By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Musician Michael Mwenso has high hopes about his show “Harlem 100.”
The performance, set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 16, at the Chandler Center for the Arts, pays homage to the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, its current resurgence and the performances made famous in the Apollo Theater and The Cotton Club.
Starring Mwenso and the Shakes, Briana Thomas, Michela Lerman and Vuyo Sotashe, the show features the music of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, as well as a nine-piece band with three dancers.
“It’s a musical celebration that is really subjected to the time of the Harlem Renaissance, its artists and history,” Mwenso says. “I want the audience to leave knowing how important these people were and the impact on the world. We do it through song, dance, music and historical narratives, too.”
Mwenso says the African-American story is seemingly unimportant to others and it’s frustrating.
“Anything that is connected to the Afro-American story is something hidden in the mystery of the world,” he says. “I want people to know how intelligent and refined these people are and were. It affected the whole history of what is happening now and how that trajectory has shaped the arts of the world.”
Mwenso has been a performer since he was 12. He was born in Sierra Leone and was raised by his mother and stepfather in London, where music took hold of him.
“Harlem 100” isn’t just educational for the audience. It’s been a learning experience for Mwenso, too. Recently, he learned about the black migration.
The challenge, he says, is trying to squeeze everything into the show.
“For me, as the musical director and band leader, I shape the show to the people,” he says. “The rest of it is easy. Everyone can expect a great time with a lot of joy, and to gain some knowledge about the Harlem Renaissance knowing more about these people and what they did in the world.”
“Harlem 100”, Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, 480.782.2680, chandlercenter.org, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 16, $38-$58.