Updated, June 18, 2018 8:30 a.m.: The Root was a media sponsor of this event.
“It’s the world’s biggest outdoor house party!” Kid from ’90s rap duo Kid ’n Play said when I caught the icons backstage at the Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival this past weekend. The two were part of the festival’s “I Love the ’90s” set, featuring Biz Markie, Salt-N-Pepa and Trick Daddy. Of course, since Miami is his city, Trick completely took over the stage, bringing out fellow Miami fave Trina to a roaring crowd.
This show is one of the biggest and baddest displays of the best in jazz, hip-hop and R&B. From blasts from the past who still slay our present—like Smokey Robinson and Chaka Khan—to contemporary artists like Fantasia, Avery Sunshine and Joe, there’s no shortage of perfect vocal entertainment. And the cherry on top? Miami Gardens was one of Anita Baker’s stops on her farewell tour.
After Baker performed, I found myself backstage, walking around getting interviews. At one point, the security guards asked everyone to make way because Baker’s SUV was leaving the venue. The SUV drove through the lane we had made and stopped next to Biz Markie. The window rolled down and Baker poked her head out and said, “Biz Markie! We go way back!” She wanted a selfie with the hip-hop legend, and all the lookers-on swooned over Baker swooning over Biz Markie.
But before Baker’s SUV slid out the back, she had bounced from hit to hit during her set, opening with “Sweet Love” and gracefully bopping from “Been So Long” and “Caught Up in the Rapture” to my personal favorite, “No One in the World.” Between songs, Baker connected with the audience with humor, often telling us that she’s too old for this, and of course we protested.
One of the audience members held up a picture of herself with Baker when she was a child and Baker strained to see the photo, wanting to see herself at age 30, because she knew she was “looking fine!” We all giggled at Baker’s sense of humor as she chastised the cameraman for getting too close and thanked mystery hands that popped up onstage, attempting to fix mechanics behind the scenes.
Baker was endearing and sweet and executed a casual slay on the sultry Miami stage. I stopped fellow songbird and JITG performer Avery Sunshine as well as Kid ’n Play backstage and asked them about the queen.
After I broke it to Kid ’n Play that Baker was on her farewell tour, I asked them to share their favorite Anita Baker records and Play said, “‘Angel.’ I remember when I heard that record; I needed someone to love oh so desperately.”
Kid shared that his favorite Baker record was “Giving You the Best That I Got.” He added, “Anita Baker songs make you call your ex.”
When I noted that she had sung both of those songs during her performance, they told me that they’d missed it and thanked me for rubbing it in that I had been fortunate enough to see Baker’s performance.
Sunshine told me that her favorite Baker song is “Sweet Love.” In fact, Sunshine added “Sweet Love” to the end of her performance of her single “All in My Head” at the festival.
Sunshine said, smiling, “Someone must have sent it to her, and she tweeted me and said, ‘Keep going, young one.’ It means so much to even share the same stage with her. I’ve studied her.” Sunshine started reminiscing about Baker’s signature fit-and-flare gowns and her hair that was “beat to high heaven—she does her own hair and always has,” beaming with pride over her fun fact.
Baker performed on the second night of the festival and shared the stage that night with Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Pieces of a Dream, Sunshine, Walter Beasley and Joe. The first night of the festival boasted Chaka Khan, Fantasia, Smokey Robinson and more, but it was Fanny who was the night’s standout. She did her signature shoe kickoff and took the crowd to church. If Fantasia had called lost souls to come to the stage in an altar call, I bet no one would have hesitated. Fantasia’s voice shifted souls. And a shifting was needed because it’s been said that one part of that night was a bit rough. Many fans complained about Chaka Khan’s performance; her reps said she was suffering from the flu.
One conversation that’s been floating around recently is the idea of appropriation versus appreciation when it comes to music, namely in relation to Bruno Mars. So I asked Kid ’n Play and Sunshine if, as black artists, they could chime in on the conversation. Sunshine said, “Appropriation is politically correct.”
“Appropriation” is the word that people use when they really mean stealing. It’s the intent of appropriation that’s problematic, but when you have someone who appreciates the culture and gives credit when and where it’s due, it’s accepted.
Play said, “The gentleman has definitely been influenced by music that we love. He’s bringing back that feel-good experience, love, dancing, having a good time. What are you supposed to do with that when you plant them seeds? You supposed to let it die? Let it grow and take it to the next generation!”
Sunshine added, “It is really important for us to keep doing it, keep making music, for us to be present. I hear our music, I close my eyes and then open my eyes, and they look nothing like us. I don’t want to sound like I’m not grateful, but it’s real. There’s folks who don’t look like us saying the same things we say, but it doesn’t feel the same. You can tell.”
That’s the importance of jazz and R&B. It takes a certain amount of soul to be able to pull off this music, and often what happens with appropriation, you see the attempt, but the execution fails when there’s a lack of depth or soul. This is why you should go to Jazz in the Gardens. It’s a festival that focuses on music that is for us and by us. So make sure you get a ticket next year!