As a big fan of the Minneapolis Sound, I was thrilled to hear about the Andre Cymone show at the Turf Club a few months back featuring openers Zuluzuluu. It was the perfect mix of old school and new school; I was in the early stages of planning an event that same night, but I dropped those plans when I caught wind of this show. The concert did not disappoint, there were lots of stupefied smiles in the room -- for instance when Bobby Z complimented Zuluzuluu’s Greg Grease for their performance after the show – the people in attendance seemed to understand they witnessed something special.
A day or two before the concert, I saw an announcement that Cymone would also be playing a free show on the North High football field the night after the Turf Club performance as part of the FLOW Northside Arts Crawl event. Even though I had seen the show the night before, I figured it was worth checking out, and it was free after all.
I arrived to find a crowd of a couple hundred people, but what it didn’t have in size it made up for in style and spirit. The man in front of me was wearing a shiny gold shirt, bright blue pants, heels, and was holding a cane. He was getting down much harder than anyone at the Turf Club the night before. Even Andre Cymone, who oozes cool himself, could only ignore the man for so long before inviting him up on stage to dance with him, as Cymone and his backing band played The Time’s “Cool”.
At both shows, Cymone was joined on stage by two other members of Grand Central (William Doughty and Chazz Smith), Prince and Andre’s high school band. Playing to a room full of old friends at the Turf Club show, Cymone, who now resides in Los Angeles, said it felt good to be home. That was nothing compared to the familiarity he had the next day at North High. From the stage, he pointed to a different part of the field and told a story about playing a concert in that very spot 40-some years earlier. Morris Day (who at the time was Grand Central's drummer) was excited to use his nice new drum set for the first time at the show, and then it rained.
The show at the Turf Club was fantastic, but it had nothing on the free concert in the blazing summer sun on the North High football field. The setlists were nearly identical, but Cymone’s comfort level and the energy of the crowd put the second show over. If that weren’t enough, much of the crowd headed off to a different venue after the show as part of a procession through the streets of Minneapolis, led by a drum line, dance crew and North High dance teacher Tamiko French.
It was one of the most amazing musical experiences I’ve had in this city, and it was a free event in North Minneapolis. In fact the event left such a mark on me that immediately after I got home from the event, I e-mailed Tamiko French to book her and a crew of dancers she put together to perform dances she choregraphed to Prince songs at the upcoming Chosen By The Funk event, Minneapolis Sound 2.0. I also booked the organizer of the FLOW Arts Crawl, the community organizer and hip-hop artist Farr Well to perform as part of a hip-hop act at the show.
I really enjoyed reading Andrea Swensson’s Got To Be Something Here: The Rise Of The Minneapolis Sound, but it is difficult to get through at times. The tales of highways ripping through and cutting off communities and policies keeping black musicians out of certain areas are tough to stomach, even tougher knowing that decades later, not a whole lot has changed. I-94 and Olson Memorial Highway still section North Minneapolis off physically, the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul is still split in half, and in my experience it is rare to attend an event with a mixed crowd in the Twin Cities. Swensson also notes that in her work as a local music journalist and on-air host for The Current, she has been told by several present-day black musicians that they feel unwelcome if not straight up not allowed at several venues around the Twin Cities and that it is apparent that they are treated differently than white musicians.
The first time I spent any significant amount of time in North Minneapolis was during the Jamar Clark protests at the Fourth Precinct police station two years ago. I had a feeling while there that though I live in the same city, I have never been in that part of the city and I had never seen most of the people there. It may as well have been a different city all together.
I’ve made it a point pay more attention to what was going on all around this city (and North Minneapolis in particular), in an attempt to over come the forces of physical separation and segregation that still exist today. Prince was a powerful enough force to break through these barriers. His music and his energy attracted people from all walks of life, and his fans would follow him where ever he went. As Swensson notes in her book, he was the first black artist in the Twin Cities to truly cross over and transcend the official and unofficial boundaries placed on black musicians, but that doesn't mean he brought those boundaries down all together. They are still keeping residents of the Twin Cities separated in 2017.
The Andre Cymone show may be the best example, but I’ve had many more great days and nights at music events in the place that until recently was completely foreign to me. If you're not already, I would encourage you to start paying attention to what's going on in North Minneapolis. Prince may be gone and Andre may live in L.A., but the funk never left the North Side.