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REPRESENT! a Celebration of Young Talent at the Apollo
Apollo Theater
125th Street
Between 7th and 8th Avenues February 17, 2008

Written by Francesca Simon
Photographed by Amy Davidson

Opposite Photo: Keke Palmer


"The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen."
Evan, character in film August Rush

JoSunJari String Trio

Sujari sat in the spotlight on the Apollo theatre stage with her cello resting against her shoulder. Her short nimble fingers slid up and down the neck of the instrument which was almost as tall as she was. Her bow strokes were sometimes long, some times short, but always on time. This six-year-old girl with a sweet smile revealing missing teeth is a serious classical musician and master of the sheet music she surveys. Sujari, united with her 10-year-old brother, Sunnaj, and 16-year-old sister, Joelle, who are both violinists, comprise the classical string trio JoSunJari. Their performance during Black History Week along with the IMPACT Repertory Theatre, who rocked the 80th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, were highlights of the Apollo Family Series program “Represent! A Celebration of Young Talent at the Apollo.

JoSunJari String Trio

For almost seventy years the landmark Apollo Theatre, in the heart of Harlem on 125th Street, has been the birthplace for budding musical talent. The jazzy scats of Ella Fitzgerald and the blues of Billie Holliday were fine tuned on the Apollo stage. Twenty-first 21st century stars like Alicia Keyes also nurtured in the footlights of the Apollo. And the tradition continues with REPRESENT! a brand new showcase series celebrating young and up-and-coming artists of varying disciplines from throughout the New York City area. The premiere of the program on Sunday, February 17th not only showcased youthful talent but also provided affordable entertainment for Harlem residents through the assistance of support by The Coca-Cola Company and the Lehman Brothers Foundation, with tickets selling at $12, and $10 for groups of 5 or more.

The Mayhem Poets - Kyle Sutton, Scott Tarazevits and Mason Granger, utilizing hip-hop rhythms and dynamic theatrical techniques weaved words together and provided the spoken word and comic relief for the evening. Their powerful performances and workshops have inspired people of all ages and backgrounds to craft and perform original poetry. They inspired the audience with poems like “Martin Luther Queen” which was homage to African-American single mothers.

Batoto Yetu

Batoto Yetu

Dressed in colorful costumes the member of Batoto Yetu, a Manhattan-based community arts organization dedicated to preserving the culture of Angola and Central and Southwest Africa, filled the air with rhythmic drumming and exhilarated the audience with energetic, joyful and skillful African dance. What a joy to see children ranging from as young five-years-old to teens engaged in worthwhile physical activity. Committed to fostering the healthy creative and social development of children through the expressive medium of dance, Batoto Yetu has worked diligently to bring traditional African dance and culture to children of African descent, cultivating self-awareness and esteem through the performing arts. Several overweight teens were the most expressive dancers exhibiting strength and stamina that clearly showed that the group work was having a positive affects on all aspects of their lives – physically, mentally and emotionally. They simply glowed with self-esteem.

Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble

The smooth sounds of The Harbor Latin Youth Ensemble, comprised of students between the ages 12–19-year old, enrolled in the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Art’s Pre-Professional Latin Music Program, infused a Latin flavor into the evening. If you closed your eyes you could easily have believed you were in the Latin Quarter Club listening to a professional band. Since 1970, the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, a division of Boys & Girls Harbor, has played an important role in preserving and perpetuating Afro-Caribbean Latin music.

Keke Palmer

Keke Palmer

The headliner was Keke Palmer, star of the acclaimed film “Akeelah and the Bee”, who strutted her stuff on the Apollo stage performing songs from her debut album “So Uncool” The rising star’s debut album “So Uncool” is comprised of youthful and fun material, ranging from up-tempo R&B to inspirational songs. This multi-talented teen also starred in Tyler Perry’s film a # 1 box office hit, Medea’s Family Reunion. Her film and television credits also include the critically acclaimed CBS series Cold Case, Barbershop 2: Back in Business and a number of nationally televised commercials. To date, KeKe is the youngest actress to ever receive a nomination in a lead Actress category from the Screen Actors Guild.

“I am fired up about REPRESENT!” says the show’s producer, Monique Martin. “In one word it says so much about who these young people are. They signify, embody, and exemplify the potential of youth and the transformative power of the arts. Mass media does not dictate popular culture for them -- through the arts, they define it for themselves.”

The IMPACT Repetory Theatre (they performed at the 2008 Academy Awards)

Jamia Simone Nash, an eleven-year-old, who raised the roof at the Academy Awards, did the same at the Apollo, with a rousing rendition of “Raise It Up” for the REPRESENT program with the rest of the group. The song had been nominated in the category of “Best Original Song”. For the 25 students from IMPACT Repertory Theatre who traveled to Los Angles for the Academy Awards ceremony the opportunity alone was a win – but not for the song. There was no loss for this group of theatrical aspirants. , who once again garnered national attention. But before they boarded the plane for LA they rocked the Apollo on the Represent! Program.

If you missed the performance at the Apollo or the Academy Awards this week you can pick up the newly-released DVD of “August Rush,” a film about a homeless child who hears music in the cacophony of sound in New York City and in the end is reunited with his long lost parents. IMPACT Repertory Theatre, founded in 1997, is a Harlem-based company for 12- to 19-year-olds that empowers youth through performing arts and leadership training. They recorded three songs for the film.

Jamal Joseph, 55, co-founder of Impact and co-writer with two other students of the nominated song, was recently profiled in the New York Times. That was quite an accomplishment for a man who, in his youth, had been a member of the controversial political and social organization known as The Black Panthers and ended up in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. In jail he wrote his first play and earned two degrees which landed him in the halls of Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Along with Voza Rivers the director of the New Heritage Theatre Group, which is the oldest African American nonprofit theater company in New York City Joseph sets an example excellent for the youth they serve. Columbia’s School of the Arts sponsors IMPACT, providing rehearsal and performance space at the University. “I want kids in Harlem to see this as a positive example of how it is possible to achieve your hopes and dreams,” said Joseph, who is now a professor at Columbia University Truly he represents the power of hope and the reality of dreams that can come true.

“We knew back then that we had bright minds questioning the world,” said Joseph, who is now chairman of the film division at Columbia’s School of the Arts. “Now I want to create a space for the best and the brightest minds of this generation.”

Batoto Yetu

Batoto Yetu

Batoto Yetu

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