BY TREVOR GARDNER
America’s soul music revival swept through Sanders Theater last weekend as three neo-soul neophytes performed at BLSA’s Spring Conference Benefit Concert for the organization’s 2002 Spring Conference.
Audra, a former lawyer who now advises inner-city youth about their constitutional rights, kicked off the night with a series of spoken word pieces recounting her experiences in the black community. Her first piece conveyed the ridicule she received from spoken word lifers when they discovered that she maintained a day job working at a corporate law firm. Next, she delivered a biting commentary on “gangsta rap,” insisting that the rampant materialism within the genre only serves to damage the self-worth of impoverished youth.
Next on the lineup was Motown Records artist Lathun, whose debut album Fortunate will be on shelves this summer. Lathun could be described as a cross between Bilal and… Bilal. Nonetheless, the artist passionately presented his case for being the hot new soul descendant following in the footsteps of D’Angelo, Maxwell and, of course, Bilal. The budding Detroit native set himself apart from the increasingly crowded genre after introducing the audience to his guitar named Harmony and strumming a slow love song that left onlookers in a momentary trance. (Lathun is a self-taught pianist, guitarist and drummer, and normally sings his own background vocals.)
Toward the end of his performance, perhaps after catching a particular vibe from the crowd, Lathum began to take liberties with his clothing. In the tradition of R&B – but thankfully not yet a staple of neo-soul, – Lathun rubbed his belly to the rhythm of the music, casually exposing a little midriff. The crowd’s response was decidedly mixed.
Saxophonist Mike Phillips closed the night with his five-man band, remarkably turning smooth jazz into a memorable experience. His quintet rifled through original songs and a few covers, including a jazz version of Eminem and Dr. Dre’s hit single, “Forgot About Dre,” that spilled into a hip-hop version of the national anthem. Phillips’ screaming sax witnessed to the recent claims that soul has finally made a revival.
As a benefit concert, the event raised money for Vision for Youth, a non-profit organization seeking to improve teen girls’ relationship with mass media. The organization publishes a magazine called HeadZ Up!, which provides teenage girls with opportunities to write, research, and interview on a variety of topics pertinent to their community.