The real title of this article and interview by John Soltes (Hollywood Soapbox) is “INTERVIEW: Learn about the history of Caribbean immigration at Harlem Stage concert.” As part of the broader series of events Migrations: The Making of America, the concert—entitled Uptown Nights: The Curtis Brothers and Circa ’95 and Wepa! Movement, Culture and Music and sponsored by Harlem Stage and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) —already took place on March 23 at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in Manhattan. Nevertheless, Soltes’s interview with the artists is interesting. Here are excerpts:
Circa ’95 consists of Reph Star and Patty Dukes, whose cultural background is Puerto Rican and Dominican by way of the Bronx and Washington Heights. Their style of hip-hop seamlessly rhymes English and Spanish words, and the lyrics [. . .] focus on their families’ journey to the United States.
The Curtis Brothers, featuring Zaccai Curtis and Luques Curtis, [. . .] explore West Africa’s musical contributions and influences in the United States, by way of the Caribbean. Their selections [. . .] focus on rhythms and styles that evolved from the times of the African slave trade. [. . .]
Reph Star and Patty Dukes, of Circa ‘95
Why was it important for you to be included in this expansive project called Migrations: The Making of America?
It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be a part of this project. We are living in difficult times. America is made up of many people from all over the world that traveled and migrated for a better life. The story of how people struggled to arrive in America deserves to be documented.
For us as Afro-Puerto Rican and Dominican artists from New York City, we speak about where we come from and share the stories of how our families arrived. We understand that we have a long road ahead, but using music and art to be able to share our story will only help those in the future trying to make that same journey.
[. . .] Are your contributions for the performance very personal and about your families’ own history?
Yes, we have a lot of research and found items like the actual suitcases that Reph’s family traveled with from San Juan, PR, to New York City. From old photographs to recorded interviews — we’ve gathered our history but also through our music we share the experience of what it’s like for us to be Afro-Latino/a people living in New York City. [. . .] The struggles are what make us who we are. An emcee has a story to tell, and we always knew we wanted to tell those stories.
Zaccai Curtis and Luques Curtis, of The Curtis Brothers
What can audience members expect at your performance at Harlem Stage?
The Curtis Brothers Quartet will expose the connections between our music and the music of West Africa. These rhythms, harmonies and concepts can’t be avoided when performing and addressing American music. Our main focus is jazz, Afro-Caribbean jazz and R&B, which are heavily rooted in Africa.
Could you describe the musical contributions of West Africa and its influences on American music? Have you had to conduct a lot of research?
The Afro-Cuban 6/8 that we use is clearly developed from its African-base form. Abacua and Bembe come from our roots in the Yoruba musical tradition that was later introduced and adapted for a jazz band by Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo in the 1940s. West African rhythms can also be traced through most Caribbean music from Puerto Rican bomba and plena to reggae.
Because the slave trade distributed Africans to Brazil, New Orleans and the Caribbean, you will find a strong connection between those places. The concept that American music uses, of a band playing and a soloist leading, may very well be adopted from African/West African musical tradition. The concept of clave can be observed in West-African music and is a concept that has permeated all American music.
The African history regarding the banjo is clearly documented with the early American music resembling the Akonting music from Senegal.
All these influences developed into cultural music such as country, rock, hip-hop, funk, blues, jazz, gospel and more. We have been performing this music for most of our lives, so this information has been accumulated throughout that time. [. . .]
[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for providing most of these links.]
For more about Circa ’95, go to https://www.circa95.com.
[Photo above: The Curtis Brothers and Circa ‘95. Source: https://patch.com/new-york/new-york-city/calendar/event/20190323/524128/uptown-nights-wepa-movement-culture-and-music