Ray of Sunshine
Ray Charles Tribute and The African Showboyz lead loaded lineup for free and charity-driven West End Celebration in Sand City.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
No need to fret if you didn’t score tickets to the sold-out Gentlemen of the Road Stopover with Mumford & Sons this Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Fairgrounds. Across town, the West End Celebration is bringing three days of music—including Mozzo Kush (12:30pm Saturday), Forrest Day (2:25pm Sunday), Andrew Dolan and The Good Sams Band (12:30pm Sunday) and B Side Players (3:55pm Sunday)—to Sand City with a flurry of other events.
The festival kicks off Friday night with a special fundraiser show for Sand City cancer victims Susan Collins and Matthew Pierce at Carmel Stone Imports. (For more on the arts elements of the festival, see calendar, p. 24.)
The headlining act is a multi-artist tribute ensemble that’s only shown five times in the past eight years, For the Love of Ray: A Tribute to Ray Charles, produced by Katie Birdsall and Gary Souza.
“These are all songs I listened to as a kid…and still listen to,” Souza says from his tapestry-lined Real To Reel Recording Studios in Sand City. “It started as something small, but everyone started coming to me and offering to do it for free because it was fun.”
Since the tribute’s inception, they’ve released a 20-track CD featuring 48 musicians and a full choir who bring to life some of Charles’ most beloved classics, including “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack”—in addition to four live shows highlighted by a main-stage slot at the 2007 Monterey Bay Blues Festival. The tribute also has an original tune under its belt, “Song For Ray,” a mash-up of gospel, blues, soul and everything else Charles sourced for his music throughout his career.
Souza, also known for founding the Broadway Blues Band, refers to the 17-piece West End band as “small.” Given the horns, back-up singers (the Montereylettes), rhythm section and four lead vocalists including John “Broadway” Tucker and Lee Durley, some might use other adjectives. But he’s comparing it to previous performances, which have brought up to 40 musicians.
The addition of a new song, “Movin’ On,” to For the Love of Ray’s repertoire exemplifies Souza’s dedication: Since the original version didn’t have horns, he wrote new parts from scratch. In fact, with all the hours Souza and Birdsall have logged over the past six months to prepare for the show, they’re not sure what they’ll do with themselves when it’s all over.
“After this show, then what?” Souza asks.
One prediction: This won’t be the last audiences see of For the Love of Ray.
Monterey Jazz Festival High School All Star Band, Aporia (featuring vocalist Julie Capili) and Matt Masih & the Messengers also perform Friday night.
Saturday there will be another fundraiser to benefit Community Partnership for Youth at Carmel Stone Imports featuring Almost Cut My Hair with Gary Burr (performing the music of Buffalo Springfield) and Bay Area-based blues rockers Hungry Skinny.
Sticking to the magnanimous theme, the African Showboyz, performing noon on Saturday at Sweet Elena’s Bakery, started playing music with a sole purpose: to help their fellow Ghanaians. Brothers Napoleon, Joseph, Moses, Isaac and JJ Sabbah left their West African village of Binaba several years ago to perform native music and dance around the world to raise money for their impoverished brethren and bring awareness to the suffering of the African people.
The exodus was inspired by a vision Napoleon had that came to him from his grandfather while practicing juju, a West African form of witchcraft.
Using an array of percussive instruments made of hides and thigh bones from village kills—kone, siyak, bind douk, bin bill and tonton sanson—the African Showboyz have toured throughout Europe, North America, Australia and Africa, where they carried no documentation but were granted access after performing for immigration officials at the borders. Their performances incorporate both a flood of percussion and ground-stomping tribal dance, including one style of dance originally conceived to scare away enemies.
The ability to blend the different drum tones and synchronize all the ever-changing rhythms with consistency and intensity has drawn several well-known musicians into the African Showboyz’s world. They have been invited to perform with Arrested Development, and they even jammed with Stevie Wonder during his visit to Ghana.
“We played with [Wonder] for 10 minutes,” Napoleon says. “I sang in my language and Wonder sang in English. He is a very good singer and he played the cubase really good, like he’s African.”
Napoleon refers to the 147 kids he helps financially—and teaches how to read and write in English and make the instruments they play—as “my children.” With The African Showboyz’s fourth album out in December, they are also his inspiration.
“[The album] is about these children,” he says.
WEST END CELEBRATION music happens 7-11pm Friday, 11am-5pm (Community Partnership for Youth fundraiser 7-11pm) Saturday, noon-5pm Sunday, Aug. 24-26. Sand City. Most events are free; For the Love of Ray Benefit $20; CPY fundraiser $10. www.westendcelebration.com
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