Pittsburgh Celebrates Africana Cultures @ the Unity Concert for Social Justice
“Unity is strength, division is weakness,” Umoja African Arts Company posted on their Facebook page last March. The quote is a Swahili proverb (‘Umoja’ means ‘Unity’ in Swahili) that ties in with their mission to raise awareness and increase appreciation of rich African cultures in Pittsburgh.
Umoja African Arts Company, among several others, will be featured in the upcoming Unity Concert on April 23 at Altar Bar (1620 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222) in the Strip. Sponsored by Drusky Entertainment and in partnership with Pittsburgh Artists for Social Change, the concert addresses issues of race and social justice highlighting several local African American art and music groups.
Umoja is best known for their annual African Arts in the Park Festival, which brings a myriad of people and cultures together to dance and celebrate to the moving beats and expressive rhythms of African music. The range of artists is impressive. There’s Reverend Deryck Tines and the Lincoln Larimer Senior Gospel Chorale, along with some of the city’s most respected faculty jazz musicians from the Afro American Music Institute (AAMI). Check out a video that shows AAMI teacher Howard Alexander and the wonderful work he does with his students.
Also performing at the concert are a few of Pittsburgh’s finest rap, hip hop, and R&B artists. John Basement resembles popular rap with soulful chorus’ and aggressive verses. His hip hop digs into the journey from hood to heaven, struggling through poverty, drugs, and violence, turning tough times into rhymes until he finds himself on top. Another rapper, Billy Pilgrim, brings a cool, alternative twist to hip hop music, which can be heard in his new 9-track album, Big Empty Things – it’s definitely worth a full listen. Pilgrim’s poetic and jazzy demeanor is cleverness hovering over afro-rhythmic beats and wind instruments rarely heard in rap music. Despite carrying a laid-back vibe, his eerie, contemplative lyrics puncture your soul. His name ripples through Pittsburgh, as he’s part of rap-rock band, Mega Def; a painter who hosted his first display last year; an arts educator for local youth; and has opened for rappers including Wu-Tang Clan, K-Os, Dead Prez, Mr. Lif, and Immortal Technique. In the album track “Pilgrimage,” Pilgrim collaborated with rapper Shad Ali, also appearing at the Unity Concert. Ali’s album “The Speaquinox,” envelops an earthy, spiritual vibe, with a keen interest in lyrics and poetry. His songs mirror journal entries put to a beat.
Another performing artist is singer/rapper/songwriter Sosa (Sharing With Others Soulful Avenues), who showed potential as a young teen writer, but didn’t bite the bullet of the business until age 22, when he started recording and releasing songs. He is now a serious rapper who’s following in the footsteps of Pittsburgh’s own Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller.
Students from the “We Rock Workshop” led by Liz Berlin from Creative Life Support will perform their original music, as well. The 10-week workshop teaches and encourages youth to open up and explore through music, culminating with a record and performance showcase at Mr. Smalls Theater. The Unity Concert will also feature DJ’s Nuke Knocka from PR7X Radio and Mike Canton from the Soul Show on WYEP.
Concert hosts include Hollyhood (aka Dr. Hood), Lita D’Vargas, and Phat Man Dee. Hollyhood lives a double life as a Pitt Professor by day, and one of Pittsburgh’s hottest MC’s by night. She’s the founder of the city’s largest female showcase, PMS (Promoting My Sisters), and the executive producer of Pittsburgh’s underground music awards. She even writes and produces her own hip hop music and hosts events all over the country. Second host, Lita D’Vargas, is a celebrity in Pittsburgh’s burlesque scene. As an entertainer at CAVO Lounge and Assistant Director of The Steel City Burlesque Academy and Bombshell Preparatory School, she’s makes a living by playing hot and cold, naughty and nice. Finally, Phat Man Dee is a cosmic jazz cabaret vocalist, bandleader, events producer, videographer, poet, part time sideshow marvel, and social justice activist. She released her fourth album, “Hey Phat Chick! (Ya Got it Comin’ to You!)”, last fall at Mr. Small’s Theater and currently teaches voice to students under Liz Berlin at Creative Life Support’s “We Rock Workshop.” For the past four years, she’s been voted one of top three jazz acts in Pittsburgh’s City Paper, for she promises a bizarre twist. These hosts are sure to bring fire to the stage, as they were born in the spotlight.
A complete list of artists performing at the Unity Concert is below. Click on some of the highlighted names to watch a video or listen to a song by the artist.
- Revered Deryck Tines and the Lincoln Larimer Senior Gospel Chorale
- Faculty jazz instructors from Afro American Music Institute
- Afro Cuban duets by father and son Miguel Sague Jr and Miguel Sague III
- Puerto Rican standards by Geña y Peña
- Christiane D and the V’Sague Sangers, alternative musician who fuses audio, visual, and performing arts
- Launka Zimeir, an alternative rapper
- Shad Ali
- John Basement
- Bluey, a PGH rapper
- Billy Pilgrim
- The students of We Rock Workshop from Creative Life Support
- Kep Flow
- Stevee Wellons, black female jazz singer
- DJ Nuke Knocka
- DJ Mike Canton
Speakers include: Tim Stevens of B-PEP – Black Political Empowerment Project; Anupama Jain of Pittsburgh Coalition for Racial Equity in the Arts at the Pittsburgh Arts Council, and the Pittsburgh Human Rights Alliance.
Tickets to the Unity Concert can be purchased for $10 on the Drusky Entertainment website, on Ticketfly, or at the door. The event is all ages, doors open at 6PM, and the show starts at 6:30. Additional funds are accepted, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Proceeds go to the Afro American Music Institute and Hosanna House.