Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nhojj at Temple M

Saturday, March 28, 2009
Nhojj at Temple M

On Friday night I visited Temple M, a performance space in a picturesque part of Harlem newly designed by Michel Madie - real estate broker, doctor of veterinary medicine and all-around Renaissance Man. Performing was Guyanese soul singer Nhojj, with Sean & urban spiRitual (their capitalization, not mine) as the warm-up act. Before I get to the music, however, a few words about Temple M.

This image from the temporary Temple M website shows the view from the stage. Note the living room feel.

A spacious townhouse used at different times as a residence, a synagogue and a church, Temple M is now a welcoming, almost cozy, performance hall. The ambiance of the place has to be experienced to be believed. It feels like somebody's living room, except for the stage, sound & video equipment, synthesizers and grand piano. The interior design mixes African and European influences, resulting in a space that seems at once familiar and slightly exotic. There's a small but fully functional commercial kitchen in the back (the chef is Michel Madie himself, naturally), and the food is organic, delicious and cheap. The overall effect is one of warmth and welcome - if you visit Temple M, you're likely to fall in love with it.

Temple M founder Michel Madie demonstrates his buff physique in the kitchen. Photo by John Norwood, a friend of Michel's and my guide to NY social circles.

Some audience members (and Michel coming through the door from the kitchen).

Nhojj (right) and friends.

On to the music. The warm-up band was Sean & urban spiRitual. urban spiRitual played nice jazzy/folksy music on organ, trumpet and bass guitar while Sean declaimed new age-y lyrics. No singing was involved, nor even rapping. I'm biased personally in that I prefer my music to actually be music, but I would have rather just listened to the backing band - they seemed to know what they were doing. Bias or no bias, I wasn't the only one in the audience to make this observation.

Sean & urban spiRitual

Nhojj, the main act of the evening, sang beautiful soul music, accompanied with a great deal of skill by Bob, the bass player from urban spiRitual (who'd never played with him before). Nhojj has a smooth, light voice that is perfectly suited for the kind of music he sings. The lyrics weren't exactly groundbreaking, but the delivery was pleasant, and some of the vocal acrobatics he engaged in now and then seemed a bit contrived, but he was clearly enjoying himself and the audience gave him latitude. I know little of soul music, so I will just say is that I enjoyed sitting there and listening to Nhojj's gentle, tender songs, and I would have happily sat there for an hour longer.

Nhojj, backed by Bob from urban spiRitual

NhojjBob the bass player, originally from Estonia
Photo by John Norwood

In conclusion, a very satisfying evening at a fresh and very welcoming venue. I will definitely be back to Temple M in the future. From what I saw on Friday night, it has a lot of potential - and, considering the seemingly inexhaustible energy of Michel Madie, that potential is likely to be fulfilled. Whether you're looking for a cool space to perform in or the hot new place to bring your date, Temple M is a place to keep in mind.

(Upcoming events include a 'Duel'in Organ Extravaganza' , April 18 8 p.m., featuring organists Vito di Modugno and Radam Schwart plus others. Temple M is located at 555 W 141st St. Incidentally, that is an incredibly beautiful part of Harlem - having moved to NY recently, I had no idea parts of Harlem had such wonderful architecture.)

Other events this weekend: if you're reading this Saturday night or Sunday morning, go over to the Park Avenue Armory and take a look at the AIPAD Photography Show. This annual exhibit includes hundreds of absolutely stunning images from photography art dealers around the world, but it runs only for a few days and Sunday is the last.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marion Anderson at Lincoln Memorial
Easter Sunday 1939 - 70th Anniversary

On Easter Sunday, 1939, the contralto Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her appear at Constitution Hall, Washington’s largest concert venue, because of the color of her skin. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt
resigned from the D.A.R., and President Roosevelt

gave permission for a concert on the Mall. Seventy-five thousand people gathered to watch Anderson perform. Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, introduced her with the words “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free."

The impact was immediate and immense; one newsreel carried the legend “Nation’s Capital Gets Lesson in Tolerance.” But Anderson herself made no obvious statement. She presented, as she had done countless times before, a mixture of classical selections—“O mio Fernando,” from Donizetti’s “La Favorita,” and Schubert’s “Ave Maria”—and African-American spirituals. Perhaps there was a hint of defiance in her rendition of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”; perhaps a message of solidarity when she changed the line “Of thee I sing” to “Of thee we sing.”

Principally, though, her protest came in the unfurling of her voice—that gently majestic instrument, vast in range and warm in tone. In her early years, Anderson was known as “the colored contralto,” but, by the late thirties, she was the contralto, the supreme representative of her voice category. Arturo Toscanini said that she was the kind of singer who comes along once every hundred years; Jean Sibelius welcomed her to his home saying, “My roof is too low for you.” There was no rational reason for a serious venue to refuse entry to such a phenomenon. No clearer demonstration of prejudice could be found.

One person who appreciated the significance of the occasion was the ten-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Five years later, King entered a speaking contest on the topic “The Negro and the Constitution,” and he mentioned Anderson’s performance in his oration: “She sang as never before, with tears in her eyes. When the words of ‘America’ and ‘Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen’ rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality, and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America.” When, two decades later, King stood on the Lincoln Memorial steps to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, he surely had Anderson in mind. In his improvised peroration, he recited the first verse of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” then imagined freedom ringing from every mountainside in the land.

by Alex Ross
The New Yorker Magazine - April 13, 2009
for the complete article go to

Marion Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial
Easter Sunday, 1939

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Michael Henry Adams laments,
He may be unable to afford to stay,

In a recent, "At Home in Harlem" blog entry for
the Huffington Post, Michael Henry Adams the, "writer-historian- activist" laments the shifts and changes in his Harlem life.

On, An Avenue Named Convent...
in language and perspective reminiscent of
Tennessee Williams' Blanche Dubois, reflecting

on the loss of her beloved Belle Reve, Mr. Adams weaves a tale, in image and prose, that by his own admission is personally revealing, if somewhat enhanced by the sparkle and glow of candle light.
We offer this reprint
of his text and images for those lovers of Harlem's many personal sagas

At Home In Harlem

Sometimes we're lucky and get exactly what we want. Yet there's a limit to good fortune, Norval White or not. No, I'm not expressing regret over a duplex at the top of River House; I'm only lamenting a sad irony. Ridiculously cheap, my upper-Manhattan aerie is still unaffordable for this busy but poorly compensated writer-historian-activist.
"You might want to try a roommate?"
suggested my building's diligent attorney at Housing Court. She wore the most amazingly clear and brilliant emerald-cut diamond ring, weighing roughly ten carats, I'd estimate. Genuinely sympathetic, notwithstanding unwavering professionalism, she readily trumped protest that I'd only one bedroom with, "I understand about having just one bedroom, but better a roommate than becoming homeless?"

Who among us is in a position to argue with such indisputable logic? And how poignant too, that lonely and longing for the company of someone so nice to come home to: the elusive boyfriend, Mr. Right, shacking-up is now offered as the answer to my problems. Only it's impossible? Those few dear friends, friends fond enough to successfully happily coexist with in a limited space, mostly felled by Aids, are already long dead.

In any case if my building's lawyer was perfectly fair, though without great empathy the lady judge was, by contrast, a holdover from the epoch of the divine right of kings and landlords.

Unlike my case,
for what insignificantly trivial sums are people thrown
into the streets with nowhere to go

What is the good of a city with more billionaires and multi-million dollar bonuses than any other, if every day people can lose everything for no substantive reason and often due to circumstances utterly beyond their control?

I love my tiny lower Convent Avenue hideaway. I've been quite happy here for the past two years.

Built in 1909, the St. Agnes Apartments was designed by the prolific, mostly commercial architect, Henri Fouchaux. The Madams of the Sacred Heart, whose convent school between 129th and 135th Streets, gave the avenue its name, selling the lots for a full block of apartments named for different saints, stipulated that they could not be owned or occupied by "Negros."

Uniquely the St. Agnes Apartments boasts a mammoth double height, partly barrel-vaulted entrance and lobby. Embellished with refined gout-Grec ornament, it was an evocatively eerie setting for the hit film Single White Female.

If it lacks accommodation for guests, a terrace, a working fireplace or marble walls, inspired by drawings I've made of fanciful imaginary interiors it nevertheless possesses all there is that I truly require.

I'm surrounded by delightful images by special artists like Grace Williams, Arnold Rice, Michael Mc Collom, Marvin Smith and Ruben Ron Callo. Architectural fragments, relics of lost landmarks are another notable element of the decoration. Some chairs were discovered in junk shops, while a steel desk and two tables were retrieved from the from the street.

Every wall, and even the doors, display views of old houses in Harlem, New York, Newport and Akron, Ohio, where I grew up. Colorful curtains made from sheets, quaint candlesticks in the form of fish, porcelain, silver, old mirrors and old furniture combine to create a stimulating atmosphere in a perpetually dark apartment that I hope is as welcoming to others as it is full of sparkle.

Above all else what most contributes to my well-being here are photographs of family and my dearest, oldest friends.

Old or new, books, housed mostly in the solitary bedroom with my indispensable computer, are perhaps the best and most faithful 'friends' to be had.

Moreover, like everything else in my treasured home they form a likeness of who I really am better than any other representation ever could.

there's nothing
like soft candle light to make almost anything look more attractive.

Author: Michael Henry Adams,
Huffington Post/At Home in Harlem
Posted April 4, 2009 03:19 PM (EST)