Three New York City music professionals – singer/songwriters Tamar-kali and Jason Charles Walker and keyboardist/songwriter Jeremy Mage – bring “Freedom Songs” to Unison in New Paltz on Saturday, May 17 at 8 p.m. The program features the iconic and inspirational music associated with the American Civil Rights movement, emphasizing the gospel and folk roots of the songs that both inspired and came to symbolize the Civil Rights struggle.
In the interactive, community-building spirit of the music, “Freedom Songs” will be heavy on the audience participation, invoking the call-and-response singing style common to the traditional music of the black church and to interactive protest music. This unique fusion of the timelessness of spirituals and the topicality of political music lends the program its diverse-but-coherent texture. Selections include modern classics such as Nina Simone’s “How It Feels to Be Free” and time-specific songs like Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s Freedom Riders anthem “Buses Are a-Coming,” as well as hymns and traditional songs that found a new resonance in the context of Civil Rights, such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
All three performers can claim vast experience and fluency in these traditional disciplines, and all are also fully implicated in the popular and serious music of the present. Jason Charles Walker was a featured soloist and ensemble leader of two Robert Wilson and Bernice Johnson Reagon productions, Temptations of Saint Anthony and Zinnias. He is currently on tours with Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach. Walker was the composer in the Bolton Theatre’s adaptation of George C. Wolfe’s play Spunk. In recent years, he has shared the stage with Mick Jagger, Bono, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Macy Gray, Lou Reed, Angelique Kidjo and Dr. John.
A second-generation musician with roots in the coastal islands of the Carolinas, Tamar-kali is an impassioned and politically charged singer/songwriter who claims affinities to both Billie Holliday and Bad Brains. She has released several critically acclaimed collections of songs and has performed alongside contemporary luminaries from Paramore, Fishbone, Cassandra Wilson and John Legend to Jean Grae and the Roots.
New Paltz native Jeremy Mage is a Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and composer. He toured globally with Lizz Wright (soul jazz) and Wunmi (Afro-funk), and his new record is out on Tummy Touch. He apprenticed with a range of masters, from Allen Ginsberg, Steve Gorn and Jack Hardy in New York to Fred Frith in Oakland and Srinivasan in Varanasi.
Walker, Tamar-kali and Mage most recently worked together in Toshi Reagon’s “Deep Roots of Rock and Roll” with New York City’s Black Rock Coalition. Walker and Mage have also collaborated on “All Alone,” a song featured in the 2014 Cuba Gooding, Jr. film Life of a King.
Freedom Songs, Saturday, May 17, 8 p.m., $22/$18 advance, $26/$22 at door, Unison Arts & Learning Center, 68 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz; (845) 255-1559, www.unisonarts.org.