Courtesy The Repertory Theatre / Liliana Blain-Cruz
Star and writer of "Dreaming Zenzile" Somi Kakoma in rehearsal.
The once-staid Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has gotten a much-needed shakeup under artistic director Hana Sharif. There might be no better evidence of the ambitions of the new impresario in town than Dreaming Zenzile, a dramatization of the life of singer Miriam Makeba, who wowed America with the songs of her native South Africa on The Ed Sullivan Show, only to pay a high price when she spoke out against apartheid and married Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. The show made its world premiere in St. Louis last September before heading to the New York Theater Workshop. Earning raves in both venues was star Somi Kakoma — a Champaign, Illinois, native with parents from Rwanda and Uganda. Kakoma was simply a force, dominating the entire play with a perfect imitation of Makeba’s Xhosa-style clicks even as she brought heart and soul to the singer’s personal struggles. Reviewing the show, the New York Times called Kakoma a performer “in full command of her instrument and her powers,” and who can argue with the Gray Lady? Kakoma was simply sensational — and thanks to Sharif and the Rep’s new urgency, we saw her here first. —Sarah Fenske
Almost every out-of-towner who moves to St. Louis is surprised by the size of our art scene. We have one of the best opera companies in the nation, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, staging world premieres every summer. We also have theaters like Upstream Theater staging breathtaking small-scale world and national premiers, or New Line Theatre, which has been the first in St. Louis to put up major Broadway productions, including Next to Normal and Be More Chill. The music scene is similarly vibrant, with musicians and artists organizing new festivals and concerts that get the whole city talking — and local acts such as Lydia Caesar, who get the whole country talking. The visual arts in St. Louis are no slouch either, with the Kemper Art Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Luminary, Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis all bringing in exhibits from national and international artists, even as smaller galleries and museums highlight national and regional talent. The city has it all, and we’re here to celebrate it. —Rosalind Early
The Welders exhibit at the Missouri History Museum.
When you think of St. Louis’ musical heritage, you often think of blues and jazz. Yet Punk is just as much a chief export of the river city, even if it’s seldom shared the same rarified air — until recently. Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the St. Louis Sound exhibit at the Missouri History Museum was not only the inclusion of the Welders, but the careful attention given to the region’s first all-female punk band. While the ongoing exhibit features many of the names you might expect — Nelly, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Jeff Tweedy — the Welders are featured in a major way.
That level of recognition was long overdue. After forming a band as high school students in 1975 Florissant, the Welders recorded an album four years later, only to see it go unreleased due to a manager’s bad business deal. Now decades after they disbanded, the museum show led to interest that helped right that wrong. Our Own Oddities 1977-81 finally came out last year as a collaborative effort between Austrian label Bachelor Records and St. Louis’ own BDR Records, the latter of which had released a self-titled Welders EP in 2010.
The first run predictably sold out in short order, but a second pressing on ruby-red vinyl is available through either label’s website. With full-stop hits such as “P-E-R-V-E-R-T,” “S-O-S Now” and “To Sir With Love,” this essential punk album not only offers a carefully chosen and arranged set of songs recorded during the group’s heyday but acts as a historical document with a cultural impact that will continue to be felt for decades to come. —Joseph Hess
Photo by Andrea Petty, Courtesy WerQFest
WerQFest celebrates the Black queer community.
The inaugural WerQfest was put together in two weeks by Tre G (Tre’von Griffith) and his husband Shelton Boyd-Griffith in 2020 as a pandemic-safe musical celebration of Black, queer culture — and a way to fill in gaps left by PrideFest. When society eased back into large gatherings in 2021, the virtual event evolved into a live music festival at City Foundry STL hosted by Maxi Glamour, with performances by Eric Donte, Paige Alyssa and even Tre G himself. The fest’s WerQ awards for arts and community advocacy uplift LGBTQ+ creatives and activists by highlighting the impact these individuals have made through their work. Made in collaboration with Jamo Presents, WerQfest 2022 went down in July at the Lot at the Big Top with headlining performances by The Voice season 16 winner Julian King and rapper Sevndeep alongside St. Louis’ own Bates & the Strangers and a lineup of local artists for a marked evolution in the river city’s most exciting multifaceted festival experience. —Joseph Hess
JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound at the Indie Rock Ice Cream Social in 2011.
After a nine-year hiatus, the Indie Rock Ice Cream Social returned on August 12, this time at Off Broadway. The event began in 2006 when show organizer Michael Tomko brought a unique spin to the ice cream social concept by mashing together the act of giving people free scoops with introducing them to up-and-coming local indie artists. With Serendipity Homemade Ice Cream and rollicking lineups of local bands, the social became an elevated concert experience. The event lasted until 2013, when Tomko became busy with his increasingly demanding software development job as well as the birth of his daughter, and he placed the event on hiatus. In 2022, Tomko finally announced the social’s return. With this year’s event featuring Starwolf, YOUPEOPL, Jesus Christ Supercar and Amberskies as well as an ice cream bar, Indie Rock Ice Cream Social blasted the walls off of Off Broadway — where everyone screamed for ice cream.
George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic.
There is perhaps no better venue to catch a performance by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic than the Big Top — a point decisively proven on July 10, when the creators of the P-Funk sound brought their psychedelic circus of ass-shaking grooves to the Grand Center venue as part of a tour celebrating the 40th birthday of the group’s classic track “Atomic Dog.” The bass was booming, the costumes were ludicrous and the stage was teeming with musicians, dancers and other uber-funky hangers-on. Directing the entire affair was the man himself, Prime Minister of Funk George Clinton, a still-towering figure in modern music whose influence is simply incalculable. At 81, the artist also known as Dr. Funkenstein showed that he’s still got what it takes to tear the house — er, tent — down, playing for a full hour longer than expected for a sold-out crowd of grateful fans. A hearty “Bow wow wow yippy yo yippee yay” to that. —Daniel Hill
Amara Arts dancer Samantha Madison performs.
Founded in 2018 by Charis Railey, the Amara Arts Dance Company focuses on the performance arts of the African diaspora. Drawing on that tradition, the company’s works blur the lines between performer and audience by empowering viewers to connect and contribute to the performance — which makes for a dynamic and engaging experience for all involved. The company is inspired by Railey’s background in anthropology and the Katherine Dunham technique, which interweaves history into performance and blends art with cultural understanding. It’s an approach that Railey emulates to stupendous effect. —Julian McCall
Eric Wilson opened ERG Gallery in Dellwood.
The best artwork is not only aesthetically pleasing but a reflection of the time it was created in and the artist’s intention. Works from Vermeer to Banksy reflect that dual ethos. How many galleries, however, can claim the same? ERG Gallery a.k.a. Eclectic Retail Gallery (10438 West Florissant Avenue, Dellwood; 314-395-6176) comes from artist Eric Wilson, and it has as good a story behind its founding as it has art on its walls. Wilson grew up artistically inclined but ended up in prison on a drug offense. While incarcerated, he focused on improving himself and, after a decade, returned to north county, where he’s since focused on improving others through his contracting work, his men’s group and now through his art and gallery. The latter shows work from Wilson, his family and other artists from the surrounding community. The work is fresh, the space is well designed and the intentionality is there. —Jessica Rogen
Blank Space also has books in the back of the venue.
Arts and music institution Blank Space (2847 Cherokee Street) highlights the adaptable nature of Cherokee Street denizens. Blank Space is a flexible concert space that can alternatively be a bar, cafe, record shop, bookstore, study hall or, of course, an art gallery. It is also the best hip-hop venue in St. Louis and reflects the roots of a genre born from musical ingenuity with emphasis on community. While some nights are low-key by design, the room often operates as an incubator for groundbreaking shows and parties in the heart of St. Louis, with performances from the likes of DJ Nico Marie, 18andCounting and Blvck Spvde and the Cosmos, to name a few. —Joseph Hess
Mark Pagano in his video "Heart Muscle."
Here’s a word of warning: Do not under any circumstances let your kids listen to the debut solo album released earlier this year by longtime local favorite singer-songwriter Mark Pagano of Fire Dog fame and now also known as Marko Polo. It’s not only that they’re going to love the clever, catchy tunes on Mammal Music, though they’ll certainly play them over and over and over again. No, the bigger problem might be that you will get hooked — to the point that you’ll find yourself dropping the kiddos off at school and singing along to “Salamander Moves” before you remember that you are an adult, and you’re alone in a car listening to a song about amphibians. Pagano’s music is not only catchy but also educational. You’ll learn all about those salamanders (“they live both on the land / and in the water — amphibians!”), and you’ll be better for it. So will your kids. So maybe we’ll take our warning back. Listen to this gifted musician’s solo offering. Just do it with restraint. You are not seven years old, no matter how tempting these tunes prove to your ears. —Sarah Fenske
After working for the better part of a decade under the name Parisian, producer Ian Jones unveiled his long-awaited, full-length solo record under a bold name change to Shinra Knives. Released in late 2021, In Grief is a speedrun of Jones’ stream of consciousness, where every sound feels personally sculpted with a sonic scalpel. “New Violence” provides a dreamy opening salvo before the ratcheted rhythms of “Ex Nihilo” serve up a myriad of samples, including a few that will feel especially familiar to fans of video games. While every track on this esoteric electronic album offers a rich sense of progression, “Posture” and “Girl Missing” stand out as emotional peaks — and both have accompanying music videos with subtitles that offer “lyrics” to otherwise instrumental songs. Jones worked on In Grief for several years while embroiled in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the veterans hospital where his father passed away. Now the album can be found on Shinra Knives’ Bandcamp page for free/pay-what-you-want, with all proceeds going to the Disabled American Veterans charitable trust. —Joseph Hess