Monday, May 27, 2024

A taste of Sweet Honey in the Rock

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Sweet Honey in the Rock — the acclaimed all-female a cappella group that incorporates traditional gospel, blues, reggae, African chants, hip-hop and jazz improvisation into its unique sound — dazzled fans with it’s recent performance at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

In a venue quickly making a name for itself as the cultural mecca of the world’s entertainment capital, the Washington, D.C.-based group offered its signature selection of songs on themes of hope, love, justice, peace and resistance.

“We pride ourselves on singing beautiful harmonies and music that inspires one to take notice of the world,” says group member Aisha Kahlil. “A whole range of genres of music and sounds, propped up on an energetic performing canvas, is what we offer our audiences.”

Said legendary performer Harry Belafonte, who is counted among the group’s mentors: “I have always believed art is the conscience of the human soul, and that artists have the responsibility not only to show life as it is, but to show life as it should be. Sweet Honey in The Rock has withstood the onslaught. She has been unprovoked by the 30 pieces of silver. Her songs lead us to the well of truth that nourishes the will and courage to stand strong. She is the keeper of the flame.”

Never shying away from political and social issues, Sweet Honey in The Rock sees music as a force for healing and enlightenment in often troubled times. Its  most recent song — “Are We a Nation?” — addresses what Kahlil calls “the misguided and discriminatory immigration policy that was passed in Arizona. We want people to be touched by our music, and enlightened, and become more aware of themselves and their environment. It is important for people to be aware of the need to work together for positive change.”

As Kahlil sees it, much of today’s music reflects the challenging socioeconomic times in which it is being made, often compared to the era in which Marvin Gaye recorded the landmark protest album “What’s Going On.”

“A lot of new artists who are coming up in the industry are very aware of what is going on in society,” she says. “The current political and social climate is being addressed in their music. As a matter of fact, we have taken a few of Marvin Gaye’s songs — such as “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Wholy Holy” — and composed new arrangements that are included in our shows.”
The name of the group is derived from a passage in the Bible, Psalm 81:16, which promises God’s people that they can be fed something sweet and nurturing from a source that may seem unlikely.
“Everyone in the group related to the name that was selected, because as black women we have to be strong as a rock to survive, but inside of us we are like honey,” says Kahlil. “So, sweet like nature.”

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