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Celebrating Black Music

Charlie Wilson, Roy Ayers, Clarence Carter play the African World Festival

Jul. 27, 2011
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What the one-day African World Festival lacks in length, it makes up for in music, much of it local. The celebration of African American culture comes to the lakefront on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Charlie Wilson could be the biggest draw among the act's four stages. Though he's been a steady presence on adult R&B radio since the turn of the century, his career extends back to a consistent run of hard, hooky funk, from his days leading The Gap Band. More recently, Wilson's expressively burnished baritone and reputation for smooth badassery has fostered a side career as a guest performer for more youthful urban acts, especially rappers. Over the past few years, he has lent that voice to Snoop Dogg's weeded-out gangsta-rap, UGK's back to basics Southern hip-hop, and, most prominently, a handful of the cerebral fantasias on Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With a back catalog like his, it's anyone's guess what Wilson will pick out to supplement the solo hits he will doubtlessly perform.

The Miller Stage where Wilson is to appear otherwise hosts an array of sophisticated smooth/fusion jazz, including oft-sampled vibraphonist Roy Ayers and a couple of approaches to saxophone. Before Marion Meadows starts simmering with guitarist Norman Brown, Walter Beasley brings it with his own band. More sax comes from a home source Christopher's Project, led by Milwaukee's own brass-blowing Chris Pipkins and abetted by vocalist Ameerah Tatum. Former Sweetbottom keyboardist Larry Moore, lately gigging with one of the city's few big swing bands, opens the stage for the day.

Ridiculously prolific blind, libidinous storytelling soul bluesman Clarence Carter headlines Harley-Davidson's stage, essentially a blues festival unto itself. Most every act receives a good amount of play on the city's specialty radio shows, and one singer returns for his second Milwaukee engagement this year. That's Floyd Taylor, son of late R&B-turned-blues mainstay Johnnie Taylor, who may have more time here to share more of his original material than he did on last February's The Blues Is Alright package date. The approachably down home blues/R&B hybrid that's come to be known as Southern soul receives solid representation as well, with sets by current genre stars O.B. Buchana and Ms. Jody doing their thing before Carter, who could be considered one of the pioneers of this sound.

Gospel gets its due all day on the Briggs Stage, where Fred Hammond tops the bill. Whether leading innovative R&B-based vocal group Commissioned, heading up the dynamic Radical For Christ choir or recording his own solo work, Hammond has proffered a strong voice with more than a hint of Stevie Wonder flavor and catchy, inspirational songwriting. Among the local and regional names preceding him are a couple of Milwaukee's more traditional male quartets, The Luckett Brothers and the wonderfully monikered Spiritual Believers. One of the city's premier teen ensembles, The Riverside Youth Choir, starts things off.

For more information on the African World Festival, visit africanworldfestival.homestead.com.


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