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Uncovered Returns with an Exploration of A Tribe Called Quest

Jan. 17, 2017
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After Alverno College announced last January that it was defunding its fine arts series Alverno Presents after 56 years, it didn’t take long for one of Alverno Presents’ most popular programs to find a new home. The Pabst Theater Organization partnered with Alverno Presents Director David Ravel to bring the series’ Uncovered shows to the Turner Hall Ballroom. The 2017 Uncovered season will consist of two programs: an examination of A Tribe Called Quest spearheaded by Milwaukee rapper-producer Klassik this Friday, Jan. 20, and a recreation of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life curated by Tarik Moody and Dave Wake.

Uncovered’s format won’t change. The curators hand select a lineup of Milwaukee musicians and artists to explore and contextualize their subject; every show is the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning and practice. In moving from Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre to Turner Hall Ballroom, though, the shows will lose some of their formality. There won’t be programs, and at the A Tribe Called Quest show (and likely most future installments of the series) audiences will stand instead of sit—though there will be some seating available off to the side of the venue. Inevitably, it’ll feel more like a regular concert, even as the performance on stage is anything but.

“We’re not going to have the dressing that goes along with what we’ve done in the past,” Ravel says, “but the heart of the show remains the same, which is a group of Milwaukee artists reinterpreting the work of a composer—or, in the case of Tribe, a group of composers—and seeing how they fit into the idea of the American songbook. These are not covers shows. They’re not tribute shows. They’re reinterpretations of an artists’ work, and that will come across loud and clear.”

As a veteran of three Uncovered shows—deep dives into Prince, Marvin Gaye and Quincy Jones—Klassik was well aware of the workload he was taking on by curating his own program.
“I’m kind of a masochist when it comes to my work ethic, so I foresaw that this was going to be awful,” he says, speaking at the Radio Milwaukee studio space, where the show’s house band has been rehearsing.

Klassik had originally intended to do an Uncovered program on Michael Jackson, but after a year of meditating on what shape that show might take, he opted for A Tribe Called Quest instead, for the simple reason that there was more to say about them. As a musician who came to rap music from a background in jazz, Klassik says, “their story is my story.” The timing was fortuitous, too: Last year A Tribe Called Quest reaffirmed their relevance with an unexpected (and unexpectedly outstanding) final album, We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. Despite the tragic circumstances behind it (rapper Phife Dawg died before its release) the record provided fans with some long-awaited closure; a final cap on an unparalleled career.

For the program, Klassik assembled a lineup featuring fellow rappers and producers Lorde Fredd33, AR Wesley, Deb.On.Air, Mike Regal and Strehlow, DJs Jordan “Madhatter” Lee and Old Man Malcolm and a house band made up of Foreign Goods, Stomata and Volcano Choir guitarist Chris Rosenau. Talking to these musicians about their own relationships to Tribe, Klassik says, “reinforced why we were doing this show on them, because everybody has a special affinity for them. Their relationships with the music vary from person to person, but at their core everybody has the same reverence for the group.”

The Turner Hall Ballroom hosts Tribe Uncovered on Friday, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.

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