Concert Review: NAS is still bae. Lauryn is still Ms. Hill.

CHICAGO. September 7.

Ms. Lauryn Hill (MLH)/NAS/Chronixx

at Huntington Bank Pavilion—Northerly Island


(Unedited) Didn’t know how the fall-like weather was going to act for this outdoor show, so I was strategic with my attire. Layers…including a scarf and gloves in my bag knowing that when the sun set it would be major brrrrr.


Some of us people were still holding on strong to summer—there were vaselined melanated shoulders popping, short shorts with fishnets underneath, backs out, muffin tops wanting to make one last appearance, and summer pedicures hanging over the edge of sandals.


Following in the footsteps of Mary J. Blige who kicked off her Strength of a Woman Tour in Chicago, end of July, Thursday’s show kicked off MLH + NAS, PowerNomics Tour.


“PowerNomics reportedly stems from Dr. Claud Anderson’s book, which is about economic enfranchisement for the African-American community. So in celebration of that concept, the hip-hop legends will be raising funds in support of education, health, agriculture, technology, and other initiatives that will help build businesses and equity within the black community. Proceeds from each show will reportedly be donated to 44 charities, including The Harvest Institute, Yes We Code, Equal Justice Initiative and the International Peace Initiative.”


  • Chronixx was a well-received reggae opening act. He was pleased to see some of his countrywomen waving the Jamaican flag, on their feet and feeding him energy the entire set. I love us people cos dude did a whole entire set like he was headlining. Ha. His band sounded really nice though. Seeing him made me want to see Luciano in concert.


  • I do not like disclaimers from artists, let your art, whatever form or media, speak for itself. Prior to starting one of his songs he disclaimed it: “This song is not racist….” We do not have to apologize for our narratives or sharing our experiences no matter how uncomfortable it makes others.


  • There was a white man who sat in front of me and video recorded the Chronixx set on his iphone, and then he left. Whenever I see stuff like that it makes me cringe, possible cultural appropriation.


  • And of course, reggae equated to folk blazing up. Spliffs were being passed around and random “Irie’s” and “Jah Rastafari” were shouted in the section I was in. I am thankful for the open air and someone else lighting a bundle of incense.


NAS is still bae. Timeless. Classic hiphop. Bars.


One of my homies once said that Amy Winehouse & Ms. Lauryn Hill were heavy-hearted sistas. He said he could hear the pain in their voices and it made him sad for them. NAS paid tribute to Amy Winehouse (Cherry Wine) and he shared that when he was starting out, Michael Jackson allowed him to sample “Human Nature” for “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”


“If HipHop is Dead”


“One Mic” – I will always appreciate seeing him do this song live because it reminds me of youth I’ve worked with over the years. “One Mic,” is always on playlists I use to help engage youth. Also, I use “One Mic,” with youth I support using the therapeutic intervention of HipHop/Rap Therapy.


Unfortuntely, Bae was on stage for like 20-mins and then he was gone, and we were sad, like wait, did you just hit us with a mini-set? Who does that? Nooooooooooooo…. (in my Kevin Hart voice.)


Lauryn’s dj came on stage and smoothed us out as we waited for Lauryn. I had emotional memory from his set when I saw her last year at Ravinia, almost a year ago to the date of this show. Check out that review.


Ms. Lauryn Hill’s band played before she came on, and she entered rocking my favorite color, green. Her green cape-type coat and green eye-shadow were very Nigerian fashionista-esk.


MLH took her time with “Everything is Everything” and “Ex-Factor.” Here voice on Ex-Factor though, all the feels. I want her to record this version of Ex-Factor, I like the arrangement because it compliments the lyrics and urgency in her voice. Lauryn was in her feelings and the explanation was in the words she sang, suddenly I was even more hyped for the musical journey she was about to take us on and I didn’t care that her sound was loud: loud band and her loud vocals. I wasn’t mad. I simply put my tissue ear plugs in and I was invested.


The audience was trying to figure Lauryn out. One sis kept saying, “tha fuq is this…” They knew the words, but couldn’t figure out the arrangements. They wanted the album version of songs, they weren’t open to world flare. I understand familiarity is human nature, but I also understand that change is the only constant thing in life. MLH has changed since 1998.


Her band was dope. The one brotha was playing all the instruments: the African Kora, Xylophone and the guitar.


Her set was stimulating: lights, video…robust sound…I felt like I was elsewhere in the Diaspora. Afro-beats presence and her vocals/rhymes were clear, even those moments when it was like Twista had climbed into her body making her rhyme fast.


I really wanted the audience to be open to change, to vibe and F E E L what was being rendered. No need to punish artists for evolving. As for me, I want something special, different, and unexpected when I see artists live. Live music!


She was firm in requesting, “Get some light on my ladies.” Her “ladies” reminiscent of Fela’s “Queens,” dancing and singing.


When I heard, “I treat this like my thesis / Well-written topic, broken down into pieces…” I lost it, “Final Hour” is my ish.


“Lost Ones”


Each song was allowed to breathe. Each had texture, layers and depth…changing cords. Each song was rich, and they felt like heavy cream being folded into the space between that which was, and that which is becoming.


Ms. Hill is still intense and intentional in her artistry. A genius of sorts. All embodying. Hard working and present for all elements of her show. Black excellence.


I think doing this tour with NAS brought out a different side of Lauryn, she seemed more comfortable in the skin than she did last year at Ravinia. Don’t get me wrong I loved her Ravinia show because she gave us a range of her catalog including her Nina Simone stuff, but she was harder hitting Thursday and I approve.


She paid homage to the Fugees:


She rocked out, “How Many Mics.”


“Zealots” was closest to the album version and it was dope how she and her background singers harmonized on the chorus.




“Ooh la la la”


“Ready or Not” I’ve always friggin’ loved loved loved, this line: “So while you’re imitating Al Capone · I’ll be Nina Simone, defecating on your microphone.”


“Killing Me Softly”




NAS came back on a stage—it was a welcomed surprise after he’d only did what felt like a 20 min set.


He made my ovaries smile by doing:


  • “New York State of Mind”
  • “Whose World is This”
  • “You Can Hate Me Now”
  • “Made You Look” – “You a slave to a page in my rhyme book”


And then he asked: “Where’s the Queen?” Lauryn returned to the stage for “If I Ruled the World.”

It was clear that they have love and respect for each other and their embrace after the song was sisterly/brotherly L O V E! Their embrace felt like the intent of Talib Kweli’s sentiment in Ms. Hill.


Lauryn did one last song “Doo Wap!”


This concert was so HipHop. It felt bboy/bgirl with soul and African Diasporic. It felt aware. It felt woke. They didn’t need to beat us over the head with “PowerNomics,” but the essence and intent were apparent in their performances.


Immediately after the concert I put my earbuds in because I didn’t want to hear the negative commentary about Lauryn Hill. I get it, folks wanted to be nostalgic and reminisce on the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but damn can Lauryn live? Can she breathe. Can she art, how she wants to art?




nicole jhan’rea


#SheBloomsBlack     #MsLaurynHill     #NAS     #Chronixx     #Powernomics

Concert Review: Lionel Richie & Mariah Carey

(Unedited) Seeing Ms. Lauryn Hill/NAS/Chronixx in concert Thursday night reminded me that I hadn’t posted about Lionel Richie. I’ve been holding that one near and dear. Typing his name makes me smile because he put on a great show, even my summer concert buddy, my mama, loved his show.

Lionel is still very comfortable on stage and it’s apparent how long he’s been doing this. His execution was effortless. Since Richie’s concert at the United Center I’ve found myself busting out singing “Penny Lover,” “Just to be Close to You” and “You are the Sun, You are the Rain,” lol lol lol those songs were my jams when I was little. I think I was too young to even like these song, but they were definitely hairbrush as mic, dramatically singing in the mirror, kinda songs!

I’d been looking forward to seeing Lionel Richie cos I love me some Commodores, and with the exception of, Dancing on the Ceiling, I like his solo stuff. Though I didn’t like that song, I knew all the words and sang all of them at the concert.

* Saturday. August 26, 2017. MiMi & Li-o-nel at the United Center. *

So, let’s start with Mariah Carey. Her entire set I kept looking around at the white folk, mostly millennial women, and being amused because I felt like I was at a Britney Spears concert, these women were loving MiMi. Her set was “tired” though. Poor word choice, but I just can’t with Ms. Carey, and it doesn’t help that I’d watched that cable special she did over the summer following her European Tour. Overall, for her set: 1) It seemed like she was lip-syncing songs 2) It was an awkward and lackluster performance.

• Tanaka, her dancer turned lover, was her “handle.” He didn’t dance,
he just escorted her on and off stage, carrying her a couple times. Uhm yeah…
• Da Brat was her special guest for “We Belong Together.”
• Who knew Trey Larenz was still singing back-up for Mariah….? I didn’t.
• Who knew that Big Jim, her music director, was from Rockford, IL? I didn’t know that either.
• Pretty much, Carey’s band outshined her.
• She did 3 outfit changes. Cos why? I do not know.
• Highlight: The twins are adorbs, Roe and Rocky.

As for Mr. Lionel Richie, he put on a show! Lights. Camera. Action.

The opening light show was direct, clean and attention grabbing — it wasn’t too much, it was just the right amount of drama. He opened with “Easy” and came with hit after hit after hit. I love concerts where the artist has so many great songs in their catalog that I can sing along with all of them. So so so, feel good.

Nothing like seeing a singer, songwriter and musician do their thing. Lionel gives me all the feels because his music, like several others I’ve seen this summer, takes me back to childhood, a happy place.

Here’s the thing though, Lionel’s band is stuck in the 80’s, especially the white guitarist with the 80s rock band thing going on — I friggin’ love it. And if you remember those Lionel Richie videos back in the day, with predominately white dancers and musicians, you know exactly what I’m talmbout. *yell laughs* It wasn’t like he didn’t have brothas in the band as well, but the 80s guitarist with his long rockstar-hair, kept catching my attention and tickling me. Also, Mr. Richie didn’t have 20 y/o dancers flitting around stage. I am thankful for that because I think it’s unnecessary and inauthentic for older singers to have young half-naked women prancing around on stage.

I also enjoyed his commentary. He shared that he’d gone to high school in Joilet, IL. Who knew?

Lionel was also very personable, connecting with the audience and teasing more “seasoned” and elder concertgoers about how they were flashing back to their heydays as they listened to these songs and cut a rug.

His set-list included:
• Easy
• Running in the Night
• Penny Lover
• Truly
• You Are the Sun, You are the Rain
• Stuck on You
• Dancing on the Ceiling
• Three Times A Lady
• Sail On
• Sweet Love
• Lady
• Just to be Close to you
• Brick House
• Fire
• Hello
• Say You, Say Me
• We Are the World

Like I said, this was a feel good show. Definitely would see him again in concert!


nicole jhan’rea



Concert Review: Lizz Wright’s voice is endless…I HEAL


I drafted this in my phone last Saturday...
My bad, I’m just getting around to posting it.
> It is very loosely edited <


August 19, 2017


About 2 weeks ago I had surgery. I share this now, merely to contextualize my concert experience this evening with Lizz Wright, it felt otherworldly, in a good way. (I’ll write a post soon about the surgery, but for now, just receive it as context for this post.)


Weeks prior to the surgery I’d been to several shows including, Mary J. Blige with Lalah Hathaway, and Rachelle Farrell. These sistas supported my pre-op plan and were key in helping me wrap my head around the thought of having a procedure done. At 43, I’ve never had a surgery or been “under.” The anesthesiologist was shocked that at my age, I’d never had a surgery.


2 weeks later, and I’m well on my healing journey, and tonight, Lizz Wright’s voice & the lyrics of the songs she sang, were my balm.


This was: Truth and Racial Healing Concert Featuring Lizz Wright at the Logan Center. I don’t even now how I found out about it, but I am sooooo glad I did. And, who knew that Lizz is now on the board of Little Black Pearl and she’s their resident gardener? Well I didn’t. So, Chicago is like her second home now. How cool is that? Very!


Opening for Lizz was this dope Puerto Rican singer, Sandra Antongiorgi, and her band. Sis sings with such slow, intentional…urgeny, anddddddd she slayed a Spanish cover of Jill Scott’s “He Love’s Me.” What?!?!?!? That was all things amazing!


So, by the time Lizz Wright came on, I was ret. My intention was set, and I’d even pulled out my prayer beads and dabbed on some lavender oil. I was intentional on this concert experience supporting my healing journey.

Lizz came out with, “Old Man.” And then she gave us “Barley,” off her forthcoming album, Grace. It felt like she channeled Mavis Staples and freedom songs on this one. She even pulled out her “brown praying hands” tambourine getting it ready for some thumpin’.


*Barley: The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me…


The richness and endlessness of her voice, and the lyrics, continued to settle on me as she sang, “Somewhere Down the Mystic” and “New Game.” She invited out two Chicago vocalists to accompany her, and I got all warm fuzzied by what felt like, camaraderie and reverence between the three of them.


*Somewhere Down the Mystic: My soul will walk up the mountain trail. Somewhere down the mystic another kind of angel calls.


*New Game: Did you ask about me? Yes, I’m running, staying down low, spirit up high.I’m not tired yet, staying ready. This is a new game, gonna flow like nothing behind. Running over. Rolling under. Nothing broken, still making time.


Between songs Lizz shared that she doesn’t talk much between songs because it’s too many parts of her brain working at the same time. I chuckled, “Okay sus, so we’ve been told…” Real talk though, I received that as a meditation and welcomed the stillness between songs. Also, she noted that really wanted to do this performance, and since she’s scheduled to be back in town at another venue in the coming months, she willingly and convincingly got “permission” to do this show.


On “Walk with me Lord” the band did solos and the white boy on the church organ, my my, he played like he was a Black Pentecostal organist from down south.  And, when they flowed into, “my soul says yes…” all I could do was drop my head back and look up in gratitude. #surrender


photo credit: nicole jhan-rea

On “Freedom” I was free to chair dance and she was free to gather her dress in her hand and crunch it at the thigh before returning to playing the tambourine. And she can “PLAY” the tambourine, frfr (for real, for real). Like Sunday morning, play the tambourine. Like praise & worship, bass & kickdrum, play the tambourine.

*Freedom: I say freedom, you must hang out amongst the stars. It’s kinda hard for you in a world like ours… Call again and I’ll answer


“Speak Your Heart” felt appropriate for this day, this time. All that’s happening personally and in the world, it’s a manifesta of sorts for courage & resilience. Nearing the close of the song, she stepped away from the mic and self-soothed as if she needed a moment with her feelings. Patting herself on her chest. She returned to the mic and the music faded. My response of “niceeeeeee,” softly seeped from my lips. That was a very nice moment. In that moment one had to be “present” to get it.


* I do want to be your reoccurring dream…I want to be real to you, no more disguises. Let me in, or let me go…


Another treat from her new project is the Nina Simone cover of, “Seems I’m Never Tired of Loving You.”


*Fun fact: This song was written by Aretha Franklin’s sister, Carolyn Franklin.


This. song. right. here. It’s so abysmal, yet so easy on the spirit–thinly draped across the heart like a fleece woobie/blankie that babies rub against their face for contentment and safety. As I’m sitting there with the lyrics and the images, Lizz revealed the story of making the album through images, I thought: “Dear Auntie O, Lizz Wright’s cover of, “Seems I’m Never Tired of Loving You,” and these images NEED to be the opening song or at least played on OWN’s “Black Love” show. Jus’sayin’…holla at ya girl, Auntie.”


She welcomed Sandra back on the stage for “Painted Sky,” and she closed out the set with “Coming Home.” I wasn’t ready for her to go though. I was greedy, I didn’t just one more, I wanted several more songs. Hell she coulda stood there and sang “row row row yo boat….” The liniment of her voice. The balm of her instrument.


She did return, for an encore. She sang: “I Remember, I Believe” by her godmother Bernice Johnson-Reagon from Sweet Honey in the Rock. Lizz shared that she was leaving us with this memory because sometimes, it’s these memories that give us strength.


As I stood to clap for her, I raised from the chair feeling good. Grounded. Purpose-filled. Healing.



nicole jhan’rea

#SheBloomsBlack      #LizzWright

P.S. From what I’ve heard, Grace, her new album has a chuchy, twangy, Lizzy feel to it! Lol lol lol. I’m here for all of it!

Putting on my crown and reminding myself of my soul-knowings

photograph by nicole jhan'rea (c)2017

(Unedited) Possibly it’s the only child in me or the creative in me or the extroverted introvert in me, but in these moments I have to block out the noise, the commentary…the bullshit. It is when I am still that I realize that “folk” [all people, places, things, zone snatchers…etc!] coming for me, ain’t really coming, for me, they coming for “the Light.” They’re attempting to dim “the Light.”


In the words of James Baldwin, “My crown has already been bought and paid for, all I have to do is put it on my head.” I was meant to be, HERE, and as this quote reminds me of my meant to be’ness, I elevate above all adversity and naysayers. In these moments of folk cometh for me, I have to stretch all out like that wild-sleeping-child who in their small frame takes up the breadth of the bed, spreading through the four corners. In these moments, I have to lay-out wide upon the Greatest I Am, surrender and be rejuvenated by Grace & Favor, cos there is no way that I could navigate this thing called life, and have peace of mind and spirit without my soul-knowings.


E’ryday, I gotta put on my crown and remind myself of my soul-knowings.


I am never alone, even when I am with myself.


I digress…


Aug. 15, 2017.  4:22am. Up early in meditation. Sweet surrender. Stillness. Tapping into wellness. The reservoir of quiet. There’s a song that says, “He’s a wonder in my soul…” …  …  …  …  …  …


There is time and space where semantics don’t get overshadowed by the soul-knowing that God cares and the Universe & ancestors are not only, always…always…always on my side, but they have my best interest at heart. I love the saying, “I am my ancestors wildest dreams…” It’s empowering to know that there were beings before me who loved on me & the possibilities of me long before I was conceived in the flesh. They’d conceived me in their hearts and loved me enough to die and fight for my freedom. To know that my personal ancestors and our cultural ancestors had me, us, in mind many suns and moons ago, creates a real sense of safety.


At my core I have a deep understanding and regard for the truths of God, Universe… ancestors, and I don’t get caught up in the semantics of what us humons have deemed as a Living God. Arguments like, does God exist, is God a he or she, is God Black or white, does God let bad stuff happen, Is there a Universe…Though I can articulate my views on having a God that reflects me Womon & Black, believing in a Universe that aligns with my “tuning forks” and conspires to support me in being the best version of me I can be, and that I’m grounded in a knowing that I am supported by ancestors, I understand these things are rooted in my personal relationship with these entities, and that others also want to see their reflection in the Greatest I Am.


Life, sometimes, not merely gets in the way, but gets so heavy that if I am not careful I forget, not forget, but get consumed with stuff that get me stuck or not tapping into my soul-knowings. But we have choices to make. I have to choose God…Universal laws…Ancestors everyday and in choosing the wholeness of these entities I choose myself. I am responsible for reminding myself of this daily, that’s my responsibility and for me, I have to do that in stillness and in quiet.


E’ryday, I gotta put on my crown and remind myself of my soul-knowings.


I am never alone, even when I am with myself.



nicole jhan’rea


#SheBloomsBlack   #Crowned

Concert Review: Rachelle Ferrell took us to cherch! #Tabernacle

The bookends of my week were Sunday, the Strength of a Woman Tour (Mary J. Blige & Lalah Hathaway) and Friday, Rachelle Ferrell (RF), both very moving experiences. At Rachelle’s 7pm set, I found myself wanting to write. I wanted to do the physical act of pushing pen over paper, so, as she performed I wrote a little, but when things got real I stopped writing in real-time and finished it on the train home. I haven’t done much with this, it just is what it is. Raw. I move in and out of present and past tense, but I trust my sentiment and reflections are palatable.


Rachelle Farrell came on this City Winery stage seeming a lil unsettled and out of sorts. Ma is regular, no frills no extra, looking like she just stepped off the tour bus and onto the stage with a “clear” drink in hand and her cell phone in tow. Which, I think if you have a skillset like hers, you can come out in a fleece hooded-footie-onsie and no one should have a darn thing to say. Which, on the real, ain’t ish regular about RF but this ensemble she has on.




With craft and precision she’s taking her time warming up her instrument, her voice, as she settles into, “So Satisfied.” She’s kept it simple with the band, only 3 musicians, commenting that the bass and drums are the foundation. As I’ve said before about her voice, her vocal acrobatics and the time she’s taken to explore and uncover parts of her voice and range is, awe-inspiring. I love seeing her live because she is not only a technician, she is also guided by ancestors and spirit. She radiates…oozes a deep seeded soul-knowing that maybe she doesn’t even know the depth.


Whenever I see her live, which is not often cos she doesn’t tour often, but when she comes through Chicago, I try my darnedest to see her even if I cannot get good seats, I just want to be here. I’m glad she’s here at the Winery. I like Chicago’s west loop, City Winery; I call it my artist date dip-off spot. It’s one of the places I can take myself on a date to see live music and rarely be noticed. I usually get the same exact seat and order the same exact thing on the menu, and sometimes, I get a lil fancy with a wine pairing with my meal.


She takes her time with “Sista,” such care in the enunciation and breath control of one of my favs.


“What if Bobby McFerrin and Rachelle Ferrell had a baby, who would it be?”

Ladies pops into my mind.


Like Mary J. Blige, earlier in the week, Rachelle is celebrating us, speaking truths of Black womyn and our bond as sistas. And like Mary, she also brings in the male energy, not to de-center sistas, but to speak of our experiences with men. RF said: “I love brothas tooo,” but she broadened her breadth with: “Sometimes I have to separate from men and call on my own masculine energy.”


I digress, I would be remiss not to mention the sistas who are at the table with me. Two older sistas, both with beautiful salt/pepper hair who were loving their red wine, and another sista who’d invited two of her friends, one of which is high as the price of the red-bottoms she’s wearing. Sus has an edge on her, and she has the munchies. She is also flip at the mouth and sometimes her commentary is brash, not comical, though her hair is laid and lined to perfection. Which, her hair and her mouf have nuffin to do with one another…lol lol lol. She doesn’t really want to be here, but her friend who invited her, is trying to “contain” her. Her friend thinks that if she just gave it a chance, she’ll enjoy herself.


*pause in my writing and then started back up*


Rachelle started talmbout brothas and the bass was sounding good to sis at the table. As she ate her kale salad and flatbread she threw her fork in the air and affirmed: “Yeah, that’s it right there. Play it like that. And let’s talk about these men, not all this sista stuff, cos these dudes out here be suckas, breaking our hearts and shit.” All I can do is look at her like, Um kay, how you really feel? Lol lol lol


Back on the stage: Rachelle Ferrell acknowledges whose city she’s in. She pays homage to Uncle Bernie (Bernie mac) and she really felt attuned to the spirit of Sam Cooke. She offers up an impromptu verse of “Darling You Send Me,” and shares that Mr. Cooke was the first to combine gospel with soul, and where would we be musically, without him. But then she takes it too far by acknowledging Michael Jordan, everyone at my table is like um, no. Yeah Jordan was great on the court, but as it relates to giving back to the city or the people, we weren’t feeling him as it relate to him being a “Chicagoan” on that level.




Since this was her first set, out of the two she’ll be doing tonight, I don’t know if she’ll actually play for us. There’s a baby grand piano and keyboard on stage but yeah, we can only wish….


*I stopped writing in real-time at this point, and wrote the rest on my train ride home*


When she went over to the piano I got really excited and couldn’t stop cheesing, and when she sat and started to play, “I Can Explain,” I had a yaaaaas, dere is a Gawd, moment.


She played and sang the shit outta that piano. She went to the bedroom, the streets and then, she went to church. The intensity of her playing increased and she felt it in her body as she swayed and moved back and forth often dropping her head and trying to shake off the feelings that were bubbling up. But she couldn’t contain them, there was no managing her emotions they crept into her fingertips…into her playing.


After “I Can Explain.” She got up from the piano and went back over to the standing mic, she took off her glasses and wiped her face, her eyes, with a black hand towel. She was still full though, her emotions still high. She said, “Glory and honor…praise to God.”


This is when it got real…


I was raised in the church and have been around church folk my entire life. Different denominations. Different schools of thought. Different doctrine, ideologies etc. I say this to say, I know everyone is not familiar with the nuances, and for some it can be scary or even comical. But what happened next, was spirit, energy, ancestors…God moving and when that happens it’s no controlling it.


Rachelle Ferrell “got happy,” “the holy ghost moved through her,” and she started “speaking in tongues.” She also kinda translated what she said in “tongues,” and it was clearly praise and worship because she talked about “the enemy” and “where 2 or more are gathered, and how, “spirit wants to be here.”


I understood this. Yes, a tad bit taken aback that we went from “I Can Explain” to her “shouting, dancing and praising Him,” but not scared or without understanding.


I digress even further, my week has been a very trying one, so I was trying to manage my own emotions while also being a container and hold space. But, when she started singing acapella, I chose to be fully present and receive this gift of song and affirmation for my own life and my week.


She sang, He Looks Beyond My Faults.  This is one of my favorite gospel songs. The words of this song always place me in a space of supplication, gratitude and at peace.


She sang:

Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise

For it was grace, that brought my liberty

I’ll never know just why He came to love me so

He looked beyond my fault and saw my need

I shall forever life mine eyes towards Calvary,

to view the cross where Jesus died for me,

how marvelous His grace that caught my falling soul;

He looked beyond all my faults and saw my needs, my needs.


[Hindsight: A quick internet search I found footage of her covering this song at another performance, but in seeing this footage, I realize how deep she was in praise and worship on Friday, because though she sang her face off on this footage and had the church organ accompanying her, the heart and urgency and presence on Friday was 10x’s greater than what’s on this video.]


As she sang the song acapella, and a presence moved across the audience, the people “got it.” At my table the sista who brought her two friends, me and the other sista found ourselves harmonizing as we sang along with Rachelle Farrell. It happened organically and at various points of Rachelle sanging, various folk in the audience, that had morphed into a summertime Vacation Bible Study congregation, released a: “Praise Him…,” and a “Let’em use you.”


On my heart was: Elegba is here. Someone(s) at the crossroad.


Rachelle shared: “I’m here too, I’m channeling with you and thank you for the gift of your intention. Thank you for acknowledgement. Laying on solid ground.”


After this song she had a better handle of her emotions. She sat at the keyboard, played and sang “Run to Me,” but spirit was still high and she was tryna be still(er), but as she played her legs flared. Then the tempo changed for the remix, it became a breakbeat and the musicians settled into a groove. She let out a loud shout as if it was sage—to clear space and energy. She danced a bit, did a soul clap, said a lil sumthin while introducing the musicians one last time and that was it.


The audience didn’t move, though Rachelle had left the stage.


We wanted more.


I guess we also wanted to process with one another.


We wanted to hold onto the temporal space we’d just co-created.


But, she didn’t come back out, and the lights and music were on, and slowly we began to file out of the performance space.


I’m grateful to have experienced this.


Ashe. Amen. Ameen. Namaste.




nicole jhan’rea


#Tabernacle    #SheBloomsBlack

Concert Review: Mary J. Blige & Lalah Hathaway – Strength of a Woman

 After the concert, on my commute home,
I started writing this in the notes section of my phone.
Very loosely edited.


I attended evening service tonight at the Chicago Theatre. Lalah Hathaway and Mary J. Blige preached a word. Look, ion’t know if it’s just where I am right now or what, but I’m hearing lyrics in a whole new way these days, with a whole new understanding of she’ness, Blackness, womonness, me’ness—so much clarity and context on real life situations.

Also, a lot of artists I’m seeing this summer are framed in either my early childhood or young-adulthood. I recently asked an elder if 43 is mid-life. Never really thought about it until I saw Common in concert at Ravinia. He’s a few years older than me, I think, and I was thinking about HipHop not only being for the youth. HipHop is mine, too.

Real talk, I needed the healing salve of tonight’s concert. In the midst of what has turned out to be a summer full of anything but chillin’, live music, more than ever, has truly been my therapy, an escape and a space of processing. Almost every show I’ve been too, I’ve had to make myself go because of the density of my days on many fronts.

Tonight’s concert kicked off the Strength of a Woman Tour and I felt like I was on an extended Girls Trip outing and debriefing with friends. Words…truths…pains…heart,  left on stage. This concert had the same sista-girl’ness of Girls Trip. We ain’t victims yall, but we are forever victimized by this world and this is why we must not only control our narratives, but hold our healing/sista-spaces and one another sacred.


Lalah came on stage with her locs pulled back in a ponytail and ret to be her usual smooth, perfectly pitched, sing so pretty in her “bottom” voice, self. Lalah just as dope as her daddy, like, for real for real. She paid homage to Ms. Anita Baker with her cover of “Angel” and “Caught Up in the Rapture.” She kept it ole skool with Earth Wind and Fire’s, “Love’s Holiday.” I felt as if I was supposed to be sweaty and pushed-up on a cute boy at a red-light basement party during the slow down.

I love that, just like her pops, she recorded a live record. I also love that Lalah reps Chicago and acknowledges it as her birthplace. I was hoping she sang Mirror and she didn’t fail. This song, Mirror, makes me think of my students, I often played this song in their group counseling sessions. The words are so poignant for all sistas, especially teenage girls.

Mirror (lyrics): Sometimes you gotta make the mirror your best friend / Maybe then, you’ll find some peace within / Stop hiding yourself, stop hiding yourself / Love yourself / When no one else can

Then she took us back to “Baby Don’t Cry” and she teased us with “Forever For Always” before she sang the song outright. R.I.P. Luffa (Luther Vandros). And, she gave us her new single “I Can’t Wait.”

*curtains closed…set change*

I had decent seats but I wanted, needed  s p a c e , so I made my way further back on the main floor to a sweet spot where the AC was right, I had full view of the stage, and I had space—space to be with my feelings and thoughts. Space to move…breathe…be. In doing this, I started having an even more personalized concert experience and it felt like being home within myself.

Mary enters walking down some stairs and I was excited for the P R O D U C T I O N ! Mary came to connect and tell a story…this was wrapped in “putting on a show,” but really, she wasn’t putting on a show, it was as if this opening night of the tour was a scheduled part of her healing. Not scheduled by concert promoters or her team, but ordained by the Universe.

Mary hit the stage on fire and I was engaged in the set-design and the lights/camera/action of such a show, in such an intimate space. It’s clear that the set, staging and details were for larger venues, but they made it do-what-it-do for the Chicago Theatre. I appreciate that.

Wait, but Mary came out so New York on us.

Sus is sooooo New York and fa’sho the Queen of HipHop Soul. She gave us high energy vocals and her classic Mary moves. She served up a medley including: “You Bring Me Joy,” “Reminisce – intro,” “You Remind Me,” “Real Love,” “Be Happy,” and “Love No Limit.” I came out of my own world for a minute to soak in the sistas reactions to her. It landed on me clearer than usual. Mary’s music touches sistas in a way that only we can do and be for one another. Within her music we have unspoken sista-circles and convergent conversations on life, love, and fighting for someone else, and for ourselves. It also hit me that I needed to add some more Mary songs to my playlist that I use with my students in group counseling. The lyrics pulsate, resonate, and light up my senses.

Real Love (lyrics): Real love, I’m searching for a real love / Someone to set my heart free /Real love, I’m searching for a real love / I’m out to have a real love

Be Happy (lyrics): How can I love somebody else / If I can’t love myself enough / To know when it’s time / Time to let go

Love No Limit (lyrics): Loving you (that’s all I want to do) / Every day (and every hour, baby) / Don’t you look no more / Love without a limit (my love is yours) / Loving you (that’s all I want to do) /Every day (and every minute, every hour baby) / Don’t you look no more / Love without a limit (my love is yours)

After this burst of energy, with the medley of songs, Mary slowed it down with “Don’t Mind,” and this is where the storytelling became more personal and intimate. Mary said she loves Chicago: “This place gets you going.” She continued with: “Ain’t nothing like the strength of a woman. I am a womon, so I can only speak to womyn. I understand us our pain…it takes a whole lot for strong womyn to show you we love you. Once we do brothas, you can only have one Queen. Take care of yo Queen. And, once we show you we’re independent stay secure King. Fellas you can’t be hitting womyn. I’m a lot selfish when it comes to my relationship, but don’t be coming home comparing me to anyone. I’m me, Mary. Can I put my trust in you? Don’t let me go.” She then went back into “I Don’t Mind” saying I love you and professing her love of 90s music.

She gave us, “Share My World” and “My Everything,” and then there was an outfit change. Mary returned with a 2nd outfit: ripped jean shorts, with animal print tank, thigh-high boots, a big floppy black hat and her blonde braid swept to the side. Vocally she returned with “My Life” and we, the audience, sang “I’m Going Down,” oh so loudly and with intentionality.

My Life (lyrics): Life can be only what you make it / When you’re feeling down you should never fake it / Say what’s on your mind and you’ll find in time / That all the negative energy, it would all decease / And you’ll be at peace with yourself / You won’t really need no one else / Except for the man up above / Because He’ll give you love

Wait, let me tella bout the sound system. OMG, I think this is one of the best I’ve ever heard the sound system in Chicago Theatre. Sound so crisp.

“Set Me Free,” my Gawd, this song, an exorcism happened. She was sanging to bring that feeling, thought, essence…person up/off of her spirit. She sang that song as if her survival counted on it. This sentiment continued with “U + Me” mixed in with, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” During the narrative she reminded us not lose ourselves for nobody else.

Set Me Free (lyrics): Tell me how you figure that you made me / And you gave me what I had before I meet ya / Ain’t gon’ have it when you’re gone / And how you fix your mouth to say I owe you / There’s a special place in hell for you / You gon’ pay for what you did to me / I’ma tell you, ’cause the truth will see me free, oh

“Thick of it,” she went deeper in her reserve for this song and she pulled up every bit of strength she could muster. She enunciated all the rhymey fast parts, she then she dropped it low and stood back up with her skin glistenin’—she’d worked up a sweat.

“Not Gon Cry,” she went to church: “he wasn’t worth…” she held her gut as she belted out “my precious tears.” She had to walk it off after that song and the stage went black, everyone sat down and she came back out composed and chanted: “fight fight fight.” No doubt Ms. Mary is fighting for her sanity and her life. “No More Drama,” she yelled the song to convince us and free herself. Some words became muddled and resembled a speaking in tongues of sorts. She passed out as if hands laid on her at the altar. Purged!

No More Drama (lyrics): Broken heart again / Another lesson learn / Better know your friends / Or else you will get burned / Gotta count on me / Cause I can guarantee / That I’ll be fine

What I thought was going to be a 3rd outfit change, wasn’t, sus needed to collect herself. During this time I was so very geeked for the video montage. I was taken back to Chicago clubs and hiphop nights at Funky Buddha and Sub T with, “All I need” and “411.”

After her refresher Mary came back with some Chaka, “Sweet Thing,” “Just Fine” (mixed with a Michael Jackson beat), and the hateration song.

Just Fine (lyrics): Let it go… / Can’t let this thing called love get away from you / Feel free right now, go do what you want to do / Can’t let nobody take it away, from you, from me, from we / No time for moping around, are you kidding? / And no time for negative vibes, cause I’m winning / It’s been a long week, I put in my hardest / Gonna live my life, feels so good to get it right

Mary shouted-out Taraji P. Henson who was in the bldg, and she commented that the vibe and energy of the audience felt good, was overwhelming and “crazy.”

Overall, to feel, is to experience Mary J Blige. Emotional intelligence on steroids. Class was in session on emoting and authenticity. Clearly this tour is apart of her healing. She left her heart on stage.


nicole jhan’rea

WTTW/Channel 11 Tour…(yes, Black people watch PBS)

just like the local library and books,
channel 11 was definitely a 
window to the world for me...

(Unedited) We arrived at WTTW/Channel 11 with our Black selves all soulful and colorful. Me a headwrap – of course, my mom with her natural picked all the out and a printed shirt, and my grams in her wheelchair with a bright orange shirt on. lol lol lol lol. You could not miss us! Even in our silence we were loud. lol lol lol.

We didn’t know how much walking we’d be doing so we took my grams wheelchair just in case. I hadn’t even thought about who’d be there, but when we entered the building, it was a sea of white folks waiting for the WTTW/PBS Tour to begin. All I really wanted to say was, “Yes, Black people watch PBS, too…”

As a child my grams and I bonded over many things, some of which were Diet Rite and smothered potatoes and onions while watching a lot of WTTW/PBS.

On my own, I also watched WTTW/Channel 11, “Signing With Cindy,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “Body Electric,” and a plethora other shows. “Signing With Cindy” helped to solidify my desire to be a Speech Pathologist/Audiologist (my undergrad major.)

This evening Mama, Grams and I went to tour WTTW. I’m blessed to have done this with them, especially my Grams cos WTTW is sorta our thing that we let my mom’s in on. We saw where they tape “Chicago Tonight,” “Check Please,” “Soundstage” and where they do their pledge/membership campaigns. Both my mom’s and grams were amazed at how compact “Check Please” was and how spacious the “SoundStage” space was.

Shout out to Dedry Jones of the “Music Experience” for his “The Experience” series. During the Q & A I asked if there would be another season and asked how the partnership came to be. Word is, a sista (okay I assumed it was a sista) who works in Finance frequents “The Experience” and told a producer about the shows and viola. By the way, you could hear a mouse piss on cotton when I opened my mouf to speak. lol lol lol.

The lady talked about how they partner with other cultural institutions in Chicago and I asked if they’ve partnered with the Gene Siskel Theater and the Black Harvest Film Festival. She said, “No…but, they’d be open to it.” Now you know I’m gon email her, right? lol lol lol

Anyhoo, we enjoyed the experience!