Nubian Nights free concert series returns — this time live and in person
The second iteration of the free neighborhood music series “Nubian Nights,” is in full swing in Roxbury this month. Presented by the Roxbury Cultural District, the series has held two concerts at the Roxbury branch of the Boston Public Library and will host the third and final concert on Sunday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m.
The acts, most with local ties to the neighborhood and community, were assembled in collaboration with Artist Initiative for Revolution (AIR) to represent a diverse cross section of artists and genres. These performers include Lea Grace, Fabiola Mendez, Safiya, Nate Nics and Danny Rivera. The inaugural Nubian Nights last year focused on jazz musicians and the rich history of jazz in Roxbury, this year the lineup focuses on younger, more up-and-coming artists in a variety of music styles.
In addition to his work as a musician, songwriter and record producer with credits such as singing at The White House for President Barack Obama, Danny Rivera is the Founder and CEO of AIR Boston and worked closely with the Roxbury Cultural District to make “Nubian Nights” a reality.
“Our mission is to elevate arts and culture in Roxbury past, present and future,” says Daniel Callahan, president of the Roxbury Cultural District. “And what I really love about this collaboration with AIR is, I think AIR is really on the cutting edge of the future of Boston and the future of arts and culture. It’s beautiful for us to be able to go from the past to the future and really be able to feature up-and-coming artists.”
“Nubian Nights” was created in partnership with Boston Ujima Project, Roxbury Branch Boston Public Library, King Boston, City of Boston, AIR Boston, Jazz Urbane and ArtsBoston.
Last year the event was centered at the Bruce C. Bolling building on Washington Street, and due to COVID-19 safety requirements was entirely outdoors. Visitors walked along the street watching video projections of jazz performances in the building windows. With people now vaccinated, listeners can gather to watch the music in person, bringing the community together in a new, more tangible way.
“Nubian Nights” accomplishes a number of objectives. It provides free art and entertainment to the Roxbury community, it offers paid work to local talent and it creates a nightlife experience in Nubian Square. Callahan points out that Nubian Square often shuts down by 6pm, whereas similar squares in other neighborhoods such as Harvard or Union remain open and active late into the evening. This impacts local businesses as well as community members. The concert series is a step towards activating the space after hours.
Rivera says that there will be continued opportunities going forward for artists connect with and participate in Roxbury Cultural District and AIR events. The best way to stay apprised of opportunities and happenings is the Roxbury Cultural District website and @nubiannightsroxbury and @air.boston on Instagram.
For Callahan and Rivera, much of the work on “Nubian Nights” has been fundraising and planning for the future. This activation isn’t just about providing fun, although that’s crucial as well, it’s about fostering and maintaining the local community. Both organizers are painfully aware that events and public artworks often come hand-in-hand with gentrification.
“When we talk about activating community spaces, when we talk about building culture especially in neighborhoods that have been extremely overlooked, it’s about place making but also place keeping,” says Rivera. “There is a need that needs to be met and in the process of meeting it, those people cannot be displaced.”