‘Harlem 100’ to bring ‘visual musical celebration’ to Penn State

Michael Mwenso is one of the performers appearing in “Harlem 100,” which stops at Eisenhower Auditorium on Tuesday.
Michael Mwenso is one of the performers appearing in “Harlem 100,” which stops at Eisenhower Auditorium on Tuesday. Photo provided

As part of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State’s seasonal focus, “The American Experience: Through an African-American Lens,” the center will bring “Harlem 100: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance” to the stage on Tuesday.

The Harlem Renaissance took place in Harlem, New York, during the 1920s and was a wellspring of African American cultural expression, considered by many to be a rebirth of African American arts. Now, Harlem is once again in “the midst of a resurgent creative movement sparked by the centenarian embers left by the wildfire that was the Harlem Renaissance,” according to IMG Artists, which is presenting the tour with JMG Live.

One of the leaders at the helm of JMG Live is Michael Mwenso, who brings to the table a background in music inspired by the landscapes of Sierra Leone, London and New York City. Mwenso got his start in music at an early age.

“My musical career started at 11 years old and my instrument was (the) trombone. It was at that age that I started to immerse myself in Afro-American Music. The Harlem Renaissance was something that particularly struck me,” he said.

Mwenso also happens to be one of the performers appearing in “Harlem 100,” alongside vocalists Vuyo Sotashe and Brianna Thomas, drummer Kyle Poole, bassist Russell Hall, pianist/keyboardist Mathis Picard, saxophonists Julian Lee and Ruben Fox and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman — all making up a company with nine band members and three dancers. The resulting combination has been called “theatre meets opera meets James Brown meets jazz meets total improvisation” by JazzTimes.

For those unfamiliar with the Harlem Renaissance or current Harlem music scene, Mwenso says they can expect “a visual musical celebration that will leave you knowing more about the history and the music of that time.”

“Harlem 100” incorporates multimedia, while tapping into the works and legacies of well-known artists such as Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller.

The show makes nearly daily stops at venues across the country between now and the end of November, but Mwenso says “being on the road for two months is a blessing. We as a group find sources of inspiration from the people we meet and how much they understand the message.”

The show takes place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Eisenhower Auditorium. For more information, visit cpa.psu.edu.