StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Introducing Mwenso and the Shakes


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This week, StLJN's video spotlight shines on Mwenso and The Shakes, who will be performing next Saturday, November 9 at The Sheldon.

They'll be presenting “Harlem 100," described as a “modern variety show" that “captures the sights and sounds of Harlem when legendary artists such as Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and Billie Holiday made Harlem the cultural center of the country."

Vocalist and frontman Michael Mwenso was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in London, where he heard jazz at Ronnie Scott’s and got his first experiences as a trombonist and singer with local bands. In 2007, he started organizing a weekly jam at Ronnie Scott's, and in 2012, Wynton Marsalis brought him to New York as a programming associate for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Part of that job involved curating late night sessions at Dizzy's Club on Lincoln Center, and that's how Mwenso found many of the musicians who eventually became the Shakes, with various band members having come to New York from South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica, and Hawaii. Now based in Harlem, the Shakes released their debut album Emergence (The Process of Coming Into Being) in August of this year.

You can get a sample of their live sound in the first video up above, which shows them performing the song “No Regrets” in April of last year at Sofar Studios in New York City.

There's a clip of the gospel-tinged “Know The God in You," recorded in 2017 at (le) Poisson Rouge in NYC, followed a recording of a full set of music from August 2019 at the Erie Blues And Jazz Fest in Pennsylvania.

Next, there's an episode of the web series “B-Side" from January 2018 that features Mwenso and company, followed by an episode of NPR's “Jazz Night in America" from December 2015 that fills in some of the Shakes' origin story.

The final video features an interview in which Mwenso and the other band members talk about their album, their approach to music, and more.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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