I have been living in New York for two years. At the beginning, everything was a surprise, and I couldn’t believe many things that were going on in my life with a spinning velocity. Each place of the city bringing me the memories of a film, the signs, a few celebrities in the streets, walking and walking to discover by my own what is not in the guides, every kind of artistic movement, and the peerless possibility of meeting new people every day were usual food for my soul.
After a year, I started to feel used to all that stuff. Some days I lose the sense of time or place, and I feel like I’ve been here all my life. Some other days I raised my sight and I reach the Empire State, the Chrysler, the Flatiron, the Central Park, or the Brooklyn Bridge, and I automatically remember consciously that I’m in New York. Yesterday was one of those days. I went to the “Celebrate Brooklyn” concert in Prospect Park. I went there to see an amazing band called Brooklyn Funk Essentials. I know them since 1998, and it’s not a coincidence that I used the songs “Take the L Train to Brooklyn”, and “Take the L Train to 8th Ave” to write one of my works when I applied to the film school, seeing myself taking that same train a few years later. It’s not a coincidence that yesterday the band started the show with that same songs mixed into one version. “I’m here”, I said to myself with a big smile and my heart beating fast.
What I never imagined was that after my favorite and always desired show, a little girl called Leela James could accelerate my heart and elevate my soul as just a few other times in my life. Before the first two minutes of her show she had everybody standing up and screaming as in soccer finals. That petite, so authentic that in the first song removed the heels that would have elevated her, was so sincere that she said “I came here with these heels to be fashionable and cool, but you know, I can’t walk with this”. With a similar humility she made a call to all the musicians out there to not fool people with artificial things in order to sell the soul for a record, and asked for coming back to basics. Every word, every cry, every scream was part of one of the most wonderful rituals that I ever experimented in a music show. Buddy Guy moved me to tears when he visited “mi Buenos Aires querido” and sang “Feels Like Rain” to transport me in one shot to the cotton fields. Now this misbehaving girl, bringing tears and devouring the stage and audience like James Brown, was called without exaggerating the “Godmother of Soul”. Screaming Sam Cooke’s name, Tina Turner, Chaka Chan, Marvin Gaye and many others, like the Godfather used to do when he sang “It’s a Mans’ Man’s Man’s World”.
I grew up in Argentina between Julio Sosa’s tangos and my Mom's bolero tapes performed by Maria Martha Serra Lima, which I still listen to with emotion and melancholy. But what definitely marked me to fire in the musical and inspirational world were my Dad’s LPs tinted with black blood from Quincy Jones to Ray Charles, from Mahalia Jackson to The Four Tops, from Aretha Franklin to Ella Fitzgerald. This last unique lady wrote and sang:
That old black magic has me in its spell
That old black magic that you weave so well
Icy fingers up
And down my spine
The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine
Yesterday, that old black magic returned to the air totally renewed inside the spirit of a very young girl with the power of a hurricane, the conviction of James Brown, and the “dance & scream” of Tina Turner. Although influenced also by the hip hop culture, that old magic is intact. “I need a witness!”, she said, and everybody raised their hands moaning as in the most sacred service of the Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in Odell Clark Place & Lenox Ave. Mature as a legend but with the innocence of a kid, she invited the audience to dance on the stage, she took a picture with them and the musicians, and another more giving the spectators her back, so everybody can be in her picture too, giving herself to everybody in a big embraceable love.
Dear Leela, young and small Godmother, old and big black magic, let me know the next time that you will be in New York, so you can give my soul back.