Way before the opening acts warmed up the crowd for Brother Ali Saturday night, El Rey Theatre was packed. It wasn’t just any Saturday night, either. This was the Saturday night before Halloween, an evening I thought most people would spend partying away or mentally torturing themselves with haunted houses before going back to work on Monday. But this special scary night didn’t deter any of Brother Ali’s fans from crowding into the venue.
Before the artists took the stage, a group of people came out to voice their opinions on hot-button issues including foreclosure rates, homelessness, the Occupy movement, and the government. They emitted passion for what they believe is right, and while this type of “public forum” is usually reserved for benefit shows, no one was trying to raise money this night. That’s just how benevolently crafty Brother Ali is as an artist and how down-to-earth he is with regards to the public and community issues. This should come as no surprise if you listen to his music, which thematically revolves around politics, social justice, and the intense everyday experiences some people face.
After that presentation, married hip-hop duo The Reminders opened the show, followed by Homeboy Sandman, a rapper from Queens, NY. Then it was time for Brother Ali. The opening acts’ equipment was replaced on the stage by a group of jazz musicians who started the main show off with a blast of trumpets accompanied by keys and bass. I find hip-hop performances to be much more enjoyable and exhilarating when accompanied by live musicians, so my anticipation for the impending show was raised even higher.
A few seconds later, Brother Ali silently walked out on stage, looked at the audience, and started rapping. I’ve predicted previously that his performance would be mind-blowing, and there was something grand yet humble about the man standing before us. His flows seemed to pour out naturally as he paced the front of the stage, giving each fan a good view of himself, and as an entertainer, he was flawless. Everyone in the audience was fully engaged in what he was saying, and though Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color was just released in September, I saw many fans already lip-syncing along to the lyrics on the new tracks. Off to the side, I even saw one of the trumpet players mouthing the lyrics. Quite into it too.
Brother Ali can be swift and fluid with his lyrics, and the content of his songs comes as no surprise to fans. He has a reputation for being quite poetic, and I’m not just talking about the complexity of his rhyming. In fact, his is not complex poetry at all, but that only serves to make it more accessible for people like me, allowing us to read and understand his message. This has resulted in a truly devoted fan base, one that danced along to the music, arms raised and waving back and forth, Saturday night. When Ali performed “Mourning in America,” I felt like I was in a crowd full of people who just won something as they all looked so excited and even proud.
Brother Ali encouraged the audience to raise their fists in the air, so there was a lot of that going on Saturday night too. The gesture stood for people power, something Ali believes we need more of in our society. I highly suggest if Brother Ali ever plays in your neighborhood, you take a break from whatever you’re doing, put your fist up, and lock lips with his lyrics.
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