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Think art can't be fun? "Watch This!" might change your mind. By Emily Codik
Artists Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv created an interactive digital installation called "Text Rain," where participants can "catch" text from the poem “Talk, You” by Evan Zimroth. All photos courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.

An exhibit opening on April 24 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, called "Watch This! Revelations in Media Art," is the kind of thing that can convert art haters into fans. Visit this show, and you can play a Halo-inspired video game on a vintage Atari VCS console from 1977. You can discover something called "Cloud Music"--an original score composed on-the-spot by a video analyzer and audio synthesizer, entirely based on the movement of clouds. There's interactive art, a TV clock, and a trippy installation where you stand in front of a graffiti painting and watch it become three-dimensional on a screen.

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Posted at 01:40 PM/ET, 04/24/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
What it's like to drink Negronis and hang out with the Academy Award-winning actor. By Noah Weiland
Jamie Foxx at the W Hotel on Wednesday night. Photo courtesy Daniel Swartz.

Jamie Foxx has a problem. His lips are chapped. He summons a member of his entourage, who rushes over with a brush and swipes a layer of gloss on his lips. Now Foxx is thirsty. He takes a sip of the drink that was just handed to him. “What’s this? This is amazing!” he says. It’s a barrel-aged Negroni.

Foxx is in Washington promoting his upcoming album, which is fittingly titled Hollywood. The setting for this meetup? The basement at the W Hotel, just steps from the White House. The time frame? I had about seven minutes alone with him before he was to be ushered out.

We dive right in. Though Foxx hasn’t released a new record in five years, his musical ties still run deep. Hollywood features a roster of white-hot production talent: DJ Mustard, Boi-1da, and Vinylz, among others. So how does Foxx keep up with acting, singing, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of dehydrated lips?

He points to his production partner, DC native Breyon Prescott. “He does all of it,” Foxx says. “At a certain point, you sort of lose what you think it is that’s hot. You always need someone fresh, someone young, someone that’s moving, someone who doesn’t stretch you too far out of what you do.”

Photo courtesy Daniel Swartz.

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Posted at 02:15 PM/ET, 04/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()

Here are the best events around town.

By Emily Codik
DC native Ben Williams celebrates the launch of his latest album at the Hamilton on Friday. Photo courtesy Bennie Barnes.

COMEDY: You might recognize Bobby Lee from Harold & Kumar, Pineapple Express, the Dictator, or as a speaker on Chelsea Lately's roundtable. That pretty much sums up what kind of humor you can expect at his show at the Arlington Drafthouse this weekend. Brace yourself for lots of jokes about his parents. $22, 7:45 PM.

FILM: Stop by E Street Cinema for a talk with Ann Hornaday, film critic at the Washington Post, and Arch Campbell, a longtime entertainment and culture reporter. The discussion is just one part of Filmfest DC, which closes this weekend. $13, 7 PM.

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Posted at 06:03 PM/ET, 04/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Nile Project will perform at the University of Maryland next week. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
The Nile Project performing in Cairo at Azhar Park on January 29, 2013. Photograph by Matjaz Kacicnik.

The Nile River knits together 11 African countries, but the region isn't often considered as a whole. Ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis started the Nile Project to change that. “We needed to redraw the geography in the popular imagination in order to get people to start seeing how all of these countries rely on the same resource,” he says.

Girgis, a native of Egypt, felt disconnected from other river-bound countries like Ethiopia. His project, which will perform at the University of Maryland between April 26 and 28, uses music as a starting point for conversations about cultural understanding and a sustainable watershed. As the only source of renewable water in the area, the Nile is a precious commodity—one that could cause tension as climate change and population growth make water less accessible.

For Girgis, music can help prevent conflict. And that's exactly why he's taking his message across the globe. What started as a concept for African people by African artists has expanded to a traveling troupe advocating for the Nile basin and its water issues. Through performances and panels, Girgis and his group of musicians demonstrate how music can start a dialogue about culture. “Music can really play a significant role in increasing cross-cultural empathy,” Girgis says. “Musical curiosity can drive cultural curiosity, and cultural curiosity can drive cultural understanding.”

The project's musicians participate in residencies, where they work together and mix traditional and modern musical styles. East African musicians learn Egyptian instruments, while Egyptians learn Ethiopian rhythms. Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi, a protege of Brazilian guitarist Gilberto Gil, became a part of the project three years ago and says it has made her more aware of her relationship to the rest of the continent. “In Egypt, we are really into Arab culture more than African culture,” she says. “The Nile Project gives me the opportunity to think about the African part in my Egyptian identity as a singer.”

At first, she struggled to mesh her style with those from other countries, but she says the last tour “opened her mind.” El Wedidi, who will join other Nile Project artists in DC's upcoming performance, sees the project as a step towards cooperation.

The water conflict in the Nile basin hasn’t reached a flashpoint, Girgis explains. So music still has the opportunity to reach across borders and encourage cooperation in the region. “Through that process of learning and dialogue, we can become Nile citizens,” he says.

The Nile Project performs at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Dekelboum Concert Hall April 26 at 7 PM. Panels include "the Female Perspective on the Nile" at University of Maryland’s Van Muching Hall April 27 at noon, "the Role of Musicians in Peace and Environmental Movements" at the Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium April 27 at 6:45 PM, and "Crowdsourcing Solutions for a Sustainable Nile Basin" at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Leah M. Smith Lecture Hall April 28 at 7 PM.

Posted at 03:40 PM/ET, 04/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Local artists immortalized the buildings using painting and photography. By Emily Codik
The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 1518 M Street in Northwest, is home to the city’s oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation. Photo by Ashley Brown, courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington.

Every year, the DC Preservation League announces a list of the most endangered places in Washington--buildings that have some sort of cultural significance but are at risk of demolition due to abandonment or neglect. These places have now been immortalized in an exhibit by the Historical Society of Washington, DC. "For the Record: Artfully Historic DC" opens Wednesday, featuring 75 paintings and photographs depicting the city's most endangered places. Here's a selection of works from the exhibit.

An abandoned building in Anacostia. Photograph by Emily Long.

About 550 structures were built between 1854 and 1930 in the Anacostia Historic District, including the dentist's office pictured above. Many buildings from this time period show signs of abandonment--which the Historical Society attributes to "general civic disinvestment in the working-class African-American communities" in the area. As developers push east of the Anacostia River, these buildings are at increased risk of being torn down--or competing with new structures inconsistent with the Italianate detailing that has come to identify Anacostia.

One of the oldest homes in Shaw, located at 913 L Street, Northwest. Photograph by Zoe Aparicio.

This building is one of Shaw's oldest mid-19th-century buildings. Constructed in 1892 by Washington architect Appleton P. Clark, this Romanesque-style row house was nearly demolished in 2014, when developers sought to build two hotels in its place. The DC Preservation League stepped in and saved the structure.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest. Photograph by Marios Savva.

DC's main public library was designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and is the only building in Washington designed by one of the master Modernist architects--a recognition shared by the likes of Mies, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Though the DC government has announced its intention of modernizing the building, the Historical Society says a lack of maintenance continues to threaten the structure's integrity.

The Washington Canoe Club in Georgetown. Photograph by Adriel Sanders.

Though it's a great example of Shingle style architecture, the Washington Canoe Club shows clear signs of deterioration. Its windows and window frames need repair; the roof must be replaced; and its floors and walls are damaged. The problem? It's unclear who owns the building, according to the Historical Society. Neither the Washington Canoe Club or the National Park Service have invested in restoration. And in 2010, the Park Service declared the building unsafe for occupancy. It has since launched plans for rehabilitation, but doesn't have enough cash to actually do the work.

A look inside the Benjamin Franklin School. Photograph by Cindy Vasko.

From the outside, the nearly 150-year-old Benjamin Franklin School at 13th and K Street, Northwest, looks like it's in great condition. But that's only because the DC government restored its exterior in the early 2000s. The inside, however, has been neglected. The building that once won design awards across Europe--and was hailed across the world as an ideal model for modern school buildings--now has a crumbling interior.

The Strand Theater in Northeast. Photograph by Lisa Diop.

This digital image montage, called "Folklife in Deanwood," depicts the Strand Theater at 5131 Grant Road, Northeast, which once housed stores, a pool room, and a dance hall. It was the first movie theater built in the neighborhood, but the empty building has been deteriorating for decades. Rumors float about commercial redevelopment.

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Photograph by Ashley Brown.

Founded in 1838, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church was incredibly important in the abolitionist movement, advocating for race equality and the end of slavery. The church, known as as the "National Cathedral of African Methodism," was built with donations from church members. Though it was the site of important historical events, including Frederick Douglass's funeral, today the church lacks funds to make much-needed repairs.

"For the Record: Artfully Historic" DC runs from April 22 to May 27 at the Historical Society of Washington, DC. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 AM to 4 PM. Admission is free.

Posted at 12:20 PM/ET, 04/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Celebrate Mother Earth all week long. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Thundercat will perform at the Broccoli City Festival along with Erykah Badu and Willow Smith. Photo courtesy the Windish Agency.

With 4/20 behind them, hippies in Washington can now start celebrating their second favorite holiday: Earth Day. Here are the most fun—and informative—ways to celebrate Mother Earth this week.


Learn some climate science: NASA will present an exhibition at Union Station featuring their supercomputer hyperwall—128 computers that can display, analyze, and share data as a whole or on individual screens. Visitors can also view a model of the water cycle and calculate their carbon footprint. Also shown on Wednesday. 10 AM to 5 PM.


See some animals: Nothing beats spending time in the great outdoors on Earth Day. On Wednesday, the Zoo's Sustainability Committee leads two tours of the American Trail's green elements. Tours leave from the National Zoo Carousel at 11 AM and 1 PM.


Toast to some trees: The annual Canopy Awards party at Union Market Dock 5 rings in Arbor Day by admiring the city's urban forest and those working to increase our tree cover. Local folky band the Sweater Set will jam out on electric instruments like the glockenspiel along with the Lawsuits and Joy Classic. Though the event may sound casual, there's no tie dye allowed here; host organization Casey Trees recommends business casual. This is DC after all, people. $50 online, $60 at the door, 6:30 to 10 PM.


Do some gardening, eat some pizza: Join Dreaming Out Loud at Aya Community Garden to plant and tidy the space for growing season. The garden supports Aya Community Markets, which provide fresh produce to communities in need. Plus, &pizza will provide sustenance for volunteers. Meet at the Blind Whino in your best gardening gear. 3 PM to 6 PM.

Buy some plants: Friends of the National Arboretum hold their annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale at the arboretum on Friday and Saturday. The sale includes rare plants as well as standard options—a plant to suit every green thumb. Food trucks Dirty South Deli and DC Taco Truck will also be there. Friday from 10 AM to 1 PM for members, 1 PM to 4 PM for all; Saturday from 9 AM to 4 PM.


Listen to some music and eat some vegetables: In its third year, the Broccoli City Festival at the Gateway DC Pavilion lauds sustainable living and live music. Whip your hair back and forth with Willow Smith, or sway along to the beat of the always-amazing and longtime vegan Erykah Badu, who goes by DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown when she's behind the turntables and will be headlining with Thundercat. Noon to 9 PM, $45.

Posted at 02:10 PM/ET, 04/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Here are the best events around town. By Emily Codik
Hurray for the Riff Raff will be performing at 9:30 Club this week. Photo by Joshua Shoemaker.


ART: Mark Bradford is known for creating complex collages, melding everything from billboard posters to carbon paper into stunning pieces that have sold for millions of dollars at auction. The Los Angeles native, considered one of the leading figures of contemporary art today, presents a lecture tonight at the American Art Museum, where he'll discuss his "Amendment" series inspired by the Bill of Rights. 6 PM, free.

MUSIC: You might not want to describe Monophonics' sound as just plain soul. The band, hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, likens its brand of music to something a little more specific: "psychedelic soul." Check them out performing alongside the People's Blues of Richmond at the Howard Theatre. And as for the show's start time? No surprise here: Doors open at 4:20 PM. $18.


BOOKS: Stop by Busboys and Poets in Brookland for a chance to hear author Angela Flournoy, who currently works for the DC public libraries, discuss her new book, the Turner House. Set in Detroit's East Side, the narrative weaves themes of love and sacrifice as the Turner family struggles with parting ways with their family home. 6:30 PM.

EAT: Everything about Go Eat Give's Destination Mexico event at the Mexico Cultural Institute of DC celebrates the greatness that is the Yucatán. The region, located on the Southeastern tip of Mexico, is known not only for its many Mayan archeological sites but also for its fantastic food, including cochinita pibil--a slow-roasted pork dish wrapped in banana leaves. On deck is a night of drinks, food, and live music. $50, 6:30 PM.

MUSIC: Her real name is Alynda Lee Segarra, but you may know her as the frontwoman for Hurray for the Riff Raff. The Puerto Rican singer from the Bronx croons her very own version of American folk. Watch her perform at 9:30 Club tonight. 7 PM, $20.


DRINK: City Tap House serves a selection of Vermont's most environmentally friendly beers, including picks from Long Trail Brewing Company, Otter Creek Brewing, and Wolaver's Organic Ales, for this special Earth Day tap takeover. Beers will be priced from $5 to $8 each, so in keeping with the sustainable theme, you won't have to spend too much of your green. 11 AM to midnight.

MUSIC: This Russian/British/Israel classical pianist and former child prodigy is considered one of the best pianists around. Evgeny Kissin's lineup at the Music Center at Strathmore includes selections from Beethoven, Prokofiev, Chopin, and Liszt. That alone might be reason enough to make the trek to Rockville. For those who need a little push, also know this: Kissin's got awesome hair. 8 PM, $40 to $110.

Posted at 11:15 AM/ET, 04/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The acclaimed jazz singer will be at Sixth & I on April 25. By Emily Codik
Ute Lemper will perform songs from her latest album, Forever: the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda, on April 25 at Sixth & I. Photo by Lucas Allen.

Ute Lemper loves writing songs inspired by poetry. A few years ago, the German-born cabaret and jazz singer created an entire project based on the poems of Charles Bukowski. Next she melded the sounds of tango with the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In the case of Neruda, her thought process was surprisingly simple. "There was no logical decision," she says. "I just went through [his poems] and imagined a structure. Suddenly melodies came to my head, and I went to the piano to create music. It's like a slow puzzle."

The result is an entire album based on Neruda's work, with adaptations in English, French, and Spanish. "The music is extremely tender and explosive at the same time," she says. And that's exactly what audiences can expect at Lemper's April 25 performance at Sixth & I, where she'll perform songs from her latest album, Forever: the Love Poems of Pablo Neruda, as well as selections from her German repertoire.

It's certainly not Lemper's first time in Washington. Besides Sixth & I, she's also performed at the Kennedy Center and the Lisner Auditorium. "I'm much more welcome in Washington than Houston," she admits. "Washington has a very interesting, active, and sophisticated theater scene."

Though her intense, emotional performances draw legions of fans, she knows she doesn't have the same draw as a pop star. It doesn't help that record sales have plummeted for just about everyone who isn't Taylor Swift. Back in the '90s, Lemper says, it was considered a triumph when classical artists sold a million records. Now it's more like 100,000.

Those numbers mean it's increasingly difficult to get financial backing from major labels. After her twenty-year run with Universal ended in 2004, Lemper has had to dig into her own pockets every time she wants to produce an album. "It's not easy in this niche that I exist," she admits.

Digital albums haven't been giving artists much of a boost either. Streaming services like Songza and Spotify are generating more revenue than ever before, but that doesn't mean musicians are sharing the bounty. "I've never seen a penny from digital albums," Lemper says. "Files and files are downloaded but what comes out is such a peanut."

Of course, there's an upside to independence. Not being tied down to a label means Lemper has the artistic freedom to do whatever she wants. She recently finished a new project based on the work of Paulo Coelho, a conceptual project similar to her last that probably would have been a hard sell to a major label. The music, inspired by Middle Eastern sounds, is packed with Arabic guitars. "It's a labor of love," she says.

Ute Lemper will perform at 8 PM at Sixth & I, presented by Washington Performing Arts, on Saturday, April 25. Tickets cost $38.

Posted at 01:48 PM/ET, 04/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Here are the best events around town. By Kristen Doerer
Check out the Hot Sardines, considered one of the best contemporary jazz bands around today, on Saturday at Sixth & I. Photo by LeAnn Mueller.


POETRY: Andrea Gibson performs slam poetry at Sixth & I with Amber Tamblyn, who you may know as Tibby from Sisters of the Traveling Pants—or Emily from General Hospital, if that's more your thing. Known for her blunt and witty truths, Gibson spins lines about gender, class, and sexuality, telling stories of love, bullying, war, and more. 7 PM, $20 to $25.

FILM: Film Fest DC begins today with the 29th Opening Night film Tango Glories. The protagonist, a psychiatrist named Ezequiel Kaufman, meets an elderly man, who expresses himself through the lyrics and titles of tango songs. The film has intrigue, music, romance, and—you guessed it—plenty of tango dancing. Q&A with the director and a dance to follow. Screening in Spanish with English subtitles. 7 PM, $45.

MUSIC: Mali-native Fatoumata Diawara performs at Arlington’s Artisphere. The singer/songwriter's music blends contemporary folk with traditional African tunes, plus some serious guitar and drum arrangements. 8 PM, $24.


DANCE: Brooklyn-based Gallim Dance company comes to Lansburgh Theatre. This deeply artistic and imaginative dance evokes the full breadth of the human expression. 8 PM, $30.

MUSIC: Listen to native Washingtonian Alice Smith sing tunes from her new album, She, at the Howard Theatre. Smith’s blend of rock, pop, and R&B—not to mention her voice—will keep you grooving all night long. 8 PM, $25 to $60.


DRINK: The National Archives Foundation presents an after hours event called Spirited Republic. Guests get an open bar, food, music, and history—what more could you ask for? Tickets are moving quickly, so be sure to buy yours--or get on the waiting list--before they sell out. 8 PM, $50.

MUSIC: Check out the Hot Sardines, considered one of the best contemporary jazz bands around today, at Sixth & I. This lively music might just take you back to the roaring twenties. 8 PM, $25.

DANCE: Watch eight collegiate teams compete in Bhangra Blowout, the national intercollegiate South Asian dance competition at the Lisner Auditorium on George Washington’s campus. You don’t want to miss this colorful, exciting Punjabi dance. 7 PM, $25 to $55.


MUSIC: The three-day Levine Jazzfest goes out with a bang with the Vijay Iyer Trio. The band features Stephan Crump on the bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and of course, Vijay Iyer on the piano. Hear the rhythmic and fluidly improvisational music at Sixth and I. 7 PM, $25.

COMEDY: You may have seen Judah Friedlander on 30 Rock, American Splendor, and of course, Sharknado 2. But have you seen him live? Check out the stand up comedian, known as “the World Champion,” at DC Improv. 8 PM, $17.

Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 04/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
University of Maryland group Faux Paz sets the record straight. By Emily Codik
University of Maryland a cappella crew Faux Paz is headed to the finals in New York on April 18. Photo courtesy of Faux Paz.

University of Maryland a cappella group Faux Paz has only made it to the finals once before. Now they're back. The 17-member crew is headed to New York's Beacon Theatre on Saturday to compete against some of the best young harmonists in the world in the International Championships of Collegiate A Cappella.

But a lot has changed since Faux Paz's appearance in 2002. That was seven years before the Sing-Off, an American Idol-like a cappella show, debuted on NBC, and a decade before Anna Kendrick showed us her knack for making music with plastic cups in Pitch Perfect.

"The collegiate a cappella scene has evolved and changed immensely," says Faux Paz co-president Brandon Schatt. "There's been an explosion in popularity over the last few years." Groups like Pentatonix and movies—like Pitch Perfect and its highly anticipated sequel, which opens May 15—have helped those crooning 20-somethings go from subculture to mainstream.

There used to probably be only a few scattered groups on campus. Now, big schools like the University of Florida can have as many as a dozen different troupes; Maryland has ten. In the past, a cappella groups preferred lighthearted arrangements based on pop hits. Today, they're about rousing the crowd with creative takes on all types of tunes. "It used to be more campy, but now we see groups doing darker music in general and putting more thought into the ideas that are coming out of it, as opposed to railing off of the biggest songs in America," Schatt says.

Some of that comes through in Pitch Perfect, as does the tendency for a cappellaists to take themselves too seriously. "I love the movie," Schatt says. "It pokes fun at the craziness of a cappella. Sometimes you have to step back and remember it's a group of people making funny noises and imitating popular songs."

But there's also a lot of things the movie gets wrong. That amazing riff-off scene where Kendrick sings Blackstreet's "No Diggity"? "That would probably never happen," Schatt says. "I don’t know anybody that could spontaneously jump in on the right key and sing at the same time." How about those killer dance moves? "One of the things that's inaccurate is how easy they make it look. They do choreography and sing. There's no way you could do all that crazy stuff and still sound that good."

And as for those rivalries? Sure, a cappella can get intense sometimes, but overall it's not as dramatic as Hollywood makes it seem. At the finals, Faux Paz will battle against groups like the University of Chicago's Voices In Your Head and the University of Southern California's SoCal VoCals. The latter is the country's winningest a cappella group; they've won the championship every single time they've placed. "They win every time and are known for being awesome, but I don’t consider it a rivalry," Schatt says. For them, it's about getting to the finals, having fun, and showing people what they're about.

The Faux Paz have been practicing about five days a week in preparation for Saturday. And though it's easy to get stressed out about what's at stake, Schatt says they do their best to remember a cappella is all about singing well and just having a good time. "If you’re doing the music and you’re doing it really well, I think there's a cool factor that comes with that," he says. "You can’t help but enjoy it."

Posted at 03:37 PM/ET, 04/15/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()