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Sounds of social justice

Sweet Honey in the Rock concert to raise money for Roxbury Community College

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Sounds of social justice
Members of Sweet Honey in the Rock. (Photo: Courtesy Sweet Honey in the Rock)

On Friday, March 9, Roxbury Community College presents Sweet Honey in the Rock at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Sweet Honey has been performing a cappella and electric pieces rooted in African American history and tradition for 45 years. Though the members have changed, the goal has always been the same: to celebrate African American vocal music and to use it as an activist tool.

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This concert is a bit of a homecoming for vocalist Aisha Kahlil, who studied at Northeastern University and New England Conservatory. “My whole perspective since I was a teenager has been about finding my roots in African music,” says Kahlil. “We’re helping heal people and inviting them to look at things from a different perspective.” The group’s roster also includes Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson and Nitanju Bolade Casel.

When they do include accompanying music, Sweet Honey works with blues and soul rhythms and the chants and drumbeats often found in African music. Their a cappella base rhythms, made through clapping and scatting, follow a similar path. The upcoming concert will feature instrument-inclusive tracks from their newly released album, “#LoveInEvolution.” Often their songs have a narrative, spoken-world quality to them, alluding to the tradition of passing music and stories down orally.

In “Second Line Blues,” the musicians list off names of police brutality victims and school shooting sites to the tune of a soft snare drum. Their music makes the audience think as much as it makes them dance and sway. “One of my main interests is the environment,” says Kahlil. “But we’re also making people aware of inequities in social systems.”

In addition to national issues, the group performs on the themes of living as women, and women of color. Their songs cover romance, ambition and staying positive, among many other motifs. Kahlil says the group’s message and desire is to be uplifting and informative. Concerts that spark dialogues about the issues mentioned are the most successful.

Tickets for the event can be purchased online or by phone and also will be sold the night of the show at the Jordan Hall box office, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston. Proceeds from the evening will go towards student services at Roxbury Community College.

“We are thrilled to have Sweet Honey in the Rock performing at our first-ever celebrity fundraiser,” said Vice President of Advancement and Community Engagement Lorita Williams in a press release. “We hope that this evening of wonderful music centered on social justice provides our community with an opportunity to heal, with the added benefit of proceeds supporting the important mission of RCC.”

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