UPTOWN NIGHTS: Curtis Brothers & Circa ’95 play African, Creole, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Brazilian, jazz, hip-hop, samba and more at Harlem Stage in Manhattanville, Manhattan on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at 7:30pm. $25
The Curtis Brothers map the rhythms of the slave trade. Circa ’95 raps in Spanglish about what happened once we landed in El Barrio.
The Curtis Brothers
The Curtis Brothers are Afro-Puerto Rican from Hartford, Connecticut. Luques Curtis plays bass and Zaccai Curtis plays piano in the jazz line.
Sibling musicians often have a special connection and the Curtis Brothers do too.
They play with a lot of great artists like Eddie Palmieri and a lot of great artists play with them. Their bebop album ‘Completion of Proof’ includes trumpeter Brian Lynch who was Puerto Rican salsa legend Hector Lavoe’s trumpeter. Pedrito Martinez, the world’s first-call Cuban rumba percussionist has also played with them.
Some jazz artists play in the next century and it’s hard to keep up with them, but the Curtis Brothers never stray far from the African-Caribbean-New Orleans roots of the blues and jazz.
The Curtis Brothers remind me of something Eddie Palmieri once said at the 92nd Street Y. He said, “The Spaniard brought the African and the African put everyone to dance. In the States, they took away the drum and we got the blues.” That is a real simple way of looking at this show.
The Brothers also include some Brazilian samba because the slave trade into Rio de Janeiro came more out of Central Africa than West Africa. It’s an African vibe with just a slightly different mix. It’s like Santería is to Candomblé. Same orishas (angels), but slightly different practices.
Perhaps the takeaway is to recognize just how much American popular culture: blues, jazz, rock, salsa, hip-hop, and reggaeton has an African root. Most American dances do too.
Circa ’95 raps in Spanglish about what happened once we landed in El Barrio (East Harlem, The Bronx, Loisada and others). The duo is Patty Dukes (Dominican) and Reph (Puerto Rican). They have stayed in the game and become teaching artists nurturing the next generation of talent.
New York City is tough and necessity is the mother of invention, so a lot happened once we got to El Barrio during the Great Migration from Puerto Rico in the 1950s. We were always here, but the Spanish-American War of 1899 slowed things down for a while.
Being a slave or an immigrant is hard. We have learned to survive by turning suffering into joy through music and dance. That’s why everybody loves our music. They can’t figure out how in spite of it all, we are having so much fun. So they want some of whatever we are having.
We had Latin jazz from Machito and his Afro-Cubans. While Machito was serving in the Army, his sister Graciela opened doors for women in Latin music. Dizzy Gillespie mainstreamed the Latin back into jazz through Machito’s music director Mario Bauza who introduced him to Chano Pozo.
Salsa blew up in the 1970s. They don’t make music quite like that anymore. There was a unique mix of Puerto Ricans playing Cuban music in the Bronx with a little Dominican, Jewish and others thrown in. It was a special sofrito, a salsa made out of everybody.
When Black kids in the Bronx created hip-hop in the 1970s, the Latin kids took break dancing up another notch by bringing in their parent’s moves from the Palladium Ballroom which was the source of multiple Latin dance crazes in the 1950s.
A lot of shit happened too. But guess what? We sing and dance through it all and then stuff starts to grow. Circa ’95 steps in right on top of all of that. They’ll be rapping about the harsh beauty of life in the barrio.
I first heard Circa ’95 in 2012, probably at El Museo del Barrio. It’s been a while, but I never forgot Dukes’ rap:
“Too light to be black. Too black to be Spanish.
Contradictions of life, yo, livin’ on this planet.
All we need is love and a little understandin.”
Circa ’95 ‘All We Need is Love’
Samo, but yo this is our time. The pendulum of social progress swings back and forth. It has swung hard against us for the last couple of years, but is starting to swing back the other way with all the people who look like us, walk like us, and talk like us entering the political arena. Like Bob Marley said, “Get Up, Stand Up.”
Music is going to be part of that. All we need is love and a little understanding. We have to give the love and create the understanding, but together we have all we need to do that.
So this show is about how we got here and what we’ve been doing since then. What happens next is up to each of us and all of us. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us.
¡Palante! (the Caribbean way of saying Move Forward)
Uptown Nights Tickets
Tickets are available at the door or online at www.harlemstage.org
150 Convent Ave, New York, NY 10031
(between Amsterdam & Convent Ave)
Manhattanville, Manhattan (by City College)
Harlem Stage must be one of the best kept secrets of Harlem, but it is sacred ground because of the host of great artists who have performed there over the years.
The theater is built in an old water pumping station. In West Africa and the Caribbean, water is sacred. Harlem Renaissance 2.0 is happening now. Jump in.