Festival Explores Roots Of Baltimore's Music

August 06, 2009|By Mark Gross | Mark Gross,mgross@baltimoresun.com

Bilal Ali wants to start a dialogue with kids about music.

He's done that with his own children, now 21 and 23, and he's hoping the Baltimore Music Festival, which takes place Saturday at Center Stage, will give others that chance, too.

Ali, president and CEO of Bilal Ali Productions, organized the concert, which will feature performances by spoken-word, gospel, R&B, jazz and neo-soul artists, to bring attention to local music.

"Music is the only art form that transcends race, gender and the other foolishness we get bogged down in," he says.

This is the concert's third year, but its first with the name Baltimore Music Festival. It began in 2007 as Stop the Violence, a jazz concert held at Patapsco Arena. In 2008, the concert moved to Center Stage and focused on Motown. This year, the concert's theme is "Exploring our musical roots," and the range of performers gives nods to a variety of genres.

"From Billie Holiday to Cab Calloway to Dru Hill, Baltimore has a lot of homegrown talent," says Ali.

Concert emcee Trish Hennessey agrees.

"No place on the planet is like this musical corridor," says Hennessey, host of WHFC 91.1 FM's "The 91-One Local," a Harford Community College radio show highlighting local and regional jazz artists.

Local music is more than just rap, says Ali, who says he finds the typical themes of the popular music genre degrading. "That persona of gangster rap - you have to be hard - takes away from the beauty of being a real musician."

"Just because you're born in West Baltimore," Ali says, "doesn't mean you can't go down to the BSO."

The Baltimore Music Festival benefits New Vision Youth Services, an organization that aims, according to its Web site, "to change the cultural environment of at-risk youth in an effort to eliminate violent and destructive behavior in the city." In addition, a community award will be presented to Progressive Horizons Inc., an organization that operates group homes for developmentally/physically disabled adults and foster care youth. Executive director Jerry Pittman will accept the award.

Scheduled performers include saxophonists Marcus Mitchell, Art Sherrod Jr., Wake Campbell, Isaac Parham and Eric Marner; classically trained vocalist David Marshall; national performer Teri S; and regional neo-soul performer Shang.

"I want to see a musician play a trumpet or sax like Miles Davis or John Coltrane," Ali says.

If you go

The Baltimore Music Festival takes place at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$45. For more information: bilalaliproductions.com or 443-540-7797.

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