Picture it. Ella Fitzgerald singing "C.R.E.A.M." at the Cotton Club during the peak of The Harlem Renaissance era. That was what Amanda Seales — aka Ms. Killandra Bea — and The Shinobis were going for when they entered the 36 Chambers Thursday night (April 10). The audience didn't have to hop the Staten Island Ferry to witness the jazzy rebirth of the seminal Wu-Tang Clan album, it was all going down in Soho at the Le Poisson Rouge lounge on Bleeker Street: Seales' jazz interpretations of classic Wu material in a live production called Mo' Betta Wu.
In honor of Wu-Tang Clan's 20th anniversary, the multi-talented Seales transformed into Bea, a 75 year-old jazz singer who moved to Shaolin's Stapleton Projects in 1961. Seales and her band, organized by composer Kris Bowers, put on a comedic yet accurate retrospective performance of Wu-Tang Clan classics, including "C.R.E.A.M.," "Rainy Days," Wu Skies" and "All I Need."
"Jazz does what it wants to, and so does The Wu," Seales said to the crowd in her Ms. Bea southern yet sassy voice.
"I've played with jazz and toyed with it when I used to live near the St. Nicholas Pub in Harlem," Seales later told BET.com. "It was different for me because I usually sing soul."
But after just one rehearsal the night before, Seales was belting out high notes in between scats and dweedle dees. Reciting Wu-Tang was like second nature.
"I am from Florida, so I didn't 'grow-up' on Wu-Tang," Seales recalled. "After all my friends were talking about Wu-Tang, My first encounter with Wu-Tang Clan came when I ordered six CDs from those throwback catalog orders, from Columbia House or something, and 36 Chambers was one of them. It was on from then."
It was all Seales’ genius to create the show according to Mo Betta Wu's producer Thomas Harden, founder of the Blue & Silver Creative Group. "Amanda hit me in Dec 2013 with the idea and we met in January and put it all together by March ... The concept was dope to me because the occasional perception is hip hop is not real music, but tonight we proved the naysayers wrong — just look at the diverse crowd."
"Hip hop comes from jazz," Seales noted. "... If I just did Wu-Tang songs with a band, that's karaoke. But adding my love of jazz showed how everything is related."
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(Photo: Janna Shang)