowd sing his own words with
him, to him. The light multiplied in his eyes. True magic.
True Black magic. Radiating throughout “Pretty Dancer”,
resounding as he rocked “Mathematics”.
If this is indeed the finale of Yaasin’s career as an entertainer,
then what he has given us in that time is nothing short
of epic. Undeniable truth and joy. Black magic that connects,
moves and manifests. And amplifies. As we all stepped
out into the lights and sounds of 125th Street, that gift
still sits in the spirit. Life, in malevolent but still marvelous