Writer and Filmmaker Nelson George

Two of Brooklyn’s esteemed residents joined forces Sunday night in Bed-Stuy as part of the City Parks Foundation’s Summerstage series. Filmmaker Nelson George and hip hop legend Talib Kweli honored Brooklyn’s artistic community at Herbert Von King Park with a free concert and film screening. The event, co-sponsored by AT&T & Imagenation, was one of over 100 free performances scheduled throughout the five boroughs in celebration of New York artists and their communities. Music and film fans from the surrounding neighborhood packed Almira Kennedy Coursey outdoor amphitheatre for over three hours to view George’s documentary, Brooklyn Boheme, and to hear Kweli perform several of his signature songs.

Even with rain clouds looming overhead, Brooklyn wouldn’t be stopped from coming out to support their own. DJ Stormin’ Norman kept the early arriving attendees amped by playing classic records from BK’s own Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z and vendors provided fish platters and frozen icies to satisfy the crowd’s appetites. While local residents played softball and set-up lawn chairs in the park’s fields and open lawns, popular hit songs blasting from the speakers could be heard from blocks away. Everyone from young children with painted faces to writer/activist Micheala Angela Davis could be seen dancing in front of the stage to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and Junior Mafia’s “Get Money”.

Brooklynite Talib Kweli
Earlier in the day, Talib Kweli tweeted that his flight was delayed and he wasn’t sure if he could make it to the park by the 7 pm start time. Luckily, this unpreventable setback didn’t stop the show from beginning on time. Rasta-rock singer Jahstix officially opened the festivities with a set that included a cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” and his own original song, “Hold The Fire”, an uplifting track about holding on to your own aspirations.
Jean Grae live
The Bed-Stuy guitarist was followed by LaGuardia School of Music & Art graduate and internationally known underground rap sensation Jean Grae. The South African born femcee ignited the crowd by bringing out surprise guests Pharoache Monch and MeLa Machinko. Jean continued to advance the positive energy of the atmosphere with several tracks off her latest album Cake and Death. “This Morning”, a song about getting out of your own way and recognizing your greatness, had the entire audience clapping and two-stepping to the beat.
The Packed House at Von King Park

The last light before dusk just began to fade when Jean brought out one more special guest during her set. It was long time collaborator and the night’s headliner, Talib Kweli. After joining Jean for their 2011 song, “Uh Oh” off the Gutter Rainbows album, Kweli took command of the stage and the crowd by performing a version of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” as a tribute to the recently deceased Adam “MCA” Yauch of the legendary hip hop band the Beastie Boys. Kweli went on to wow the engaged audience with a freestyle over Tyga’s “Rack City” instrumental (changing the infectious hook to “Rap City”) and with an inventive mash-up of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and his own track “Lonely People”. The amphitheater was filled with the lyrics, “all the lonely people/where do they all come from?”, as both the young and the old joined Kweli in belting out the chorus. The crowd was even more excited to participate with waving hands and lifted voices when Kweli and his 5 piece live band ended their set with his hit song “Get By”.

Brooklyn Boheme collective, photo by Anthony Barboza, circa 1989

The performances of three crowd pleasing artists would have been enough for one night of entertainment, but the Summerstage attendees were also blessed to view a screening of Nelson George’s intimate 2011 documentary Brooklyn Boheme. Having been a part of the African-American & Hispanic artistic revival that flourished in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1980’s and 90’s, George’s examination of the era gives first hand authenticity to the key players, locales, and accomplishments of a movement that has drawn comparisons to the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Brooklyn Boheme Film Poster

The film features interviews with Branford Marsalis, Spike Lee, Rosie Pérez, Kevin Powell, Chris Rock, Saul Williams, and several other prominent players in the Fort Greene Movement. Boheme also addresses some of the pertinent issues that many people who live in urban America still have to face like gentrification, class struggle, and self-image disparity. Despite the seriousness of some of the topics, the film has many lighthearted moments which had the audience at Von King Park laughing out loud on several occasions, and by the end everyone definitely left with a greater appreciation for the home grown talent of their borough. Besides from one or two raindrops that sprinkled the area, the evening was a perfect display of the stellar artistry and supportive community that resides in Brooklyn.

For info about other upcoming Summerstage performances click it.

For more info about Nelson George’s Brooklyn Boheme click it.

To purchase Talib Kweli albums on itunes click it.

Check out clips from Summerstage & the trailer for Brooklyn Boheme:

Jean Grae & Von King Park photo source: www.supercali-live.tumblr.com