Mwenso kick

Harlem based roots band Mwenso & the Shakes perform at the Eisenhower Auditorium patio on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The band is lead by artist-activist and Black music historian Michael Mwenso.

Thursday evening, the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State welcomed the community for a live concert from Mwenso and The Shakes on Eisenhower Auditorium’s patio.

The free concert by the jazz-funk band titled “Love Will Be thee Only Weapon” was the first concert ever held on the auditorium’s front patio, according to Amy Vashaw, CPA's audience and program development director.

The event is part of CPA’s “Fierce Urgency Festival” — a commitment to celebrate Black artists and their stories.

With over 300 people in attendance — including students, teachers and community members — everyone took to the patio for one of the first performances on campus since the pandemic started.

Many students, like Igor Latsanych, were there to attend the show just for fun or for an art class and said they were so glad to see live music again.

“After a few years of not hearing — first of all, music this good and second of all, music this good live — I’m really happy I came to this because it was great,” Latsanych (freshman-international relations) said. “It was amazing and something new.”

Kikora Franklin, an associate professor of theatre and dance at Penn State, started off the show with students and fellow dancers.

The group she performed with was the Roots of Life Performing Arts Ensemble, a State College Area School District arts education program that she co-founded and directs.

Franklin talked mostly on how Roots of Life brings people together to teach them “how to be kind to one another, how to respect one another and how to live their lives as respectful human beings.”

They performed traditional African dance and drums for about 20 minutes before the concert began.

Mwenso and The Shakes — consisting of two drummers, a pianist, a bass player, a saxophone player, a trombone player and two singers, including lead singer, arts activist and Black music historian Michael Mwenso — started off the night with fun, upbeat jazz tunes.

Engaging with audience members and improvising their own melodies, the band members continued playing their “healing Black music” through the night, including different love songs, songs about hardship and some spiritual songs.

While Mwenso took a break from singing at points in the night — which were far and few between — he would showcase one or many of his musicians.

There were solos from fellow singer Vuyo Sotashe and from other musicians, including the pianist, saxophonist, bassist and trombonist.

He gave motivational speeches before continuing to the next songs.

“Believe in the god in you. You have all the power, you have all the ability and can get the focus to make things happen in your life,” Mwenso said. “Don’t give up. So, we say ‘just beware of who you are, and know your worth and all of its gold.’”

Overall, the show showcased a unique form of music for community members, like Penn State student Grey Rochon, to enjoy.

“It was really electrifying, and there was never a dull moment,” Rochon (senior-sociology and history) said. “It was very exciting and very therapeutic, and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Mwenso and The Shakes have visited Penn State before and said they plan on coming back for a concert in January.

Currently, they have been around the community performing for music classes and at locations around State College, like 3 Dots Downtown.

People who attended the event said they enjoyed the concert and, like student Ngozi Nwokeukwu, they said they hope to see the group again.

“We danced, we laughed, we cried, we held our hearts, we held our heads high and our heads low,” Nwokeukwu (junior-telecommunications) said. “And it was amazing to sing along.”

Reflecting on her experience at the concert, Nwokeukwu said she had never seen a live show that "moved" her like that before.

“It was fabulous, and it was spiritual, and I am not the same woman.”


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